Solo Life Opportunities

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Solo Life Opportunities is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

www.solihullsolo.org

BEST PRACTICE SPONSOR 2020
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
34 | SHINE GROUP
would often leave. To address this
issue, we have tried to improve our
offering with specialist services that
the government would not typically
provide in supported living provisions.
This includes bolt-on additional in-
house services such as occupational
therapy, dance movement therapy
and substance misuse services, all of
which have allowed us to retain staff
and to provide the government and
our funders with much better value
formoney.
By offering such a wide range of
specialist in-house services, our
employees can practise what they
trained for. Alongside making our
workforce happier, we aim to make
working for our organisation more
fulfilling and rewarding.
Tackling double stigma
We have also established new
processes to promote the employment
of those we work with, attempting
to tackle the massive double stigma
associated with employing those with
mental health issues and criminal
backgrounds. Many of those we
have worked with have had their
future avenues blocked because of
widespread perceptions about mental
health, especially those with a criminal
background. We try and tackle this
issue head on, bridging the gap and
finding internal opportunities for our
individuals to build their CV.
We have also set up a peer support
network which can help them to re-
build their lives. We would welcome
further support in this area and so
we are hoping to set up a charity
designed to support this effort. Many
individuals we work with are looking
for opportunities to get back into the
world of work, and we are going to
try and promote this entrepreneurship.
If efforts like these were encouraged,
money would be saved by the
government and our individuals would
benefit enormously as well as become
able to give back to society.
Crisis intervention
Another key challenge our industry
faces, and one we work to solve, is
the effectiveness of crisis services in
their ability to provide a coordinated
response to mental health crises.
Without the support of specialist
mental health professionals, these
challenges can become even more
complex. An efficient reactive and
joined-up service is needed.
For us as an organisation, our attitude
and our innovative approaches have
made a significant difference in the
level of demand for our services. Our
priority going forward is to continue
our growth while still ensuring we
retain our quality.
At the end of the day, we are dealing
with human beings, and so if we are to
grow, we need good-quality staff and
managers to grow with us, to ensure
our society is a safer place tolive. Our
priority going forward is to continue
our growth while always ensuring we
retain our focus – the individuals we
care for.
Our attitude
and our
innovative
approaches
have made a
significant
difference in
the level of
demand for
our services
Staff and residents at
Moss Hall Crescent
35SOLO LIFE OPPORTUNITIES |
HEALTH & SOCIAL WORK
CEO Karon Swinburn
Embracing disability,
empowering lives
SoLO Life Opportunities is a Solihull-based charity which
enables and empowers children, young people and
adults with learning disabilities to enjoy the activities and
experiences that many of us take for granted. By providing
these opportunities, SoLO makes a difference for over 1,000
people with learning disabilities, approximately a quarter of the
total number, in the Solihull borough. Parents and carers also
value the respite services that this activity provides. CEO Karon
Swinburn tells
The Parliamentary Review
that it continues to be
driven by providing outstanding opportunities for life, enabling
people with learning disabilities to move towards independence
with the appropriate support.
SoLO Life Opportunities was established 19 years ago and has achieved rapid
growth since: we began with only £500 in the bank and have now reached an
annual turnover of £2 million plus; we began with only one project and now have
30. We focus on supporting a variety of age groups comprised of people with
learning disabilities and various other disabilities.
We aim to encourage them to embrace their disability and empower their lives
through social and leisure opportunities, grounding our approach on learning and
independence. The main way we do this is through the provision of opportunities
or support for them, their families and their carers – and it is growing. We have
over 250 staff and volunteers and this number continues to grow.
FACTS ABOUT
SOLO LIFE OPPORTUNITIES
»CEO: Karon Swinburn
»Established in 2000
»Based in Chelmsley Wood,
Solihull
»Services: Disability support
»No. of employees: 250
SoLO Life
Opportunities
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
36 | SOLO LIFE OPPORTUNITIES
All of our projects are currently based
in Birmingham and Solihull, but we are
looking to expand into surrounding
areas. Our business is strong and
we want to extend the benefits we
provide to other areas of the country.
Currently, we make a difference to
over 1,000 children and adults with
a learning disability as well as to over
1,500 parents and carers. If we increase
the geographical area we cover, we can
raise this figure even higher.
Our core values
Our business is based on our core values
and the core attributes of the business:
safety, trust, adaptability, resilience and
quality. Choice and independence are
key. As a member-led organisation,
we respond to the requirements of our
members, shaping our provision around
their needs. For our activity-based
projects, we host regular meetings
with those members to discuss the
programme and its format and content.
Although we may organise the projects,
the projects truly belong to them.
We have a flat structure within the
organisation, overseen by a board
of trustees who are all volunteers.
We organise a variety of training
programmes including both face-
to-face training and e-learning to
ensure all our staff and volunteers can
meet the requirements set by CQC
and Ofsted. Since I first came to the
organisation, we have expanded and
