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Ta-ra from me

Angela Catley, Director of Development, reflects on her 15 years with Community Catalysts. She was pivotal to the development of the social enterprise and contributed to many models and approaches to make it what it is today. We thank her for all the hard work and dedication and wish her the very best in the future. 

15 or so years ago I sat in a pub, the Boars Head in Ripley if anyone cares, with Shared Lives Plus colleagues Sian and Deborah. We had a big pad of paper, pens, pints and heads full of dreams and ideas. We welcomed the well-funded ‘choice’ policy that was energetically engaging almost everyone in both local and national Government. But, and this was crucial, we could see the gaping, cavernous gap between the rhetoric and reality for people who need care or support to live their lives. We could see that personal budgets offered huge potential for people to take control and purchase support that worked for them. We could also see that there was little or no support for them to purchase!…well nothing different to the options already available.

Informed by recent work Shared Lives Plus had done in Oldham and Kent we saw an opportunity. An opportunity to help people who wanted to support and care for other people in ways that offered something more, something different, something that might result in real choice. Something with people, communities and their combined strengths at its heart. In that moment the idea of what became Community Catalysts was born.

We planned a social enterprise, connected initially to Shared Lives Plus, with a dogged focus on seeing the positive in every citizen, real choice and a belief that communities held the answers to the gap challenge we could see so clearly. We had so many lovely allies who made us believe our dream could become something.

Slowly our idea became an actual thing. We got an office, tiny (and a sauna whenever the sun shone) and a chunky, desktop phone system. We came up with a name and logo and lots of (never used) shiny printed flyers. We developed a website using tech that went out of date 2 weeks after we paid the developer. We plotted and dreamed. Very soon Helen, who had led the work in Oldham and Tracy her oppo in Kent joined our little gang. Jill came on board to offer much needed business expertise.

Community Catalysts became a tight knit, tireless, values driven, endlessly creative team, one that I have been so so proud to have been part of for over 15 years.

Sadly, time has seen the national focus on citizens, choice and control diminish. But that hasn’t diminished Community Catalysts and our vision – in some ways it has strengthened it.

The Community Catalysts team now numbers almost 50 people – an unbelievable number to me even now. We are now home to the splendid Local Area Coordination Network, Coalition for Personalised Care, Small Good Stuff Network and support Family and Group Conferencing for adults. We do loads to bang on about the things that people and communities can do, rather than their ‘needs’ and deficits which seems to have become almost ubiquitous elsewhere.

Over the years we have developed loads of new models and approaches and run some simply stunning projects. Some really stick in my mind, things like the Innovation Challenge in Leicestershire which had a focus on housing associations and projects thought up and delivered by their tenants. At the end we had a big event where tenants presented what they had achieved – a group of disenfranchised blokes with a serious forensic history told their story of acceptance and achievement and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Or 2 years work with the lovely folks of Hansel in Ayrshire supporting entrepreneurial people with a learning disability to establish their own enterprise. The pride in people as they demonstrated so clearly they were so much more than users of day services and the real and lasting impact this had on the them and the people around them. More recently I reflect on our Big Conversation work and the stunning local conversations in all 8 districts of Nottinghamshire, hearing challenges and ideas on the future of social care from 100s of people with person experience of it. All breaking new ground, seeing people and communities for their strengths, trusting citizens and working in partnership to make real things happen. Priceless memories I probably couldn’t have got anywhere other than Community Catalysts.

Then there is the ‘choice of care’ thing that we set out to work on all those years ago. That has turned out to be big and so impactful, seeing us working in many many areas, helping 1000s of enterprising local people, each one of them creating care choices for people in their neighbourhood. Personal, small and local is key – to us and most importantly to the people that choose that type of care or support. As I write this, we know 6408 people are choosing these types of services and so many more 1000s over past years. Amazing again…to me at least. We set off dreaming of choice and knowing that it only exists when there are options…different things to pick, different ways of getting the help people need, care and support as diverse as people are. Not one size fits all, not ‘time and task’ not just ‘calls’ and ‘beds’ and the narrow narrow narrow menu that has sadly become the norm since that pub conversation. Over the years we have stuck doggedly to this as much as we can, helping local people to develop whatever they have an interest in and seeing so many lovely, quirky, creative services emerge as a result.

So, 15 years on I am sad to say I have decided it’s time to move on. It’s been a really hard decision to make but I know in my heart it’s the right one for me. I am scared and excited in equal measure.

Such a lot of water has gone under the bridge and Community Catalysts has developed in ways we could never have imagined. I look at my wonderful colleagues old and new and am in awe of everything they are achieving every day. I am sure I will stay connected to the organisation and people I love but wanted to use this final bloggy opportunity to have a little trip down memory lane and say a proper ta-ra to them all. I wish everyone so much luck and goodwill as the organisation develops over its next phase.

Thanks Community Catalysts, its been a blast. Here’s to a future as blinking brilliant as the past.