Last month the government realised the Giving Green Paper to open up discussion around how charity, community and giving help create the Big Society, through the three key elements of empowering communities, opening up public services and encouraging social action.

Much of the paper reflected lessons that we’ve learnt through the first phase of Have a Go Heroes, with a number of points complimenting – and clashing with – our findings on how communities could provide services:

Will vs Belief

“People giving what they have, be that their time, their money, or their assets, knowledge and skills, to support good causes and help make life better for all.”

We’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of people “giving what they have”.  To help create active communities, individuals need to feel as though they can chip in as much or as little as possible, with as much or as little free time as they have. The paper argues that “Although the UK is a generous nation we could do so much more.” It’s true that increasing people’s will to volunteer and recognising involvement is *A Good Thing*. However, I would argue that the real opportunity here is not increasing the will of citizens to give more time, or to convince them to help out at all, but to make volunteering accessible to people to give what little time they do have. In short, building confidence and supporting people to understand that they can get involved will help the Big Society, rather than trying to manufacture the will from above. This is perhaps, a more realistic space for government to help.

“We want to hear how [web] platforms like these can help people to donate time in non- traditional ways. In particular, we want to know where they can help people who otherwise might not be able to donate their time at all and whether government can do more to help these groups participate.”

The paper briefly mentions CRB checks, but this is a huge hurdle when it comes to transforming how local authority may be able to provide a service in a different and better way. The paper claims that an incredible 49 per cent of non-volunteers who would like to give time are put off by bureaucracy. It’s for this reason that we’re really excited about the work Anna Pearson is up to, not just with Spots of Time but also her Simple CRB project, which with the support of Bethnal Green Ventures is looking at how we can change the CRB checking process to allow people to provide their free time without going through a long-winded and costly process.

Giving vs Support

When it comes to free time, volunteering and support seem to be merged together as one. However, through our work we found local peer to peer support developed from within a community seemed much more sustainable, realistic and valued than simply being helped when in need (a far more reactionary approach). We looked to international examples such as Senior Corps, a successful programme in America where older adults are asked to use their experience and talents, as well as receive help from others as an example of this working in reality. I pondered this over twitter and had some interesting responses, this from Tom Neumark summed up this division, and suggests how support seems to be a better fit for the idea of a true Big Society, rather than the notion of giving and traditional volunteering:

“We want social action to become a truly mass-phenomenon – and to encourage people who currently give only sporadically, or not at all, to join the band of committed individuals who regularly give their time and money to social causes.”

This aim, from the Green Paper, is the most ambitious of all. But perhaps by lifting restrictions on offering free time combined with the ability for local authorities to collaborate effectively with small scale innovation that is allowed to grow inside a local community, government will be able to help facilitate a Big Society that is both sustainable and reliable. Both huge tasks, but well worth pursuing.

This is a hot topic at the moment, and we’d love to hear your thoughts, or if you would like to get involved in any way with Have a Go Heroes. Feel free to either leave a comment below or send us a tweet over on @HaveaGoHeroes.


This week the National Care Forum annual review took place, where the focus was on the challenges of providing adult care in precarious times, looking ahead to the future of care.

The report launched at the event highlights how the gap is widening between what individuals and the state can afford and what is needed as a service. We’re seeing this gap increase as local authorities withdraw all but essential care. The Centre for Social Justice said this week that this gap could grow to £6 billion over the next two years. Chief executive of the RSA Matthew Taylor spoke at the event, outlining how he believed the answer lay in exploring the many ways we could innovate within the sector, particulary when it comes to those non-essential services that often provide the highlights in a person’s day. Here he explains the possibilities as he sees them:

“The areas of invention which most interests me tend to be at the intersection of three trends. First, the growth in personal and community based commissioning (Turning Point are doing some great work on the latter). Second, the search for ways of bridging and smoothing the divide between paid and unpaid care. Third, new ways of thinking about the economics of care, utilising not just money but other commodities such as time and housing.”

One project that Matthew mentions in his write up of the event is the Japanese community currency Caring Relationship Tickets, set up back in 1995. The basic unit is one hour of service to an elderly person. This can be peer to peer, family members or neighbours, carrying out the sorts of jobs we’ve discovered that older people really value, but find it difficult to ask for – people dropping by for a cup of tea, someone mowing the lawn or the odd hot meal.

Elderly adults who take part in the scheme tend to prefer the services by people paid in the tickets, rather than those paid in yen. As Matthew explains,“to convey this community service to yen would seem to dilute the community ethic”, reflecting some of the lessons in our own conversations with older people. Social contact that people can feel a part of and contribute to is key, rather than a transactional service associated with traditional elements of care.

