Why I’m so excited to be joining Community Circles


We are delighted to announce that Martin Routledge is joining Community Circles as Head of Development. Until this summer, Martin was the interim Head of Person Centred Care at NHS England. Prior to this he was Director of the Coalition for Collaborative Care, which launched in November 2014 to drive progress in personalisation with people with long term health conditions, and he is a qualified social worker who has worked for 20 years in councils, higher education and the third sector.

Post by Martin Routledge

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking to colleagues and friends about my new role as Head of Development at Community Circles, to start in October. I thought I would pull together some of the thoughts and conversations in this first blog.

For those of you who are new to Circles, they are a way of bringing people together around an individual with the support of a trained volunteer facilitator, in order to support the person to achieve an outcome or change that they would like to see happen in their life. The facilitator’s role is to structure a Circle’s meetings, and help turn aspirations and ideas into action. It’s deceptively simple, and very effective. Circles have been around for quite a long time but now seems the right time to make them available to many more people and that’s what Community Circles is starting to do.

Community Circles bring policy rhetoric about supporting resilient communities to life, even with limited funding

“At its best, the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector does not just deliver to individuals, it draws upon whole communities: for volunteering and social action which addresses service-resistant problems like loneliness and stigma, and for the expertise of lived experience in designing more effective, sustainable services and systems. This is the way to address the social determinants of health, build resilience and promote self-care and independence, all of which should be clear in both our public services’ visions and in their allocation of resources.”
VCSE Investment Review, 2016


Although evidence shows that personalisation can provide better value and better outcomes for people, it can be very difficult for organisations to have the breathing space to develop new models of care and support. The principles of personalisation are now built into statutory requirements and policy through the Care Act, the NHS Five Year Forward View but they are far from a reality for most people. The Independent Living Strategy Group report (2015) revealed the rhetoric/reality gap here.

The more I learn about Community Circles, the more I see the potential we have to deliver on the principles of personalisation through the power of community solidarity.

  • Every person who has a Circle is supported to set their own outcomes and direct the Circle’s progress through an established, step-by-step process based around person-centred thinking tools.
  • A Circle brings together a group of people to support a person in achieving their outcomes, and the facilitation process directly promotes the identification and deployment of community-based assets to make them happen.
  • The regular nature of Circles means that they are sensitive to people’s ongoing needs, and can often pick up issues before they grow.
  • Circles can be designed to bring together family and friends with professionals from a range of sectors, promoting truly integrated support that centres on the person’s needs – but starting from the person.
  • Circles can thrive when set up in partnership with a support provider. For example Community Circles are currently working with home-care providers, care homes, schools and hospices; embedding the Circle model within their existing support and extending it into communities. This makes them an essential part of their support, not an add-on; and the results are proving to be extremely positive.
  • A Circle can lead to any number of outputs depending on the person’s desired outcome. Actions are assigned at meetings and taken forward before the next one. This doesn’t mean that the team is acting on behalf of someone; they are acting alongside them and in support of their goals. This puts the person in the driving seat when it comes to their own care and support.

We are a charity, and our flexible model means that we deliver all of this within a framework that provides real value-for-money. With no charge to the person or family themselves, the cost of an individual having a Circle has been assessed on average to be only £13.46 per week when a Connector is supporting their maximum number of Circles. This is roughly equivalent to one hour of home care in many areas – yet by organising a group of people around the person, we’re seeing results that are worth so much more. We can offer Circles wherever we have a Community Circles Connector in place. For the most up-to-date list of areas we work, visit our ‘Where We Work’ page.

Taking Community Circles forward

As Community Circles’ Head of Development, part of my role will be to share the message around the potential of Community Circles to meet many of our national (and international!) challenges. Rather than focus on making recommendations though, we will focus on the provision of practical solutions.

So what next? Well, I’ll be working with the team to develop our strategy to make Circles available to thousands of people over the next few years, broadening their offer to people in any circumstances where they might benefit. For example, when my mum was reaching the end of her life, facing a complex web of services I wondered what happened to people without local supportive family.  There’s a long road ahead, and I’m looking forward to joining the rest of the team on the journey. We hope you’ll be interested to find out more and perhaps even explore developing Circles or perhaps becoming a facilitator where you live?
If you’d like to talk to me about how Community Circles could work with your organisation, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.