Supported living: a life not a service

Last week, Learning Disability England held their first conference, focusing on Supported Living. Certitude was a proud sponsor of the conference and I was delighted to be part of the panel debating how to get supported living right now and for the future. I firmly believe that People and Partnerships are what make supported living a life not a service.

By people I am specifically referring to the personal support from support workers, people who are recruited because of their shared interests with the people they are supporting, people who are inspired by people, who are dependable and reliable, who are always looking for ways to improve the quality of opportunity to people they support, people who know we are better working together than apart.

The great opportunity and indeed the greatest challenge is attracting these people into our support networks and organisations. I remember vividly my first job as a support worker – the fire in my belly to be part of making life great, fun and interesting with the young women with profound Learning Disabilities that I was supporting. I remain confident there are lots of people who have the fire in their belly too – many who don’t even know the wonderful career they could be having! Our collective opportunity is to show what a great job it is to all ages – to inspire those young people who want to change the world that we want them in our world – that they can make a difference – possibly in ways they or we never even dreamt of.

I am inspired by the wonderful young people in the Brit School, the performing arts school in Croydon where each year they put on a joint performance with people with LD – some are now thinking about careers that they didn’t even know existed! I am not disillusioned but I am also not deluded. I know how big our task is – cost of living and wage pressures are challenging especially in London. But we have a better collective offer than we realise and that is our opportunity.

Partnerships are the second key to supported living being a life not a service, a partnership of equals between the person being supported, their family and those providing support, a genuine blending of ideas all focused towards moving forward in life. A partnership that gets things done – that stands firmly alongside the person to fight for their right to a life, the right to housing, the right to funding. A partnership that is under no illusion with regards to its priority. A partnership that is based on honesty and openness that works together to overcome challenges that may sometimes feel insurmountable, that sticks with each other through thick and thin. This is the kind of supported living we seek to offer in Certitude.

Sam* is someone we support who loves water, washing machines and is a great gardener – especially mowing lawns using impressive lawn mowers! He also has a learning disability, autism and a long standing challenging behaviour label. When we met Sam he lived in supported living – in his own place with his own team. Tick tick supported living. Sam rarely went out, he didn’t know his neighbourhood, his team was an all male one and largely geared towards keeping everyone safe. Sam now lives in a house with one other man – the house designed specifically for them both – his own garden which he looks after with great care, a washing machine which when I popped by recently Sam and 2 of his team were lying on the floor next to watching the world and the whirr go round! Sam is a familiar person in his local community – the local cafe knows his favourites. I told you Sam loves water – this included deciding to take an unplanned dip in the lake at the local park. So what do you do? Well, his two support workers got in too! What previously may have led to police being called, a frightened Sam, restraint – you know how it goes – instead led to a fun afternoon that is now one of the many great stories that make up Sam’s interesting life. My point is both of Sam’s housing experiences were supported living but only one is a life.

Delivering better outcomes through collaborative working

AislingFor the past 18 months, Certitude has been part of Lambeth’s Integrated Personalised Support Alliance (IPSA) providing support to enable people with long term mental health issues to live more independently within the community.

Together with Thames Reach, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Lambeth Council, we have been working to deliver on three outcomes that were identified by people as most important to them:

1. I want to recover and stay well
2. I want to make my own choices
3. I want to participate on an equal footing in daily life.

IPSA’s One Year report explains the original objectives for the alliance, our progress against them and some learning to date. Some of the key headlines include:

• A 60% reduction in admission rates to inpatient rehabilitation wards in Lambeth
• A 67% reduction rate in people going into residential care and an increase in 30% of people leaving residential care
• On course to deliver circa 20% saving by end of year 2

As Chair of the Alliance Leadership Team, I have been struck by some of the key principles that have driven the success of the Alliance to date:

• The work of the alliance has undoubtedly been driven by a shared core belief that integrated and personalised support delivers better outcomes at a lower cost.
• This belief has in turn driven the desire to invest in and strengthen relationships. Everyone brings different skills and assets – the strength comes as these are blended together. This has resulted in a new found respect between staff, clinicians, peers, individuals and families.
• Sticking with and not giving up on people has involved working together to share risk and is enabling new positive narratives about people using our support.
• Thinking differently, being innovative and using resources creatively including assistive technology has been essential to achieving outcomes.