There’s plenty of interesting projects going on closer to home, notably Southwark Circle, a service for all neighbours of all ages to share their skills to help each other out and create stronger community ties with many members being paid the London Living wage for their time. Spot of Time is a new initiative based in East London that aims to make it easier for people to get involved with helping out those in their community without having to commit long term. Across the pond we’re really excited about mobile app that recently launched in the US called Groundcrew – a service that uses mobile technology to organise people in real-time. Would be volunteers sign up, tell Groundcrew their free time and what sort of things they’d like to help out with. When a ‘mission’ then crops up community organisers are able to connect to people who are available nearby in real-time through text message.

Where does Have a Go Heroes fit?

Have a Go Heroes wants to make it easier for older adults to help other older adults. We’re interested in the space where social contact and community potential meet. Just like the care token system in Japan, we understand that older adults value support from those they have a relationship from and as part of a network that they are invited to contribute to. This might start of in one area of care, such as older adults cooking for each other, but could spill out into all areas of support. If you take a look below*, you can see the sort of support that cropped up most frequently when asking older adults what they valued and how they wanted to get involved. Social support that they mught just be able to help provide for each other.

We want Have a Go Heroes to strengthen community networks creating relationships that can be relied on. We want to do this on a very local level, using new web and mobile tools – but most importantly using local people’s willingness to help each other out.

* posts read (l-r) value neighbours and friends who call to make sure we’re ok, meeting friends, receiving a telephone call, talking to people on the estate, helping people, visiting and chatting to people, healping others, preparing and eating a nice meal.

We’ve spent the last few months chatting to older adults about the support they value and how we could use the web to connect people who want to do more in the community together. Besides talking to potential service users and providers, we’ve been attending events, looking out for campaigns and working out how Have a Go Heroes could make a real difference. As we look to piloting the service (more of that below), we’d like to share three main points of Have a Go Heroes:


It seems that the support people value most is often when they can contribute and get involved in managing their own support network. We recently attended a NESTA event that explored ‘The New Old Age’ and how culturally we need to challenge how we look at this stage of our lives. Charles Leadbeater spoke about people being able to continue to work in some shape or form after retiring – not only for economic reasons, but that it would help other problems surrounding retirement, around loneliness, not being able to contribute or feeling part of something:

“The first design principle of ageing should be to retain a sense of capacity – that is what people fear losing most.”

This was in fact an early theme in our conversations with older people. Again, we can look at the success of Senior Corps in the States as a testament to this.


Although discussions about a new old age are vital and needed for a culture change towards what retirement means, we want to be able to provide a service that will help older people today, and with this we have to take into consideration the large service cuts proposed:

“The Local Government Association has warned that councils could be left with an annual shortfall between £12.5 billion and £20 billion by 2014 – 5 if no changes were made to the way public services are delivered.

Other non statutory services funded by the department are also likely to be under threat, such as meals-on-wheels services for the elderly and adult social care.”

The Telegraph, 13th October 2010

Have a Go Heroes wants to help strengthen the social networks of older people to help the informal support services that may be under threat – as well as make the most of existing support by using the platform to promote and reach out to those isolated within communities.


Timely enough given it’s Get Online week led by the team behind RaceOnline, a campaign that supports people to become more comfortable with the web. It’s great to see some work focusing on people who might need a bit of help getting used to that big wide world web. We like this video below from the First Click campaign (part of Get Online week) that hopes to get older adults to try out the internet for the first time:

However, we do recognise that a fully inclusive online future is still some way off and so any service that we develop will look to blend the best of the on and offline, ensuring the services are designed for all. One of the benefits of working with a local authority in piloting Have a Go Heroes will be the ability to explore different communications and engagement channels, linking up services on and offline.

Phase Two: A partner to pilot

We are now beginning to have conversations with councils who want are interested in innovating how they provide adult care and social support.

The presentation below gives you a summary of our work during phase one of Have a Go Heroes. If you’re interested in the detail behind the presentation, get in touch and we’ll send you our phase one report.

Do you want to provide adult social care in a new way? If you’d like to meet up and explore possible ways to collaborate we’d love to hear from you. Leave a commenttweet us or just drop us a line.

Last week we were delighted to be invited along to Bradford’s Older People Reference group to present Have a Go Heroes. An excellent example of valued support within the community, the group was a great place to explore how Have a Go Heroes might be able to help create more of the same through new ways of connecting people.

