Yet another article espousing the benefits of gardening to vulnerable people, in this case young people with learning difficulties – Growing into the role, in the SocietyGuardian newspaper.
This article caught me eye because it looks at the economic viability of these projects. This is interesting in the wider context of increasing numbers of people needing the support of ‘social care’ type organisations, an increasing strain on budgets and an increasing emphasis on projects having to demonstrate that they ‘work’. The latter whilst unequivocably being a good thing, in reality means that projects have to be ecomically viable (which often means cheapest, rather than best value/best quality) as well as having to spue out increasingly complex (perhaps meaningless) outcome indicators, with the actual task of collecting these statistics munching up precious time and resources…
There is also a huge emphasis on getting people into work – with an increasing backing and funding for projects that can ‘prove’/demonstrate that their punters get grafting.
The article neatly shows that horticultural therapy type projects are able to compete with the best of ’em in terms of society’s definition of what helps the ‘vulnerable’…
Go Gardeners is leading the way when it comes to helping young people with learning disabilities
Wednesday April 25, 2007
Employees of Go Gardeners tend the green spaces of Ravenswood Village, a sprawling community of self-contained houses and flats for people with learning disabilities in 120 acres of verdant Berkshire. And the social enterprise company, which employs nine young men and women with learning difficulties, is providing a profitable solution to a growing problem that has massive social and economic implications.
Many hundreds of thousands of people who, even a decade ago, would have died as children are now, thanks to medical science, living long into adulthood.
There are around half a million people with learning disabilities in the UK; many require complex and expensive care which the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities estimates costs £4.6bn a year. Around 65,000 of these people are young adults and this age group is rising by 1% every year.
But for all the good work of some local authorities, and companies such as Go Gardeners, to ensure young people with learning disabilities are fully integrated into work, friendship, relationships and gain a degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency, there are thousands for whom the transition from childhood to adulthood simply means that the name of the organisation “caring” for them changes. Go Gardeners addresses a crucial aspect of this – and ticks all the right boxes. It was set up a year ago with a view to providing genuine paid income for people with learning difficulties. It won the tender for gardening and landscape maintenance for Ravenswood in open competition against other landscape gardening companies.
Stuart Rowbotham, head of learning disability services at Wokingham borough council, Berkshire, will relate some of the success stories when he speaks today at a conference in Birmingham hosted by Dimensions, one of the UK’s largest providers of support for these young people.
Rowbotham says of Go Gardeners: “They have a real sense of achievement. It’s great for self-image and inclusion as they all contribute to society and pay taxes. As all nine employees were previously in day centres, the scheme is great because we don’t have to pay for support at the time they don’t need it.”
In Wokingham alone, 22 children every year transfer from children’s services to adult social care, while just three adults a year leave either because they have moved out of the area or because of deaths. Rowbotham says that in an average year his client base grows by 18 people with very particular disabilities who require extra services and support that is expensive.
“It’s really challenging for the social care economy,” he says. “We have 460 clients on our books and a budget of £19m. The client base is growing every year and we don’t get a yearly uplift of funds to reflect that. So it’s about how we can make the money and resources that we have got go further.” Care services rely on costly locum or agency staff with, sadly, variable quality. Wokingham has set up an in-house social enterprise employment agency, Support Horizons, which has 50 freelance general social care staff on its books and people with learning difficulties on its board of directors.
The company eliminates the fees of commercial agencies and ploughs any profit back into services.
Local authorities also need to change their usually somewhat frosty relationships with the services providers into one where they actively share responsibilities for keeping a lid on budgets.
Wokingham works with New Support Options, a company providing support for people with learning difficulties in the Berkshire area. Rowbotham says: “Commissioners like me have kept ourselves at a distance from providers. We pass a budget to them and they have to tell me exactly what they are spending it on. Sometimes there is a sense of mistrust on the part of commissioners when the providers ask for more. Now we work with NSO on a shared budget basis and have been able to drive down costs.”
In some cases, totally redesigning a client’s care package has seen amazing cost reductions of up to 50%, but more commonly, Rowbotham says, redesigns deliver savings of between 10% and 20% and clients have a service that reflects their specific needs as young adults.
When two young men decided to share a flat, they eliminated the need for two sets of 24-hour support workers. In another case, a young man who had been living in residential care as a child – which cost £123,000-a-year – is now cared for by NSO at £60,000. As Rowbotham explains: “We asked him: ‘How do we work with you within your budget to meet your needs?’ Costs have come down because he just pays for the care and support he needs at the time he needs it, rather than round-the-clock, whether he needs it or not.”