Over the past year, I have seen people’s lives change for the better as they start to make their own choices; to participate equally and to recover and feel well. I have seen leaders emerge throughout, supported by the commitment of senior leaders from each alliance partner.

It is a privilege chairing the Alliance Leadership Team where senior managers come together with the common purpose to get the best outcomes for people. We have more to do and the challenges are great but together we can lead change, find solutions and improve lives.


Aisling Duffy

Chief Executive

Keep London Connected

aislingCertitude’s campaign Keep London Connected shines a light on a very real issue for many people – loneliness.  Despite 8.6m people living in the capital, London can feel a very lonely place. Somehow the hustle and bustle makes the loneliness more poignant. When I first arrived in London I experienced this for myself. I can still remember that feeling. Finding a job (supporting people with learning disabilities) and with it the opportunity to meet new people and make friends helped me to establish some roots and develop a sense of belonging. Some 25 years later I feel very fortunate to call London home.

Living in London can be magic but the challenges are immense. Many people I meet through my work moved to London from other parts of the country or the world. Leaving behind family, loved ones and long standing connections – the very things that contribute to our sense of safety and belonging. I hear from people with learning disabilities and mental health needs that living in the capital can be lonely and at times scary – hate-crime, mate-crime, loneliness and isolation featuring too often in too many people’s lives.  The Marmot Review into health inequalities found that individuals who are socially isolated are up to five times more likely to die prematurely than those with strong social ties.

Keep London Connected is Certitude’s commitment to harnessing the talents and creativity of people to connect with and support each other.  We are creating opportunities, encouraging and liberating people to share their interests and talents with others. For instance, the opportunity to meet to play a game of five a side, to debate the merits of a recent film, to share a love of cooking and eating! Certitude Community Connectors bring their passion for change to the fore and get to know what people like doing connecting them with others with similar interests.  With some digital support thrown into the mix through Connect and Do, even more tailored connecting opportunities can be found. Over time as an individuals’ confidence and self esteem grow the role of the Community Connector changes as friendships and mutual support get established. Each experience extends the network of the Community Connector too who can bring those new connections to even more people. And so, building human capital,  rather like that analogy of a pebble in a pond – just watch those ripples.

Whilst loneliness and isolation are real and serious problems, the confidence gained by having friends around us and the building of strong relationships with important people in our lives can help us all be happier and healthier. So together lets Keep London Connected.

A very big thank you to everyone who has supported this campaign to date – jumping out of aeroplanes, cycling vast miles, running through mud, tweeting, donating or connecting with someone new. Your support means so much.

You can donate to the campaign by clicking on this link.

Aisling Duffy
Chief Executive

Aisling tweets @AislingDuffy_

Trading Places

Certitude’s CEO, Aisling Duffy and Director of Mental Health, Nicholas Campbell-Watts recently had the opportunity to don some chef whites and work alongside the kitchen staff at Abbevilles restaurant in Clapham.

Abbevilles is a social enterprise run by First Step Trust [FST], which aims to support people with learning disabilities and/or mental health support needs to get back into paid employment. FST’s other businesses include SMaRT Garage Services in Woolwich, West Norwood and Salford.

The Trading Places initiative has attracted senior staff from a wide range of industry, housing and local government to work alongside trainees and staff in the kitchen or garages. Aisling and Nicholas both found the experience incredibly valuable.

Aisling said “I really enjoyed my time taking part in Trading Places at Abbevilles I was hugely impressed by everyone working in the kitchen, a really supportive environment where everyone has an important role in producing and serving the most amazing food. Although not usually known for my culinary skills, we made the best cheese biscuits ever!”

“Initiatives like this highlight, in a simple yet powerful way, that when the right conditions are created people who may be considered far from employment can flourish and contribute, including in fast-paced industries. People with learning disabilities or mental health needs have the right to work and organisations such as FST and Certitude will continue to collaborate so more people can gain the skills, confidence and self-esteem that come with having a job.”

Certitude works in partnership with FST as part of the Lambeth Collaborative, increasing employment opportunities for people with mental health support needs and/or learning disabilities.