We opened the session with a short presentation explaining what Have A Go Heroes is all about and how we looking for new ways for people with a range of care needs (big or small) to support one another, giving them easier access to both social and practical support through their trusted network – as well as making it easier for those who can offer a little help and get involved themselves.

For this session, we wanted to explore how older people felt about their community (in the widest sense), the role it played in their daily routine, and if they felt comfortable with more contact from those in their local area. The discussion centred around a few key questions…

What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?
What activities would you like other people to know about?
Do you feel part of your community?
Do you feel the community could provide more support for older people?
Would you be interested in getting to know the younger people in your community?
How do you communicate with people in your community?

We heard ideas and concerns that reflected findings from our visit to Birmingham’s older people group. For instance, if there is not something particularly ‘wrong’ such as a medical issue, people are often unsure where to turn to. One participant called this a lack of ‘tender loving care’ in her life, particularly when leaving hospital, or coming back to her house after staying with family. A few members of the group discussed the concern that many of their friends felt disconnected from – or even frightened of – young people. The church and similar community groups were held up as strong services that helped older people get involved in their local area, as well as being a place to meet new people.

What part of your routine do you value?

We asked each participant to mark the ‘bright spots in their day’, leaving the question open enough to show whether contact was something that was missing, needed or valued. After collecting all contributions, and reading through some incredibly insightful (and often funny!) posts, we highlighted three rough areas that emerged… simple pleasures, social contact and service support.

Simple Pleasures

These ‘bright points’ of people’s days were often the smallest part of their entire routine. Suggestions such as ‘the neighbour’s cat popping in’, ‘my husband coming home from work’ and simply ‘waking up in the morning for a brand new day’ cropped up. Often these simple pleasures do not rely on social contact, and cherished moments often come from a little time alone – which is an important point for us to take into consideration.

Social Contact

Here we noticed frequent contact with those already within older people’s trusted network, such as ‘lunch with friends’ ‘helping Christine with her shopping’ or ‘seeing my grandchildren’. A considerable amount of post-its highlighted that being alone for long periods of time, or living far away from family, were consequentially the ‘low points’ of people’s routine. Perhaps it is in this area where Have a Go Heroes could create that little bit of extra social contact in people’s lives.

Service Support

We could see here how services played their roles in making real differences to older people’s lives. Some local community programmes appeared over and over again, with many suggesting that existing support needed to be publicised a little more widely to reach those who were extremely isolated.

Meeting, connecting and establishing relationships with younger people and working families also appeared quite frequently, as well as valuing the opportunity to share skills and volunteer themselves, something that we have blogged about before and are interested in exploring further.

I would like…

With these conversations in mind, we asked everyone to complete the sentence “I would like…” to bring together their thoughts on community, informal and formal support they value and what they feel might be missing in people’s networks. Here are some examples that reflect popular themes and suggestions…

Next Steps…

We’ll be reflecting on these lessons and posting a blog on next steps later on in the week. It was a great opportunity to talk to potential service users, and we’ll be continuing our conversations with Bradford’s reference group – and hope to return to show how their feedback has been incorporated into the project.

If you feel as though you could help, or would just like to let us know what you think of what we’ve been up to so far, please feel free to comment below or tweet us over on @HaveaGoHeroes. We’d love to hear from you!

In the age of the Big Society, more than ever before, it’s vital that we begin to think increasingly about unlocking the potential of service users themselves (you know, the likes of you and me) to reimagine local services and help them cope with the increasing strain on their budgets. Luckily, as we reported from last week’s Reference Group, it seems there is plenty of willingness to develop community networks by helping each other out.

“The group of people we need to engage in our social action strategy are those I would describe as community activists… they don’t have the time or inclination to run a social programme with all the responsibility that involves, but they do want to help…. we need more community activism, and more community activists.”

David Cameron introducing The Big Society

So how can Have a Go Heroes play its part in helping a truly Big Society become a reality? Can we create something that helps organise ‘community activists’ so it’s easy for them to get involved? Here are some thoughts we’ve had from last week’s session:

  • Older people want to offer help as well as receive additional support
  • Being involved in support services seems the easiest way to meet new people and strengthen neighbourhood contact
  • Older adults are keen to get to know young people
  • The ability to get out and about in their local area, even for a short while, is important to many people’s daily routine
  • There seems to be a gap between feeling comfortable asking for professional support and being able to rely on informal community links

Future Thoughts

As we have blogged about before, it would be interesting to think of a way to design young people into Have a Go Heroes as a service – and our findings from last week seem to reflect older people’s willingness to strengthen the relationships with those in their community outside their immediate age group. Evidence in the area also looks positive, a recent study highlighting that some 71% of 18- 24 year-olds said they would not be too busy to spend time volunteering, as did 61% of those 65 and over (compared, for example, with some 60% of 25 to 34 year olds saying they were too busy). Universities often have well established volunteer programmes, so we would be keen to have some conversations on how this age group would feel about providing this informal, social support.

