Social Innovation - The Clare Project

Social Innovation - The Clare Project

17 December 2015

Social Innovation is the new big thing for the sector. But there’s a problem. Although it is a very simple concept its proponents are so fond of jargon that few understand what it is all about. 

The Clare Project based in North Belfast is all about looking out for older and vulnerable people within the community and helping to keep them safe and well.

It is a simple model that has great potential for helping people to retain their independence for as long as possible, and at the same time strengthening communities.

It is also creating great excitement not just in Northern Ireland but across the UK. It is the first project in Northern Ireland to receive support from the Big Society Fund, and is part funded by the Public Health Agency. Many are already seeing the Clare concept as one that should be rolled out across many other communities.

Clare was set up by Mount Vernon Community Development Forum after wide-ranging research. Home care services might meet some basic needs, but what do older and vulnerable people actually want? What can local people do to help them, and could they get a project up and running that would address these issues and save public money by avoiding unnecessary stays in hospitals and residential homes?

What emerged was a project based on what older people themselves said they wanted and what others in the community said they would like to do to help.

Crucially the project was devised in the community with strong input both from service users and volunteers and sets out to address social need which existing provision is not reaching.

“It turned out, said project manager Laura Feeney, “that what people said they needed was exactly what people wanted to give. Things like helping them with the shopping, or to visit the bank, or in some cases just company".

Social isolation was a big issue identified and one that the project set out to address: by its nature state-paid for care is regimented where it exists and can be limited to two 15 minute visits per day. There is a gap here, and one which strong communities can help to fill. Volunteers are also able to help by putting people in touch with community groups and advice services, ensuring that they get all the access they need to help, companionship and support.

The project has been up and running for 18 months and to date has had 105 referrals of older and vulnerable people and already has 50 volunteers who collectively have given 1,000 hours of help. Nine of these have been inspired to go on to secure jobs in the health care sector.

Laura Feeney added: “We started around Mount Vernon and then spread down the Shore Road, we’re now covering large parts of North Belfast".

Last week the project won the “Cutting Edge” category in the Belfast Health Trust’s Chairman’s awards, an early recognition of its effectiveness.

The project is being monitored closely to see how much money it saves in terms of reductions in missed medical appointments, outpatient visits and delays in people having to use residential homes.

Ultimately it is about getting better outcomes by adopting a different, community-based approach firmly based on what people want.

It has great potential for other areas, provided that existing community structures are strong.

The Clare project can be contacted on 028 9077 4185.

This article first appeared in Scope NI. You can follow them on Twitter at @ScopeNI, visit their website at and you can subscribe to their weekly email here

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