You can find out more about the Abbevilles Restaurant here and the garage services here via the FST’s website.

A few reflections…

As we approach the last few months of Certitude’s current 3 year strategy, it seems appropriate to reflect on what has, without doubt, been a busy, challenging and successful few years.

Times of ongoing austerity are no doubt tough and, as another Spending Review looms, I wanted to take some time to reflect and share my thoughts on some of the approaches that have helped over the past few years; indeed, these are approaches we can draw on going forward.

Small investments can have a great impact

When developing our strategy, people told us that they wanted more things to do with people not “paid to be there” – more friendships, stronger community connections, and so on. Harnessing the assets and talents of people in Certitude and providing a small amount of cash led to the creation of community choirs, regular Cut a Rug club nights and acoustic evenings for those who can’t or won’t dance! They all have one thing in common: bringing people from all walks of life and parts of the local community together to share talents, provide mutual support and have fun. Finding out what’s in in your area and asking for a helping hand to try things out is made all the more possible by Connect & Do and our band of community connectors. London has a tremendous amount to offer and, with permission to try, a little bit of cash and a driven belief towards inclusion, people can make great things happen!

Invest in Learning and Development

When times are tight, it can feel counter-intuitive to spend more on learning and development with staff members. However, used the right way, it is I believe a critical success factor! Leading at Certitude, our bespoke leadership development programme for every manager, recognises that, to deliver an ambitious strategy, we require great leaders everywhere in our organisation. Using a combination of Myers Briggs, 360 feedback and specialist support from our in-house leadership coach, we are now engaging in more open and honest conversations across Certitude. Our focus on the strengths and assets of our staff, giving and receiving feedback, and coaching is helping everyone to improve not only their own performance but that of colleagues, too. It came as no surprise to me that CQC reported in its State of Care review that strong leadership is more crucial than ever to delivering good care. I also believe that the 70% response rate of colleagues to our recent Staff Engagement Survey, administered by Agenda Consulting, where colleagues told us they feel more engaged than ever is down to collectively improved leadership.

Increased partnership and collaboration

At times of austerity, the natural tendency can be to button down the hatches, cut back on partnering, keep a steady ship and hope for the best! While for some organisations that may be the necessary action, I believe we need more, not less collaboration. Effective alliances can lead to innovative solutions, shared risk taking and better outcomes for people supported. Our experience of partnerships, with the likes of the BRIT School, Tate and Slaughterhaus have led to a range of collaborative creative ventures. Collaboration with statutory and charity partners in the Lambeth Integrated Personalised Support Alliance has resulted in less use of residential and hospital care and more community and personalised support for people with serious mental illness. Collaboration requires openness to understanding each other’s differences, finding common ground and a shared drive and accountability to deliver change. It’s about recognising that the challenges many of the people we support experience are complex and that no single organisation has the answer. Alignment with our vision and values is, without doubt, the most important factor when developing the partnerships and collaborations that are right for Certitude.

So, these are my top three. What do you think? Do these resonate with you? What are your top 3?

As we move into our next strategic period, I have no doubt these three approaches will continue to play a significant role. And, so, my glass remains more than half full, no matter what the spending review may hold.

I want to end by saying a heartfelt thank you to all of you for your continued support to Certitude, for partnering with us and helping us to be the best we can possibly be.

Best wishes,

Aisling Duffy


Where’s the Rolls Royce? Staff experience what it is like to be CEO for the Day

Aisling and winners Mary and Dada of Being CEO for the day

Certitude CEO Aisling Duffy explains the thinking behind Certitude’s ‘Being CEO for a day’ competition and shares her experience of the day:

As an organisation, we are really keen that our staff are fully engaged and play an active role in the development of our thinking and planning going forward. As part of our business strategy, we are  committed to inspiring and recognising staff, helping to support the development of self awareness, skills and experience across the variety of teams in Certitude.

We had a lot of discussion internally about different ways we could support this, and one of these was the idea of a ‘Being CEO for the day’ competition, where staff could step in my shoes for a day and get to know what it is really like to lead Certitude. There are often misconceptions about the role of a CEO – people can sometimes think it’s a very glamorous or grandiose job –Mary, who was one of the winners of the competition, joked that she was surprised there was no Rolls Royce in the car park!