The Senior Corps programme in America recently caught our eye, as it’s not just about older people receiving support from their community, but how they can contribute and become involved in it, as the website explains:

“Americans over 55 have a lifetime of experience to share, and the desire to make a real difference in their world. They’ve managed households, been business owners and nurses, farmers and salespeople, artists and executives. Now they are ready to put their unique talents and expertise to work in their communities, and enrich their own lives in the process.”

This particularly struck a  a chord with us as the older people we have been speaking to clearly prefer service support in places where their skills and experience were valued. For example, volunteering at the local church or coming along to reference groups. By creating a scheme that allows older people to use their talents, experience and interests to help others out as well as connect them with their local area, we might encourage people to get involved and hopefully combat problems of loneliness and isolation. This fits with our findings in Bradford, where it seemed older people valued the support services and social contact when they felt they could offer something in return.

Everyone can be a hero…

So as we move forward, we’d like to think now that everyone could be a hero, and Have a Go Heroes could become a tool to allow people to connect, swap skills and build networks together. The image below is just a snapshot of older people offering skills, time and experience in exchange for the support we found they valued from our previous reference group work:

We’re now looking towards having some wider conversations with other groups (younger people for instance) and getting going with the design process.

If you’d like to get involved, or know someone who could help, we’d love to hear from you by commenting below or sending us a tweet.

“There is an estimated 50,000 informal carers in the United Kingdom as of last year (a study in the British Medical Journal). These informal carers are usually family members or close friends of the person being cared for. According to Cass Business School, a community based approach to caring for people can save up to £100 million per year… Have a go heroes is all about creating community support.”

Tymon Kalesbasiak, Have a Go Heroes founder

I’ve been doing some quick thinking since my recent visit to an older people’s reference group in North Birmingham. Given some of the things I heard at that session around both formal and informal care and support networks more widely, here are some of the challenges which I think Have a Go Heroes needs to overcome to bring something nifty, new and truly useful to this space:

Some of the challenges

We’ve been looking at similar work both within social care and tackling exclusion, particularly around recognising important challenges that need to be overcome.

How to effectively provide an online | offline solution: we all know of the digital divide and some pretty remarkable work going on to bridge the gap. But it’s also clear that true inclusion is probably still some way off. Would it be possible to develop an approach that can act as an exemplar as to how to close this divide, staying as low tech as is useful, supporting offline actions? One of the key problems we have come across when examining issues within support groups is, perhaps unsurprisingly, loneliness. It can be easy to become isolated due to various life changes, such as a death of a partner, or retirement. Pet shares, local meet ups and co housing, which the NESTA’s Age Unlimited programme have championed try to tackle support in a practical, community based way. Perhaps Have A Go Heroes could draw some inspiration from such ideas to become as effective as possible, using online to bring people together offline.

Making the most of existing information: one FutureGov led project, Safeguarding 2.0, is looking to address the complex communication needs of government and communities in safeguarding children. The first phase of the project examined how the data recorded across the social care sector could be brought more effectively to free up social care workers’ time and support them to better protect the lives of children in their care. Working with Westminster Council, the project demonstrated some remarkable findings and is now planning to develop a tool that can help create a “social safety net” to support all involved. Perhaps in the same way, Have A Go Heroes could look to create a tool to better bring together personal information to highlight what support is available in communities, who could help out, when and help make better connections on and offline between people involved in individuals’ “trusted network”.

The all important opportunities…

Despite the tricky nature of what we’re trying to achieve we’re starting to see paths that might just work – and we’re now looking forward to exploring further and starting to take actions to bring Tymon’s idea into reality.

Apps for good: although it looks as though we’ll always have some form of digital exclusion for time yet while, it doesn’t mean we can’t try and still use technology as a way to help people especially when there are projects such as Send with Peggy, that take these divides into consideration and try to bridge the gap. We need to rise to the challenge and create a tool that is effective both off and online, being sufficiently personalisable to serve the needs of large and diverse groups of people, as well as avoiding assumptions and trying and keep things simple. It’s a tough ask – could there be an app for different levels and kinds of support, that could collect information on all the different programmes going on in the area and the support available in the community from book circles, days out or collecting the weekly shop? A service that collected all information, that you could personalise for your own needs? There is a lot of thinking going on in this area around the Big Society agenda. Is this something we could connect into to support this specific user group?

