Getting Together

Once the ‘big picture’ is established, the key next step lies in identifying and building the right team to take the project forward.  Whilst it goes without saying that this development team will share a number of central features - a belief in and understanding of co-operative values; focus on the big picture; determination and commitment towards practical achievements - it is also vital that the team is built from people with a variety of skills, talents, backgrounds and knowledge.  Such a combination can come partly as the result of careful planning, but it is also important to seize opportunities as and when they arise.  As the project progresses, you will inevitably make connections and participate in events that will create opportunities to expand the vision and engage  new people with skills that can strengthen the team and the project itself.  There is of course a balance to be struck here: those ‘initiators’, who have the drive, commitment and skill to get a project started are vital; but the addition of new people, new skills and fresh approaches can add impetus and momentum at key points.

How to find the ‘right’ people / how to get a group of people together

Clearly, identifying a potential team of people to take a project forward cannot be a random process.  It does require a degree of planning, both in terms of the set of skill-sets that the project’s development would require (covered below), but also in terms of where to identify these people, and how to bring them on board.  The following considerations by no means present an exhaustive list of steps; nor do they necessarily present a ‘running order’ of activities, but they can be key to forming your team:

Use your existing networks

It is most often the case that the sort of people who would seek to get a project such as this started will have been involved in other social, political or community activities - many as part of larger groups or even networks of groups.  In a similar sense, engagement in these groupings is often on the basis of a broadly-defined set of values or outlooks.  This may be as broad as a simple desire to benefit the community or provide for certain groups within it, or as focused as specific political or ideological beliefs.  Or, indeed, some combination of the two.

Such networks can therefore be sources for the sort of people who may ‘fit the bill’. Where possible, it is also valuable to identify contacts and potential volunteers from groups that share an outlook broadly akin to the vision and principles you are looking to build your project around, such as community engagement, co-operation, not-for-profit businesses and schemes designed around social benefit.  Some examples of how this was built into the development of the project in the Colne Valley are given towards the end of this chapter.

Seek out appropriate existing projects / groups

On occasions, it may not be necessary to invent a new group.  If the right group is already in existence it can often be willing to bring in new people and pursue an idea whose ‘time has come’.  Projects can often be difficult to get off the ground and it is not unusual to find groups in existence, who share value sets and outlooks, but are in search of a new idea to develop.  Don’t overlook such opportunities.

Raise awareness

It is worth remembering that projects rarely fail due to the right people not existing.  Rather, it is far more common that the right people simply don’t know about it!.  In other words, projects often falter at the start due to inadequate communication and a subsequent lack of awareness that the project exists at all.  It’s therefore vital that awareness is generated, both of the issue and the opportunity to get involved.  Such a message should clearly target the ‘right’ groups and people, but the simple fact remains - if they don’t know about it, they can’t join it.

At the outset of such a project, initial messages can be disseminated via social media, such as community Facebook pages, group chats, Twitter groups, etc.  In a similar vein, try not to underestimate the potency of more ‘traditional methods’.  A poster or flyer campaign can raise effective awareness if it is strategically-planned and executed with focus and timeliness.  Similarly, word of mouth can be effective, especially when supported by an appropriate combination of these other methods. It can also be useful to match methods to the group or person you are seeking.  Some age groups, for example, use certain types of social media much more than others.

With the right approach, speaking at the meetings of other relevant community, political or interest groups can be a powerful way of getting the message of the project across, as well as a strong potential source of volunteers and useful links to ‘kindred spirits’.

 A certain degree of adaptation may prove necessary here!  In the midst of CCCV’s development of the social care project in the Colne Valley, and in our efforts to advance the replication and federation of the model by initiating a proto-group in the neighbouring Holme Valley, the rapid emergence of the Coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent social lockdown that occurred, forced us to adopt alternative methods of engagement in the absence of the ability to meet ‘physically’.

It is of great value at this stage however, to mount an opportunity for face-to-face engagement, via a public meeting or other engagement event.  This allows people the best opportunity to discuss the vision and potential direction of the project itself, as well as what the likely composition and structure of the group and the key initial tasks might be.  It can also provide a fertile environment for new ideas and considerations to be built into the planning.  This early stage is crucial, altogether, for allowing potential members to gauge for themselves the suitability of the group and the project, thereby helping to align and ‘match’ the right people to the right groups and mitigate against splits and schisms at vital stages of the project later on.

Go to the root of the issue

It may seem an obvious source, but surprisingly it is one that can be overlooked - go to the source of the issue your project is seeking to address.  In other words, if you wish to set up a co-operative social care project, seek development group members from social care workers and managers, members of existing co-operatives, etc.  It stands to reason that pre-existing involvements in similar projects or causes are likely to increase both willingness to engage, and practical understanding of likely development tasks.