I’ve always made a point of being involved at every level of the organisation, because I feel it is so beneficial, particularly for people working in dispersed services who can sometimes feel distanced from the leadership of an organisation. I know how valuable it can be  when people can see for themselves that the CEO understands and is actively championing something which has been an issue for them.

It has been a really interesting day for me and I hope also for Mary and Dada.  I have enjoyed hearing their experiences of working for Certitude, appreciating some of the issues of where they work, and some of the things we are eager to do better. It was particularly great to get their valuable input at the Technology Programme Board meeting held on the day. It was also extremely reassuring to hear directly from them that the projects we are taking forward are ones that really matter for staff teams that they work with and people they support.

As the winners learnt directly today, I’m just an ordinary person like them who has had the benefit of some experience and opportunities in supporting people and staff over many years which I am so fortunate to bring to bear in my role at Certitude. We are committed to ensuring more and more staff benefit from initiatives such as this to broaden and diversify their skills and experiences, and so we can get to know and appreciate more of the many talented people  who work for Certitude.

The time is always ripe to do right

It is that time of year!

Aisling-DuffyAs the calendar year comes to a close and we reflect on time passed, experiences felt and lessons learned we can begin to think about our goals and plans for the year ahead. I am personally taking inspiration from the life and words of the wonderful Nelson Mandela as I look forward both personally and professionally. Much has been written about his life and the many insightful, humane and educational comments made by this courageous man over many years of South Africa’s struggle to freedom. My favourite words are these simple few which offer very wise and sound counsel to us all.

We must use time wisely and forever realise the time is always ripe to do right.

As we approach the end of year and start to think about our future plans I am lifted by the power of these simple words. I find the inspiration in the sentiment encouraging and reassuring – I love the urgency and promise they promote. From the human rights struggle in South Africa to the challenges faced by people with learning disabilities or mental health needs these words offer us hope and encouragement.

Everyday in social care organisations, such as Certitude, people are supporting people to overcome barriers, to flourish, to contribute and lead the life they want to lead. Great support is about recognising the skills, strengths and talents of the people we come into contact with and doing our bit – today, right now – to support them to flourish.

I want to pay tribute to all those people – staff and volunteers – who are offering their time, affection and support to others over this festive period. It is the quiet realisation of the many remarkable staff and volunteers that doing right is simply what they do, that probably inspires me most.

I want to end by wishing everyone who has supported Certitude over the past year a wonderful festive time – we are better because of the experiences we have had. Our endeavours to do right will continue unabated in 2014 and your continued support will be warmly appreciated.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Aisling Duffy

Chief Executive

Appreciating Excellence

This is what we are about

Our third Michael Rosen Award Ceremony took place on Thursday 21 November at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster. The event was a fantastic success and I was incredibly proud of everyone there, and especially our three winners. The two individuals and one team demonstrated the kind of passion, commitment and creativity which embodies our approach as an organisation. I want to say to everyone: “look at these people – this is what Certitude is all about!”

I like the fact that the winners are nominated by a broad range of people. It means that the nominations offer a very clear picture of how we are perceived by the important people all around us. We received 65 nominations during the year under our three categories and it is pleasing to think that so many staff are highly regarded and appreciated. Our eventual winners were chosen by a judging panel consisting of Board members, Sheila Rosen – Michael’s wife – and myself and we were bowled over by the nomination stories and had a really tough decision choosing the final winners.

Touching peoples’ lives

lewis wallis
Lewis Wallis, overall winner

Many of the nominations – and certainly those of the winners – complimented teams and individuals on their willingness to go beyond the call of duty. In a lot of cases they also shared another quality; something which is hard to put your finger on – a combination of intuition, generosity of spirit and just being really good with people.

Lewis Wallis, our overall winner from the Shared Lives team, has been nominated every year since the awards began three years ago. He has received nominations from colleagues, managers and random members of the public who have encountered him out and about in the community. He was recognised for his “persistent excellence and the willingness he brings to his job” and for his “generosity of time and dedication to ensuring the highest quality of support for all of the people we support in Certitude”. The joyful reaction in the room when his name was announced showed that Lewis is an individual who has touched many peoples’ lives.