Universities as a pool of support: one specific idea that was raised during initial conversation relates to the work of universities and their students, who often run well charitable volunteering programmes where students can become involved in work in their local communities. Volunteer fairs and support services are often a popular and well used resource to help students make the most of their spare time as well as boost their cv’s and experience something new. There may be an opportunity for Have A Go Heroes to be a skills swap service between students and older people in their local community, both parties trading their own unique skills, be it cooking, gardening or simply sharing stories. Win win all round!

Next steps

“Unless you have a defined need, you don’t really know where to go. I don’t really need much help at all – but I would still like to be able to have more cups and teas and chats.”

Participant, North Birmingham’s Older People Reference Group

With both the challenges and opportunities in mind our first priority is to talk to as many people as possible who fit the mould of Tymon’s gran – a support network of sorts but with a lot of potential for improvement. Based on people we have spoken to so far, we would love to develop an approach (online, offline, whatever) that identifies and then better coordinates people’s existing support network or plug the gaps with new kinds of formal and informal support.

We’ve already begun conversations with many people who would benefit from this kind of idea, as well as reflect on our previous experiences of work in similar areas. We’re hoping our continued conversations with service users will help push the Have A Go Heroes project forward as well as sharpen our on the ideas we already are beginning to have. Let us know what you think – or (even better!) how you might be able to help!

Last week Have A Go Heroes dropped into the North Birmingham Older Peoples Reference Group. It was a great opportunity for us to explore the real concerns of older people, the type of support that received in their communities and what they felt was missing.

The meetings take place every two to three months and over sixty older people whose lives were touched by care came along to share their stories, as well as hear about support already in place that could help.

Community Links- social, formal care:

It was really interesting to here about the Community Links programme within the area, that aimed to be the first port of call for those who want to get involved with their community.  The service aims to help older adults find out about and become involved in activities and opportunities in the local area, striving for a person centred approach by chatting to the person involved and finding out what they would like from the service. They provide close support for eight weeks with the hope of creating a long term network around the person that can continue to grow. It might be that Have A Go Heroes could develop on this by looking into such services how those within the community could help continue to provide this sort of social support once the programme finishes for the individual.

Handy Persons scheme-  formal practical care:

“Most of the time we can all get along fine- but when we need small bits of help it’s hard.”

The Handy Persons scheme is service provided by the council to help out with odd jobs around the house, be it changing a light bulb to fixing a socket. The person in need of care can call a number and someone will be sent out to fix the odd job. Although a valued service, issues such as delays and limitations were mentioned. Would there be any potential in opening up such a scheme to a trusted network of people around the individual, particularly to those who are happy to use new effective, and often quicker,ways of communicating, such as the web to help out those who need a hand?

A space for informal, social support?

“When my husband came out of hospital with dementia the immediate care and support I received was fantastic- but when I was able to cope, which on a practical level I was, I found myself completely lost. It was very lonely.”

It seems that although care and support are in place and make a real difference to peoples lives the soft areas of support, such as social contact, self organising and just knowing where you could find a person to chat to seemed to be a slightly grey area. In addition to this a real bug bearer seemed to be the lack of information around services, being classed as the most urgent priority to be resolved from a survey from the last meeting. Quite a few of those present felt a little frustrated with having to provide the same type of information over and over again, as well as finding  accessing services both a confusing and time consuming business, especially when it came to these smaller informal aspects of care.

“Unless you have a defined need, you don’t really know where to go. I don’t really need much help at all- but I would still like to be able to have more cups and teas and chats.”

It would be great if Have A Go Heroes were able to continue these thoughts and perhaps develop something that could fit this missing gap, either by helping use information that already exists in a better way, or by making it easier for those in the community to create stronger networks of informal and lasting social support.

We’ve been lucky enough to have North Birmingham’s support so far on our journey, and we are keen to develop the conversations that we begun at the reference group. If any of this sounds like something you could help us with, your insights are more than welcome! Either leave a comment below or tweet us over on @HaveAGoHeroes.We’d love to hear from you.

The project so far reflects some of our learnings from our work with Snook on the ALISS project for the Scottish Government earlier this year. Hopefully as we move forward with Have A Go Heroes we will be able to bring together our experiences from ALISS to help develop both projects even further.

You can read more about ALISS here and here– or follow on-going updates over on twitter at @alissproject.