Adopt a task-based approach

As the project begins to develop, it may be found that key tasks may require those with specific skills and / or awareness not yet present in the team.  It is always advantageous to engage members who share the vision and the aims of a project, but on occasion, it is equally important to recruit members who can effect and complete a task with the degree of skill required, rather than seeking to take a ‘best that we can achieve’ approach.  In certain tasks, this is indeed vital, such as registration of the co-operative with the appropriate authorities.

What skills will you need in your group?

There is inevitably a balance at the core of any project to develop a co-operative venture in an area like social care.  It is of course key, that such a project is built around a clear set of values, principles and commitments that are designed to set the scheme apart from others and achieve sought-after aims and objectives.  However, it is equally vital that the team forwarding the project has the ability to effect these aims by preparing and fulfilling key practical tasks that turn the project from a vision and a plan into a reality.

The successful completion of this practical side of the project requires a range of ‘real-world’ skills, awareness and experience in the members working to achieve it.  At its heart, despite being built around a set of values and principles that may distinguish it from existing ‘industrial’ practice, a co-operative social care project has still to be a functioning, structured and flexible ‘business’ operation which will employ worker members, provide a range of practical services for user members and manage a planned and focused engagement of community volunteer members.  All of this requires relevant skills and abilities in the team developing such a process.

However desirable and indeed laudable the vision of the co-operative is, it amounts to little more than that if it cannot be implemented and sustained in the community itself.  A functioning social care co-operative has to be financially viable, ably and supportively staffed and disciplined in its fulfilment of its roles, and without this it cannot hope to make its aims a reality.

Bear in mind too, not to be too prescriptive about where, and in which existing professions or roles the skills you seek might reside.  Just because a potential member of the team may have enjoyed a long career in teaching, for example, it does not follow that all they can do is teach people.  Most of the practical tasks involved in such projects are achievable by anyone with a rational approach, organisation and determination.  Do not be fearful or ‘put off’ by notions around lacking expertise.

Moreover, skills and abilities are not always grounded in specific job descriptions or ‘paper’ qualifications - they may just as effectively be developed as part of a personality or from experience gained elsewhere and in various ways.  Nonetheless, the following broad skill-sets can be cited as being of huge benefit, if not vital to the development of a social care co-op:

1) Care Industry experience

Clearly the most directly relevant experience and awareness is that of the industry in which your co-operative is to operate.  In that sense, it is of great benefit to engage care industry professionals from as early a stage as possible.  More of this is covered in Chapter 8 of this toolkit, but without this, there is inevitably a lack of insight into the issues to be tackled, or the essential aspects of practice to be prioritised.  This is true in terms of experience of the actual delivery of care, and the management of the systems and processes by which provision can efficiently take place.  For example, an understanding of the way in which care packages are designed, allocated and funded is a valuable asset.  As is experience of the formulation and implementation of the policies that frame the operation of the care co-op, around legal requirements.

2) Organisational / administrative skills

In any complex process and project, organisation is essential.  The effective administration of tasks is not always the most exciting part of the work, but it is nonetheless necessary in a process that is underpinned by accurate record-keeping and planning, structuring and ordering of tasks, co-ordination of meetings, targets, etc.  

Even in aspects such as communication between team members, it is useful to organise how this is to be done.  For example, in CCCV, we used Slack as our communication tool, which enabled us to communicate whole teams related to separate topics or projects, and to minimise the multiplication of emails, etc.

At the ‘peak’ of this is the skill of project management - the overview of the whole operation, requiring an ever-developing awareness of progress across the range of separate tasks involved, as well as a clear organisation of how they will develop, by what stages, by which deadlines, and involving which members in the future.

Indeed, from the very inception of the project, organisation is vital in establishing and allocating the key roles that are required, from the structure of the board of the co-operative, to specific tasks and roles that emerge.

3) Recruitment, staffing and human resource (HR) skills

Within the process of forming the care co-op, staff will have to be recruited and roles allocated.  An awareness of advertising for specific posts, interviewing, contract creation and management, payroll skills, oversight of relationships between worker members and the co-op, etc. is therefore a vital aspect to have as part of any development team.  These skills clearly also deliver an ongoing benefit to the co-op, developing aspects of working roles such as training and professional development, performance management and development of terms and conditions, in line with the ethos and aims of the co-op itself.  Groups such as Co-ops UK provide a range of services for start-ups in this area too.  Similarly, aspects of this can be covered by grant funding through bodies such as Power to Change.  More detail on this is covered in the chapter on ‘Getting Funding’, in this toolkit.

