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Case Study:

Collaboration is in our DNA

This month the Locality spotlight is shining down on Torbay Community Development Trust.

Published: 29 June 2022
5 minute read

This month the Locality spotlight is shining down on Torbay Community Development Trust (TCDT).

We often talk about how difficult it can be for people to find and access the support they need – whatever that might be. Due to poor communication between state, voluntary and private sector services, people can often feel as if they are being passed from pillar to post.

In recent years TCDT has set its focus on changing this through creating what they refer to as an “ecosystem of support” for their community.

The idea is simple. Through their helpline (Torbay Community helpline), TCDT provides a “front door” for local people needing welfare or wellbeing support. The helpline is primarily run by community based volunteers, who take calls at home and input callers’ needs into a central database. Each case is then picked up by or triaged to the most relevant services and support in their local area – whether it be a food bank, a befriending service, community support or social care.

Our whole organisation shifted in the space of a week”

Simon, Torbay CDT

This “ecosystem” now involves over 100 charities and community groups and has helped more than 8,500 people with needs ranging from housing to dog walking.

Of course, simple ideas are seldom so simple to implement. The creation of this ecosystem has involved fundamentally challenging and changing the way people think and work. In order to achieve this, Torbay Development Trust has had to persuade funders, the local authority, health service, VCSE partners, and the local community, to shift towards a far more flexible and collaborative approach.

We took the chance to talk to David Gledhill and Simon Sherbersky of Torbay Community Development Trust to find out how this ecosystem evolved, the future of the project, and what other places, funders and community groups can learn from this experience.

Growing the Ecosystem

Prior to the pandemic, TCDT already had several the key jigsaw parts of the ‘ecosystem’ in place.
TCDT have been running an ageing well programme” (part of Age UK’s Ageing better programme), aimed at tackling isolation and loneliness for older people for a number of years. This programme was a “social prescribing ecosystem” which included “community builders trained in the art of asset based community development, peer support for mental health and more”

When Covid hit, their funder, the National Lottery, was open to them using their funds in an unrestricted way. This freed them up to offer other forms of support through their helpline. This gave TCDT the flexibility to transform their services quickly; as Simon told us, “Our whole organisation shifted in the space of a week”.

The majority of TCDT’s work was channelled into manning staffing this helpline (utilising the swathe of community spirit generated by the pandemic). This helpline ensured people across Torbay had access to the services they needed throughout this period of uncertainty and upheaval. Through their role as the local CVS, they already had strong, trusting connections with charities and community groups across the area. As Simon explained, “we’re a hybrid, a community development trust as well as a CVS, so we also provide support to local charities, community groups etc. And have a funding officer who brings in in excess of a £1m and supports around 150 local groups per year”. This gave them an excellent overview of the services and support offered across Torbay, and to triage effectively to the right expertise to meet their needs.

The local authority carried out a survey that found that 75% of referrals (using a sample of 630) had all their needs met by this ecosystem of support. Recognising the success of the helpline and support ecosystem being developed, the local authority decided to make the helpline the first port of call for their adult social care services. This helped to alleviate pressure on these services by directing some people to more appropriate support offered elsewhere in the community. Getting the local authority onboard was a huge factor in the ecosystem becoming a truly holistic offering and also helped to give it a stamp of legitimacy. As Simon told us: “Being commissioned by the local authority (adult social care) to be its new front door for social services – this is true transformation. The children’s services now want to buy into it too, and there is input and involvement from the mental health trust and local NHS partners”.

What can be learned from the Torbay experience?

It would be easy to look at the TCDT experience and say they had a unique set of circumstances and that these circumstances enabled them to build this ecosystem. Their work as a CVS meant they had excellent connections across the community and voluntary sector. The pandemic made funders and the local authority more flexible. This time also coincided with an uptick in community spirit and people offering their time and skills.

However, there are a number of key learnings that can be taken from the ‘Torbay Model’.

Collaboration is key:

TCDT take a collaborative approach with groups from all sectors – they recognise their own expertise and limitations and actively seek partnerships with groups that complement these. They believe that groups need to be far less protective of their image, client base, etc – to get out of their competitive mentality. However, for this to happen local authorities and other funders must find ways to incentivise collaboration through their funding calls.

“The message to local commissioners is you need to enable the local voluntary sector to come together through collaborative commissioning. The message to VCSE is to embrace the spirit of collaboration – we’re adding huge value by coming together – if you work together you deliver better services, better outcomes and most importantly improve lives!”

Flexible and long-term funding:

The National Lottery and public sector funders were very flexible with how their funding could be spent. The trust and freedom that TCDT were given enabled them to use their extensive local knowledge to decide where and how best to channel these funds.

As Simon explained, discussing local authority support: “The funding that has come to us has come with no strings and no specification – that’s very rare… They didn’t try to interfere with what we were doing. They just said ‘what you’re doing is amazing, we just want to fund it and build more capacity for it to do more. We’ve told them what additional support we need and they’ve given it”.

Involving the community and appreciating volunteers:

One of the key elements of the success of the TCDT ecosystem has been recruiting (and retaining) a large and dedicated local volunteer community. As was the case across the country, during the pandemic TCDT saw a huge increase in volunteers during the pandemic. TCDT realised the importance of giving these volunteers a clear role where they could make a tangible difference on an ongoing basis. “We’ve been very careful to nurture our volunteers, write to them regularly and show our appreciation”, David told us.

As we move beyond the pandemic, TCDT is now exploring creative ways to keep people engaged and feeling valued. These range from spotlighting their work in the local press and Radio to introducing ‘volunteer passports’ (where volunteers could share their skills between different services – picking up new experiences and skills).

What does the future hold for TCDT and the Torbay model?

Having seen the success of the Torbay model, the National Lottery, local statutory bodies and other funders have now committed to supporting the ecosystem long-term.

The double impact to the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic has meant that financial advice and support and the provision of a mental health triage have become increasing important parts of TCST’s work.

Simon has also begun working with other local authorities and community groups in the region to find ways of replicating the model elsewhere. He and David both passionately believe the success of the Torbay model and the key to any similar model being established elsewhere, lies in collaboration.

For more information you can DM @TorbayCDT or email them on:

“Collaboration is part of our DNA” Simon told us. “There is always more work to do to foster and nurture the smaller groups and make it not feel like a closed club making decisions for everyone. We need to make sure that everyone feels recognised and valued”.

Simon, Torbay CDT