Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it

Practice example: Buckinghamshire Time Credits

About the project

Buckinghamshire Time Credits are supporting Prevention Matters, a programme to help people to live healthily and independently for longer. It is supported by Buckinghamshire County Council, district councils, the NHS and the local voluntary sector. Buckinghamshire Time Credits is a Spice Time Credit system, which is designed to support people to give time to support their communities and design and deliver better services.

Spice Time Credits works across the whole programme and local community by supporting local groups who are delivering preventative services to offer more activities, and to help to make sure that services better reflect the priorities of local older people.

Volunteers can earn Time Credits by giving their time to these organisations. People supported through the Prevention Matters programme also have the opportunity to earn Time Credits by getting more involved in designing and delivering services or volunteering to support other peers. Spending Time Credits across the community is also key to the programme’s outcomes. For example, people can use Time Credits to go swimming, to the theatre and for family days out.

What has co-production meant to the project?

The Spice Time Credits approach is engaging people to contribute as volunteers and also as co-designers of services and as peer supporters. This change from passive receipt of services to more active, asset-based working takes time and Spice is supporting groups to build on their ideas and capacities.

There has been a process of mapping assets in the area and other groups are beginning to see opportunities for developing what they can do as the scheme rolls out. A local lunch club that is using Time Credits is planning to offer one-off ’taster’ sessions for those with Time Credits, which will help to widen opportunities and raise awareness of the club.

As the groups develop further their ideas and offers for people to come and access their services with Time Credits, the benefits of co-production will grow.

What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?

The Buckinghamshire Prevention Matters team has worked with individuals and people who use services to identify where particular activities are a priority for users.

Spice has also trained frontline workers involved in outreach, assessments and linking people to preventative activities. It has trained them in how to use Time Credits as an asset-based tool to engage people in volunteering and spending Time Credits on healthy and enjoyable activities such as swimming or theatre.

There are currently 49 groups offering services including wellbeing groups for older people, day centres, lunch clubs, older people’s fitness groups, mental health self-help groups and community shops and cafes.

As the network builds in Buckinghamshire, co-production will be supported through groups working together effectively to help develop and enhance each other’s services. For example, the community transport groups can play a key role in linking people directly with the opportunities being offered by other groups in the network.

What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?

Working as part of the Prevention Matters structure involves working with a range of teams and services. There are community practice workers in different services and voluntary groups, community links officers at the county council, and the Volunteer Hub that is part the of the local Council for Voluntary Services. This means that care is needed around ‘silo working’ and making sure that the larger vision for change is maintained.

At its best there is a great opportunity to facilitate co-production at every stage of the various groups’ development and delivery. But the involvement of lots of support staff means it is necessary to ensure co-production does not become burdensome for the community groups themselves.

What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?

One of the main strengths is that the using Time Credits model with the Prevention Matters programme means that the ‘clients’ of the programme can be very effective, active service designers and builders.

This is seen in the self-help groups such as Mind the Gap where the members earn Time Credits to run and organise activities that support their mental health. The process of organising the activity also help people to keep well. And the Cuppas café (see below) has been strengthened by being able to have more activities/outings together as a result of having Time Credits.

What have been the main outcomes of the project?

Independent evaluation of Spice Time Credits are available at

How has the project worked to engage all sections of the community?

The project works through existing and emerging groups and their networks across a diverse range, but this needs to be strengthened.

Although the programme is targeted at adults, and older people in particular, Prevention Matters promotes intergenerational activity. For example, the members of local youth groups volunteer to do gardening at the homes of people who are supported through the scheme.

Particular service models within the programme ensure that they are represented across all ethnic groups. For example, the Movers and Shakers scheme, which runs groups to support healthier lifestyles, has meetings with ethnic community groups to support different cultural activities.

Two people’s experiences of Time Credits

Pat and the Cuppa café

Pat earns Time Credits as part of a team running a community café called Cuppas in Micklefield, one of two areas of deprivation in High Wycombe.

Cuppas provides a place for people to meet and make new friends, offering an activity for older people in the area to start their week. The volunteers who support the group are older and/or disabled people, and Pat feels that volunteering with the group helps ‘satisfy the very basic human need to be needed’.

Members take regular Cuppas customers and friends out with them to do activities which they pay for with Time Credits, such as trips to the Wycombe Swan Theatre.

Pat says: ‘It started off with just a couple of people, but on our last visit to the scary play “The Woman in Black" our numbers had increased to twelve.’

She and others in the group have also been able to go swimming more as a result: ‘Being able to swim for free encouraged me to resume this sport after several years away from it. I have enjoyed socialising with other Cuppas volunteers and being able to treat customers and friends who normally would not go to the theatre. Using Time Credits stops it seeming like we’re offering charity’.

Michael and the dial-a-ride service

Michael earns Time Credits as a driver at the Chiltern Dial-a-Ride (CDAR) service. CDAR provides a door-to-door transport service with wheelchair-accessible mini buses and trained drivers for people who are not able to travel independently or use public transport.

Michael joined the service as a volunteer driver to help them meet increasing demand.

Michael says: ‘I like the idea of Time Credits – it rewards people in their voluntary work, though that is not why I do it. I enjoy driving and meeting people and feel that I am putting something back into the community’.

‘Time credits will encourage me to get out more, particularly as the gardening is coming to an end as autumn approaches. I hope to use the time credits for more visits to the theatre and museums, etc with my family and in particular my granddaughters. Having the credits will encourage me to venture out more during the autumn and winter to visit places and to meet other people.’