4) Financial and accountancy skills

It is fundamental to any business, co-operative or otherwise, that it is financially sustainable and the assessment of this has to be based on skilled financial calculation and accountancy.  This is also key to the formation of a business plan, laying out the viability of the project in the short to medium term on the basis of likely income and expenditure.  The accurate assessment of the current and ongoing financial state of a project can be a vital source of project development and adaptation, and ultimately can determine its feasibility altogether.  Here too, support and advice can be gained from bodies such as Co-ops UK.

5)Fund-raising and income generation

In a similar sense to finance and accountancy, the nature of a social care co-operative often means that significant funds will be required prior to the ‘business income’ actually beginning.  Chapter 4 of this toolkit goes into the funding of your project in depth, but suffice to say here that funds will have to be sought and experience and awareness of the processes of application and the potential sources of funding are a real advantage at this initial stage.  Backgrounds in areas such as charity management and local government project development can be a strong source of possible new recruits to the development team here.  

6) IT skills / experience

Basic IT skills are of course a relatively common part of the skill-set of potential members, but it is again a significant advantage to be able to engage someone with the ability to write, code and create ‘bespoke’ software packages for the project, as well as simply being proficient in standard applications and systems.  Bespoke systems not only offer a more customised platform via which the systems of the co-op can operate, but it can save considerable amounts of money in an industry that requires financial discipline at all times.  From a hardware point of view too, experience in sourcing and accumulating appropriate packages of equipment can be a genuine asset.
7) Communication, Public Relations and Marketing

Both in terms of written communication and verbal, the ability to explain, present, disseminate and persuade is one that should not be understated.  In ‘selling’ the project to potential members, workers, service users and their families, shareholders and funders, effective (public) speaking and / or writing skills are vital.

8) Negotiation, arbitration and representation

Invariably, either in the development of a vision, the project itself, or indeed in the actual operation and management of a working social care co-operative, disagreements, challenges and problems will occur.  In such situations, as well as in more day-to-day functions like staff rostering, team development, role management and recruitment, aspects of negotiation and arbitration may be required.  Members with experience of this can be a source of strength in the formation and growth of staffing committees, training programmes and other key functions.

9) Legal / regulatory awareness

The field of social care is necessarily and justifiably one set within a framework of legislation and regulation, both for the safety of often vulnerable service users and for those delivering such care.  An awareness of such a regulatory framework can of course come in those with industry experience, but it is also an advantage to have members with a legal background for a whole range of scenarios and reasons.  Much of the operation of the ‘business’ itself, as described in the areas above, is governed by data and privacy law, employment law, financial law and tax law, among other legal structures.  The ability to bring members on board with appropriate legal backgrounds should not be overlooked.

10) Leadership and team management

Finally, in the development of your project, the team will need to make compromises, accept disagreements and arrive at democratic and sometimes binding decisions.  Experience in enabling and managing such processes is a skill required in the bulk of business settings.

At the start of the project, it is also important to establish basic structures of leadership, such as key roles for the business.  Formal officers in the positions of Chair, Secretary and Treasurer will be required, but some specific tasks may be broken down further and allocated to more than one officer position, depending on what priorities you feel there are, at what stage.

Similarly, try to develop a plan for how discussion and decision-making among these officers is to take place.  Officers’ personal situations may, for example, determine that projects are better handled through a network of committee groups meeting on a regular basis and then coming together as a full board meeting every month or so.  Moreover, it is often useful to consider and plan systems for reporting back and signing off on key duties and tasks.  Some key members may well have experience of systems and procedures that work in a given set of circumstances.

Establishing your vision statement

Once the core of the team is together it is time to establish your vision!  This is crucial to the project as to a large extent, the whole motivation for establishing a co-operative model of social care is to reform and improve a mode of provision that is outdated and, in many aspects, actually in crisis.

Your vision is key to the whole project in this sense as it represents the embodiment of the principles by which the co-operative is to be run, and the aims and outcomes it is designed to achieve. It is the statement which will illustrate what you are looking to achieve in the broad sense of the principles you wish to put into effect in order to create the outcomes you seek.  To illustrate this, the vision statement we arrived at to establish CCCV was as follows:

mission statement section

Beyond this, the task is then to develop this vision into a mission statement, showing how you will bring this vision into effect: how your co-operative will be structured, what roles members will have in the organisation and what standards, principles and practices you wish to establish in the operation of the project.  

Together, your vision and mission statements will therefore encapsulate a set of priorities and guiding values, but they will also have to be balanced with what is actually achievable and sustainable - it is a vision for a functioning social care co-operative; not a pipe-dream of a social care utopia!

