Ageing > Circle

The Beveridge welfare state did not envisage the challenges and opportunities of a nation where one in five of the population are over the age of 60. Today this age group are diverse: rich in experience and this demographic includes those who own 80 percent of the nation’s wealth and those who cannot afford their fuel bills.

We suggested an innovation project that would start with older people themselves, that would include the abundance of experience and wealth and would ask how this could be shared in order to grow a new approach for all, rooted in prevention and the fostering of capabilities. Southwark Council, Sky media and DWP came forward to fund the open innovation.

We asked: what would support a flourishing third age?

We worked with over 250 people in Southwark, South London to develop some answers.

It took us time to get to the heart of the matter: at first people thought we could influence current services but over time it became clear that we were offering an invitation to participate in something new. At this point the work became very rich. People shared 65 insights including a desire for:

On-demand practical support
Low level support had been increasingly withdrawn over time forcing people to access more expensive, complex services or to hang onto things they no longer needed. People told us they wanted someone to sort the little things: change a light bulb, hang the curtains.

People wanted social connections that were genuine with like-minded people. People did not want to be “be-friended” but they did want the opportunity to go out and make new friends, particularly when they may have become isolated after a bereavement or a long period of caring for a loved one.

A life with purpose
People told us they wanted to find new ways of living, working and contributing for this third stage of life.

Other core insights included: Public spaces that are kind to older people: benches you can sit on, toilets that are clean and accessible: older people want to be out and about; Ways of keeping in touch with family members who increasingly live at a distance and the insight that any support should not talk about “ageing” or “being old”.

We designed an innovative membership service we called Circle: open to anyone over 50, focused on providing on demand practical support and a rich social life.

For a small subscription all members had access to a free 0800 number for practical support and a rich social calendar. A simple technology platform enabled a small local team to respond on demand and connect members to one another. Circle had limited overheads: no buildings, vehicles etc, turning traditional business models on their heads.

Early success in Southwark led us to prototype Circles in a number of different locations carrying out local scoping exercises to tailor Circle to different localities.

In every location we actively recruited members and then worked with them to integrate them within the service. A community that included the 50+ provided a rich and diverse membership base that could support those who were older and more frail. The boundaries between members, staff and helpers were often blurred as Circle members took ownership of their Circle.

Since its launch in 2009 Circle has welcomed over 7,500 members in seven geographical areas. The concept of a community-based service that focuses on prevention and draws in the ‘young old’ as well as their families and friends has become a widely-shared goal in local authorities around the UK.

We have documented the history of Circle and our learning in depth in our learning report. Some headlines include:

Circle outcomes have been independently verified. Most recent figures include the following:

  • over 88% of members have made new friends, with an average of six new friends , plus hundreds of thousands of new social connections made;
  • the unnecessary take up of statutory services has been reduced: for example 26% of members in one location visited their GP less ;
  • over 20,500 plus instances of practical support and learning facilitated.

Circle was designed to facilitate wider change in the system: this is difficult to achieve but impact has been strong where local partners themselves have a strong complementary vision and plan for Circle as part of wider system change.

Issues we have identified – in particular loneliness – have risen up the national policy agenda. Two Circles continue to grow and the model has been emulated nationally and internationally.