Friends United Together, a case study of choice and control

IMPACT Networks

In 2022, there was an IMPACT Network on choice and control for people with learning disabilities. The Networks brought together groups of people from across the UK to meet locally and then share ideas cross-nationally about the challenges around choice and control, and possible ways forward.

The Network in Wales included Friends United Together (a social care co-operative made up of people with learning disabilities), their support provider Community Lives Consortium, the local authority (Swansea Council) and Cwmpas, the Welsh co-operative Centre. They had all been involved in helping Friends United Together establish their co-op, which the Friends felt was giving them more choice and control in their lives. At the end of the six-months of Network meetings, the Welsh Network drew up an action plan that included the following aims: 

  • to be an example to others of what can be achieved and help others to do what they’ve done: “Ultimately, we want to help more people set up care co-ops”.
  • to recruit staff to work with Friends United Together.
  • to recruit more members to join Friends United Together. 

One way they suggested they might do this was to create a video to tell their story. This suggestion also aligns with the one of the aims of the IMPACT Networks: to collate practical solutions at the community level to create scalable solutions that inspire and inform change across the UK.

Working with Peoples Voice Media, who provide training and support to people to create their own media content, the video also aligned with the overarching aims of IMPACT around building capacity and developing relationships.

Video: Friends United Together

Friends United Together

In Wales, a group of adults with learning disabilities who had known each other for many years were told their support service was going to be re-tendered by the local authority. Initially, they were told they would be able to choose who provided their support, but as things progressed, they were told this might not be the case. This was upsetting as the group were familiar with their provider and had built trusting relationships with their support workers which they didn’t want to lose.

After discussions with the local authority, the group were told they would have to accept care from a new organisation or receive individual direct payments. They said they felt upset, worried, angry, and that they needed to “fight” to take control of their care.

The group received support from Cwmpas (the Wales Co-operative Centre) and the local authority. They decided that they wanted to explore receiving direct payments which they could pool together and manage as a group by forming an independent co-operative. Cwmpas provided the group with guidance on the practical steps involved in setting up a co-operative, with information on practical steps and the responsibilities of key roles such as Chair, Treasurer and Director.

There were a number of challenges faced by the group. Firstly, as the pooling of direct payments was a new way to receive support, it took some time for the local authority to set up a way of doing so and the group had to communicate with a range of departments. Secondly, financially, including opening a bank account, keeping records of passwords, managing correspondence and dealing with Companies House. Banks weren’t familiar with the idea of co-operative, and sometimes the group needed help with letters that sometimes felt intimidating. It can be stressful for the group to receive letters telling them that they had not paid charges, when they had been paid but information had not been passed on.

However, members explained how being part of the co-operative had given them more control over their care. For example, one person loves gardening and has an allotment, and he can now use his care hours to pay for a support worker to help him do this. Overall, the group found the process worthwhile and would really recommend other groups to “go for it” and set up their own co-operative.