At the heart of your vision, for example, is likely to be co-operation.  In a way this goes without saying, but it is a concept that requires considerable discussion and judgement.  Co-operatives can come in all sorts of forms: worker co-operatives, producer co-operatives, consumer co-operatives, etc.  As mentioned in the chapter on ‘Governance, it is useful to research different models to see which one best suits your aims and values.

Similarly, the development team will wish to consider which other key values will form part of their vision, such as equality and working conditions, democratic engagement and environmental standards, as well as your vision of the nature and quality of the care provision itself.  Inevitably, in a development team with different experiences and backgrounds, there will be a degree of disagreement and challenge.  What is of initial importance, however, is to establish a set of ‘key principles’ that attract full acceptance and which are fundamental to what the shared vision of the project is.  These red lines can then form the foundation of a more expansive vision statement.  Again, to illustrate by reference to the CCCV mission statement:

text from CCCV Rules

Case study - Building the CCCV team and project

Co-operative Care Colne Valley originally emerged from other bodies active in the area, illustrative of many of the methods and steps outlined above.

In recent years, a number of co-operative, community-based initiatives have been developed, including local environmental energy schemes, alternative foodbank and ‘food club’ provision and small-scale community wealth-building projects.  In truth, and for a variety of reasons, many of these projects fell by the wayside, but what emerged out of this effort was a small group of volunteers who were determined to develop their ideas and their commitment to community-based, co-operative social and economic projects.  The ‘Kirklees Solidarity Economy Network’ was what came about.  At this stage, it comprised a core team of around 3 people, but with a number of other interested parties on the periphery. Nonetheless, this provided the basis for many of the processes highlighted above. Networks were developed, research and initial communication conducted.  For example, KSEN had largely been formed of volunteers who, not only had made connections in previous community projects, but were (majoritively) members of ‘progressive’ political parties in the Colne Valley area.  Connections were made in this way, whilst all along avoiding any particular party political identity or character, in order not to deter volunteers who could offer real strengths to a project.

In short course, KSEN determined 3 community projects to pursue, and shortly after this, it became clear that a co-operative social care project was the one that reflected the highest levels of interest and viability.  The next step was therefore to grow the team developing the project.  Awareness was raised via a number of public meetings, via connections with other ‘similar-minded’ social, political and community groups, via social media, and via word of mouth.  Based around shared values, the development team was created featuring volunteers from a range of backgrounds, such as teaching, charity sector work, IT and programming, the law, and local business.  In addition, many had voluntary experience in co-operatives and their development too.  Among this team were also a range of key skills: managerial and leadership, organisational / business administration, finance and third sector funding experience, software and network development, public speaking and communication (marketing), legal awareness, and local government (including elected local representatives).

This body was established as CCCV.  Nonetheless, for the specific aim of developing a co-operative model of social care provision, what the group lacked at this stage was someone from a background within the ‘industry’ itself.  As a result of two public meetings held to raise awareness of the project, however, the involvement of both an active social care worker and a manager working in the regulatory side of social care (with the Care Quality Commission - covered in the chapter on ‘Towards CQC Registration’)) was secured.  Clearly at this early stage, this involvement provided essential guidance in terms of practical, ‘real world’ social care issues and processes.

From here, the project could begin to develop.  The vision and mission statements were agreed and established (as seen above), and CCCV could begin to sell the concept to those bodies who would be required for key aspects of development (covered in details in other sections of this Toolkit): relevant local authority officers, funding bodies, co-operative associations and the public, both in and around our community.

When CCCV reached the point of actually designing the delivery of care - once funding, council co-operation, etc. were secured - it became evident that further care professionals needed to be engaged (more detail on this wider process in Chapter 8 of this Toolkit).  Two managers were acquired by secondment in partnership with the social care department of the local council.  This enabled CCCV to begin the detailed process of policy development, recruitment, work scheduling and application for registration with CQC.

It is worth noting that the building of this team by this stage, alongside enabling the ongoing growth of the social care project itself, put CCCV in an ideal position to lead on other, related initiatives.  In late February of 2020, as the Coronavirus crisis began to develop in the UK, Kirklees Council asked CCCV to become the ‘Anchor organisation for the Colne Valley, co-ordinating the response to the crisis and to the advent of ‘lockdown’ and social isolation, between the council itself and the numerous mutual aid groups that had formed.  This was in no small part a result of the volunteers CCCV had accumulated and the skills it had demonstrated in working with the community, communicating clear and effective messages, and generating widespread recognition of the need for a social response, not only to the crisis in social care, but in the emergency that Covid-19 presented.