The role of the third sector in the Connecting People study

The third sector plays an important role in the Connecting People study. Four of the agencies in the ethnographic study were in the third sector and at least three in the pilot study will be as well.

These agencies have played a crucial role in shaping the intervention model which we are now starting to pilot. Through observations, interviews and focus groups in third sector agencies we gained an insight into practice which appeared effective at facilitating social connections. We have harnessed these insights and integrated them with those gained from the statutory sector to produce the model.

I have written a paper to share case studies of the four agencies whose practice helped us to develop the Connecting People Intervention model. The full text can be downloaded here. If you don’t have the time to read the full paper, or to whet your appetite, the abstract is reproduced below:

The role of the third sector in social capital enhancement and mobilisation: evidence from an ethnographic study

A number of factors including increasing life expectancy, increasing expectation about independence and decreasing institutional care are creating a sustained growth in the need for social care services for adults in England (Care Quality Commission, 2009). In its vision for a ‘Big Society’, the UK Government aims to increase the role of civil society in the provision of public services such as social care (Department of Health, 2010; Her Majesty’s Government, 2010). Communities are to be empowered to develop local arrangements for the care of vulnerable and marginalised people, based on the reciprocal principle of providing and receiving services, facilitated by personal budgets. Integral to its aim of developing strong communities, the Government is committed to enhancing individual and collective well-being (Department of Health, 2011).

There is robust evidence that positive and supportive social relationships are associated with well-being (Aked et al., 2008; Webber et al., 2011). However, vulnerable adults in need of care services are frequently marginalised in communities and have restricted social networks (Catty et al., 2005). Some social care workers help people to build relationships and strengthen their connections with their local community (Huxley et al., 2009), but this is afforded a low priority by many (McConkey & Collins, 2010) in spite of increasing evidence of the importance of social capital for health and well-being (Kawachi et al., 2007). To address this, we are developing a social intervention for social care workers to use in supporting people with mental health problems to develop and enhance their social relationships. This provides training and a ‘toolkit’ of resources for workers in how to work alongside an individual to explore their current social network, identify their goals (such as increasing confidence or meeting new people, for example), and support them to achieve them.

The intervention has been developed from an ethnographic study of practice in health and social care agencies in the third and statutory sectors, and informed by literature and scoping reviews. This paper presents the findings of the Connecting People study, funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research School for Social Care Research, and will highlight the unique contribution of social enterprises, housing associations and other voluntary sector organisations in connecting people with their local communities. We will discuss the main themes emerging from interviews and observations with over 60 workers and 50 service users gathered over a period of twelve months. We will also present the intervention model which emerged from these findings, which dynamically relates the practice of workers to a cycle of change for service users, in the context of outward-facing agencies which are embedded in their local communities.

We will argue in this paper that the third sector is better placed than statutory agencies to support the participation of people with mental health problems, and other vulnerable adults, in their local communities. The Connecting People study found more innovation, flexibility and creativity in the third sector agencies in the project. However, in times of fiscal retrenchment and resource scarcity, the third sector will need to be more innovative than ever to maintain its success, which cannot rely indefinitely on voluntarism.


Aked, J., Marks, N., Cordon, C. and Thompson, S. (2008) Five Ways to Wellbeing. A Report Presented to the Foresight Project on Communicating the Evidence Base for Improving People’s Well-Being London: New Economics Foundation.

Care Quality Commission (2009) The State of Health Care and Adult Social Care in England London: The Stationery Office.

Catty, J., Goddard, K., White, S. and Burns, T. (2005) Social networks among users of mental health day care, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 40, 6, 467-474.

Department of Health (2010) A Vision for Adult Social Care: Capable Communities and Active Citizens London: Department of Health.

Department of Health (2011) No Health Without Mental Health: A Cross-Government Mental Health Outcomes Strategy for People of All Ages London: Department of Health.

Her Majesty’s Government (2010) Building a Stronger Civil Society. A Strategy for Voluntary and Community Groups, Charities and Social Enterprises London: The Cabinet Office.

Huxley, P., Evans, S., Beresford, P., Davidson, B. and King, S. (2009) The principles and provisions of relationships: findings from an evaluation of Support, Time and Recovery Workers in mental health services in England, Journal of Social Work, 9, 1, 99-117.

Kawachi, I., Subramanian, S.V. and Kim, D. (eds) (2007) Social capital and health, New York: Springer-Verlag.

McConkey, R. and Collins, S. (2010) The role of support staff in promoting the social inclusion of persons with an intellectual disability, Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 54, 8, 691-700.

Webber, M., Huxley, P. and Harris, T. (2011) Social capital and the course of depression: Six-month prospective cohort study, Journal of Affective Disorders, 129, 1-2, 149-157.

I’m presenting this paper at the 10th Conference of the International Society for Third-Sector Research in Siena, Italy, on Friday. I’m hoping to stimulate a discussion about the role of the third sector in social care and social work. I’ll be satisfied, though, if a few people go away having heard about the Connecting People study and perhaps take some ideas home with them.

(The paper is part of a symposium on personalisation. If you’re interested in reading the abstracts of the other papers, these can be found on my blog)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s