Glimpses of the future: How do areas shift from marginal change to serious re-design around what really matters to people and communities?

By Sophie Kendall, NESTA

At the Social Care Futures gathering, Nesta, Social Care Institute for Excellence and Think Local Act Personal facilitated a ‘glimpses of the future’ session. We heard from pioneering areas and innovators growing “asset-based areas”. They are going beyond services and systems “doing to” people and communities and bringing all local resources into play in more equal partnership. We shared what helps and what hinders and pledged to take action and support each other on the road to a better future.



Graphics by @MendoncaPen

What are asset-based areas?

There is an increasingly well established narrative and national ambition, about shifting away from a model of social care that is problem focused and deficit based, to one that is strengths based and people focused. Lots of people are talking about asset-based areas, though what does it really mean?

Essentially, it’s about recognising that we can all achieve more when we combine our expertise, time, creativity and resources and in equal partnerships. This means building first on what people can and want to do, or could do, with the right support. It means nurturing community initiatives and co-producing support with people.

The Think Local Act Personal Asset-Based Area tool provides a framework and links to a range of resources available, including Making It Real and Growing Innovative Models.

Every area has some organisations, professionals and local people working in this way, but for wider and deeper impact, whole systems and areas need to take this approach. This is key to creating a future where everyone feels part of something and genuinely cared about, with the ‘system’ seeing people for their strengths and their futures as full of possibility.



Powered by people

A key message from the discussions was ‘there’s no silver bullet’. It starts with conversations and taking a relentless focus on really listening to people, what matters to them and recognising and nurturing their strengths. This approach is being taken in York.

People also reflected it can’t work when the narrative is dominated by alleviating system pressures rather than by what matters to people, valuing their assets and nurturing communities and connections. Co-producing is key. People know best what a good life looks like for them. This takes new ways of working. Letting go of control. Investing in support for people and communities to take different roles and lead. Many areas found efficiencies then follow.

Area leads also shared it takes brave leadership. Finding the people who are up for it and creating the freedom they need to be creative. Rethinking what good looks like – Mick Ward from Leeds has a personal target that everyone in Leeds has at least three friends.

It means listening to professionals, understanding that many want to work in this way and asking, where are our processes restricting you?

It is about losing the barriers between ‘them’ and ‘us’, recognising we’re all human.


It’s all about communities

During discussions there was lots of reflection on what helps communities to flourish and what hinders. Truly valuing and resourcing initiatives is key – it doesn’t work if it’s driven by what the community can offer the public sector. The best results come from being responsive to what communities ask for and need – understanding relationships is central. The Wigan Deal is a key example of this.

John Bolton reflected on the importance of community development. In pioneering areas, it has been well-established for decades. For example, Local Area Coordination in Thurrock and village agents in Somerset have connected people to each other and to opportunities locally and have helped people to solve problems. Investing in community building pays.

Barnsley has shifted to place-based teams and area-based commissioning, devolving budgets so neighbours can co-create plans. Wendy Lowder shared there are 94 community initiatives, with a budget of £6.5 million. Resource stays local – 90% of the budget is spent with local businesses. It’s about people helping people and building on people’s interests.


It takes commitment and action both from those in the formal system and those in community groups and organisations

To unleash creativity and innovation, we need to move away from the inherited structure and genuinely trust people. Letting go of professional egos came up throughout the session. Power imbalances are at the heart of everything we are trying to do. Les Billingham from Thurrock reflected this means distributed methods of leadership and self-management and autonomy. It means models of leadership which are not heroic, facilitating conversations and nurturing the grassroots. People have been done to for so long, getting to trust is hard and will take time.

There were many examples of how unhelpful processes, regulation, financing and professional practices were getting in the way of building asset-based areas. To really make this shift and for many more people to have happier lives, top-down change is needed too. As Bob Hudson reflects, we’re working against the policy grain. We need new systems and approaches which support this innovation.

The ‘glimpses’ and stories shared were inspiring, showing what can flourish when people come together. What more could happen if people and communities were supported with resources, commissioning and regulation mechanisms designed to support this shift?


So what’s next?

In the spirit of what this shift is all about, people made lots of connections and commitments at the session, sharing inspiration and offers of support to each other in making this happen. I’m excited to see the ‘glimpses’ to come, from ideas sparked and connections made…



Think Local Act Personal, Social Care Institute for Excellence and Nesta have developed a graphic to share some of the ‘glimpses’ of community centred support offers available.


Think Local Act Personal will be building on this, to develop an online resource for commissioners and people looking for community centred support approaches. To find out more and to add your offer or share great examples, get in touch with

Social Care Institute for Excellence, Think Local Act Personal and Nesta have lots of resources available and offer support on making these shifts happen. The Think Local Act Personal Building Community Capacity Practitioners Network provides a network for support and the Department of Health and Social Care is funding Social Care Institute for Excellence, Think Local Act Personal and Shared Lives Plus to establish an Innovation Network. This will bring together a combination of innovative providers, commissioners and citizens to identify ways to support each other to grow innovations at scale. More information will be published about this network on Think Local Act Personal and Social Care Institute for Excellence websites shortly.

We’d love to keep hearing from you on what it would take to re-design systems around what really matters to all of us, friendship, belonging and purpose – @SophieFredK





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