diversified our training programmes
and have focused on training our
staff in different ways. We want to
be confident that all of our staff are
trained to an exceptional level, and so
we must ensure the training reflects
this. As many of our users have
complex needs, these diverse training
programmes are essential.
Adapting to expansion
One of the biggest challenges we face
is adapting to our rate of growth.
Over the last five years, we have
expanded rapidly, and this has meant
we have had to adapt accordingly,
both in terms of our internal structure
and of recruiting staff to support our
new size. One of the key issues we
had to address was changing internal
attitudes. People can be anxious about
change and development, and we
Another memory made
Choice and
independence
are key; as a
member-led
organisation,
we respond to
the
requirements
of our
members and
shape our
provision
around their
needs
Climbers – aiming high
BEST PRACTICE SPONSOR 2020
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
36 | SOLO LIFE OPPORTUNITIES
All of our projects are currently based
in Birmingham and Solihull, but we are
looking to expand into surrounding
areas. Our business is strong and
we want to extend the benefits we
provide to other areas of the country.
Currently, we make a difference to
over 1,000 children and adults with
a learning disability as well as to over
1,500 parents and carers. If we increase
the geographical area we cover, we can
raise this figure even higher.
Our core values
Our business is based on our core values
and the core attributes of the business:
safety, trust, adaptability, resilience and
quality. Choice and independence are
key. As a member-led organisation,
we respond to the requirements of our
members, shaping our provision around
their needs. For our activity-based
projects, we host regular meetings
with those members to discuss the
programme and its format and content.
Although we may organise the projects,
the projects truly belong to them.
We have a flat structure within the
organisation, overseen by a board
of trustees who are all volunteers.
We organise a variety of training
programmes including both face-
to-face training and e-learning to
ensure all our staff and volunteers can
meet the requirements set by CQC
and Ofsted. Since I first came to the
organisation, we have expanded and
diversified our training programmes
and have focused on training our
staff in different ways. We want to
be confident that all of our staff are
trained to an exceptional level, and so
we must ensure the training reflects
this. As many of our users have
complex needs, these diverse training
programmes are essential.
Adapting to expansion
One of the biggest challenges we face
is adapting to our rate of growth.
Over the last five years, we have
expanded rapidly, and this has meant
we have had to adapt accordingly,
both in terms of our internal structure
and of recruiting staff to support our
new size. One of the key issues we
had to address was changing internal
attitudes. People can be anxious about
change and development, and we
Another memory made
Choice and
independence
are key; as a
member-led
organisation,
we respond to
the
requirements
of our
members and
shape our
provision
around their
needs
Climbers – aiming high
37SOLO LIFE OPPORTUNITIES |
HEALTH & SOCIAL WORK
worked hard to support them through
this. Our answer to this change in
culture was predominantly solution
based, and this is something we are
looking to continue.
Now that we have expanded, it is time
to review our flat internal structure. It is
essential as a business to respond to our
markets, both current and potential,
and we therefore need to ensure that
we retain and attract the best. We need
to invest in our staff to ensure SoLO is
fit for purpose and our staff feel able
to commit to the organisation going
forward. The social care sector is not
very highly valued in the marketplace,
despite the essential work we do, and
this can lead to a high turnover of staff.
The third sector, and its vital role in
supporting both the public and private
sector, is extremely undervalued, and
this must change so our contribution,
and that of all other charitable
organisations, is recognised.
This type of consolidation and internal
review will be key to harnessing the
potential of our recent success. As
we look ahead, there are a myriad of
opportunities to take advantage of.
In 2022, the Commonwealth Games
will be held in Birmingham, and with
my background in the sports sector as
secretary-general of an international
sporting organisation, this will enable
the organisation to build links into these
sporting streams and take advantage of
any opportunities that may arise.
Although our primary focus is
consolidation in the immediate future,
we must also consider our continued
growth and are therefore looking to
replicate our services in other boroughs
and beyond. This will help to maximise
the community benefit we can offer as
well as ensuring we are able to access
a variety of funding streams, protecting
the future of the organisation. One of
our strategic plans focuses on this issue,
specifically targeting the diversification
of our funding streams. Over seven
years ago, the board recognised that
the organisation was mainly reliant
on the income of just one contract.
Since then our strategic plan has
been to diversify our income sources
to ensure future sustainability for the
organisation, and therefore additional
business streams were developed which
have successfully addressed this issue.
It remains an essential element of our
strategic direction to maintain that
diversity which also enables SoLO to
offer a greater choice of activities.
To support the expansion of our
services, and because of the importance
of infrastructure, our website and brand
both need to work hard to increase
our reach, and we have plans set up
to achieve this. The financial stability
of the organisation is a priority, and
with robust systems and infrastructure
in place, the future is something to be
excited about.
The future is
something to
be excited
about
Providing truly
rewarding experiences

www.solihullsolo.org

This article was sponsored by Solo Life Opportunities. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.