A commissioner’s guide to developing and sustaining local user-led organisations

Good practice videos: Developing a new ULO

This section tells the story of a new ULO in Tamworth, Staffordshire, developed in partnership with the local authority commissioners, a ULO from a neighbouring area and local people who use services.

Watch commissioners and service users in Tamworth talking about their experiences of developing a new ULO (2010)

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The MAP story

In 2009 local authority commissioners from Tamworth in Staffordshire partnered with a long-standing ULO from a neighbouring area (Disability Solutions) and local people who use services to develop a new ULO from scratch: Mercian Ability Partnership (MAP). Disability Solutions offered MAP advice and expertise, while the commissioners helped MAP to access the support, premises and funding it needed.

MAP’s aim is to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ offering advice, information, services and representation for disabled people of all ages, from all social care user groups, and their carers. The organisation has come a long way in a short space of time, and now believes it is uniquely placed to provide what people really need, not what local service providers/commissioners think they need.

On their journey, the MAP team learned much that is relevant to all commissioners needing to develop a ULO from scratch.

Participants need to work in partnership, with users setting the agenda

Crucial to MAP’s success was strong partnership working from the beginning, and building trust with service providers as well as local people who use services. It was particularly important that the ULO wasn’t seen as part of the local authority by local people who use services.

With MAP, local people who use services set the agenda. This gave the ULO the independence it needed to truly reflect the needs of people in the local area.

Commissioners need to champion, facilitate and support ULOs

Commissioners struck a balance between facilitation and support, enabling the ULO to be both strong and independent. Commissioners championed the group, giving it a legitimacy and presence within the local authority.

ULOs need robust organisational foundations

It was vital that the ULO was established as a viable business from the very start. This meant: developing sound policies, procedures and governance structures; developing a robust quality assurance system; including funding for training in bids; having secure premises; and focussing on networking.

Having a dedicated, full-time development worker with the skills to manage a new organisation was crucial in successfully delivering milestones. It was important that staff were well supported: they needed time, support and training to develop new skills.

MAP found the experience, knowledge, advice and support of the mentor organisation crucial to its development. For more information on mentoring see the National Centre for Independent Living resources.

Be realistic with milestones and achievements

The milestones and timescales were unrealistic. Everyone involved now agrees that any new ULO must be given adequate time to develop: this means developing over two to three years, not one.

ULOs should invest in networking and marketing

With support from commissioners, MAP networked with other civil society organisations so that the work of each was not repeated, and relationships were supportive.

Having a high-profile launch event attended by well known dignitaries and local people who use services was seen as vital in getting the group known. Celebrating milestones and achievements was also important in boosting morale and raising the profile of the group.

MAP and the other partners constantly took advantage of opportunities to market the new group and raise awareness of its existence. The group has a dedicated marketing budget.