Why We Started Community Glue

Originally posted on 7 September 2010

Community Glue CIC was started in July 2010 by Keith Birnie and Jon Hyslop. Keith and Jon had been friends and colleagues for many years while working in local (Oxfordshire) mental health services. Since the recession in 2008, commissioners for the local NHS have started to reduce the amount spent with local mental health charities, which inevitably meant services started to shrink. This has been difficult for the people who use those services, but also for those who work in them. At the same time, the reforms of social care funding taking place under the heading of ‘self-directed support’ seemed to be creating a range of new opportunities for people to make more choices for themselves. This was very exciting!

When services are squeezed financially, some things almost inevitably follow. Providers focus on the ‘essentials’, often meaning ‘extras’ like consultation with service users and other stakeholders is put on the back burner. And staff teams are ‘trimmed’, with those who remain having less time to spend on developing new ideas. Smaller organisations often end up merging with each other to reduce ‘overheads’ like office costs. While this saves money, it can result in services becoming more remote from the people who use them. Partly because of these changes, some parts of the ‘voluntary and community sector’ have started to look like the large, bureaucratic statutory services they were set up to replace. This is where Community Glue comes in.

Because Community Glue is a Community Interest Company and not a registered charity, we don’t need a Board of Trustees. A small number of ‘social entrepreneurs’ can be Directors and Employees at the same time, reducing the number of meetings and making decision-making much quicker. This cuts down on overheads for staffing and governance. Community Glue has been set up with very few overheads – Jon and Keith both have other jobs to keep the wolves from the door! This means we can work on small projects that charities wouldn’t be able to afford to work on. These small projects can come from our own ideas, or from the ambitions of people who need extra supports as a result of poor health, old age or ‘disability’.

Keith & Jon on Cowley Road in 2010

And the name? Services provided according to a ‘one size fits all’ template designed by commissioners can make people feel like parts in a machine. Worse, people can become dependent on services and isolated from the communities in which they live. On the other hand small-scale, individually tailored supports can allow people to participate more fully – not only as ‘service users’, but also as commissioners, managers and in some cases support providers. This can strengthen the bonds between people like ‘community glue’.