Our two excellent runners up were Isha Oomerjee and the Solidarity in a Crisis team.

Sheila Kearney, relative, with Isha Oomerjee, runner up
Sheila Kearney, relative, with Isha Oomerjee

Supporting families as well as individuals

Isha was particularly praised for her use of intensive interaction to support Aileen, who has profound and multiple learning disabilities. Isha was also able to help Aileen’s sister Sheila Kearney establish a new loving and meaningful relationship with Aileen. I was pleased that Sheila could come to the awards ceremony and particularly delighted when she took the microphone to praise Isha. We know that increasing the relationship circles of the people we support can be incredibly important so it was good to hear such a positive story.

Inspiring teamwork


Philippa Laughton, Sheila Rosen, The Solidarity in a Crisis Team, Aisling Duffy
Philippa Laughton, Sheila Rosen, The Solidarity in a Crisis Team, Aisling Duffy

Solidarity in a Crisis is a team of people with lived experience of mental health support needs who provide out-of hours support for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

They make themselves available to people when most of us have logged off for the weekend and gone home. They were praised not only for going the extra mile for the people they support, but also working effectively as a team. Their manager described them as “truly inspirational”.

The Certitude Choir
The Certitude Choir



I would also like to mention the Certitude Community Choir which provided some amazing entertainment on the night. The choir is made up of people we support – and people we don’t – and their joyful singing was a wonderful way to complete the proceedings.


Aisling Duffy, Chief Executive


Learning Disability Awareness Week – We are Family!

Aisling Duffy, Chief Executive

I am unashamedly borrowing this title from a great song and personal favourite by Sister Sledge! It goes someway to succinctly capture the needed focus on family during this Learning Disability Awareness week. Over the many years I have worked with people with learning disabilities I can bring to mind many examples of families working together – often against the odds – to support their loved one to get the right support to live their life. These are stories of resilience, hope, exhaustion and love but also, too often, they are stories of loneliness and despair. Families worn out by what feels like a relentless fight to simply be heard and to get the support needed for them and their family member with a learning disability.

Too often adult social care has focussed on the needs of the person with the learning disability, sometimes to the exclusion of anyone else. But people don’t exist in silos; they have a rich history and set of family relationships that are part of defining who they are. Here at Certitude we have learned that it is not enough to focus on the person with the learning disability. Our support teams appreciate and engage with each individual’s family in a way that respects their personal history. Of course this process is not always easy, straight forward or predictable. Every family, my own included, has their own particular dynamics; we have to appreciate that families love each other in different ways – ways which are not always easily recognisable to others. I am concerned that time and again only lip-service is awarded to these relationships for adults with learning disabilities.

Some of the ways that Certitude is seeking to address this include:

• Specifically recruiting people with lived experience, including family members of people with learning disabilities, in our workforce.

• Using person centred planning tools like Family Plans to understand the family story; what is important to them, who’s who in the family and so on.

• Creating family One Page Profiles to help us understand what is important to and for family members in supporting their relative. These are used and known by all staff involved in support.

• Developing decision making agreements – to establish who takes which decisions between the individual the family and the staff team.

These tools are a great help to teams in developing relationships with people they support and the person’s family. But as we all know tools alone will not achieve this focus on family – we must all, commissioners and providers alike, develop and nurture holistic support that respects the joy, trials and tribulations that being part of a family entails.

Aisling’s blog has been reproduced in Learning Disability Today 


The Meaning of Words

I was struck when reading a recent article by @Ermintrude2 Twitter extraordinaire summarising the Cavendish Review and the reference she makes to some of the inappropriate language we use in health and social care. I couldn’t agree more and felt the need to get some of my thoughts on this subject down on paper to share with you.

It is quite ironic that at a time when everyone is jumping on the compassion bandwagon that the language of the battlefield remains so prevalent. Staff providing intimate and personalised support still frequently referred to as working at the ‘front line’. People with disabilities as living in ‘units’.

It strikes me that those of us who work in the sector and who are passionate about individual rights and personalised support have a duty to re-write the narrative. It is outdated, dehumanising language that fails to reflect the compassionate and sensitive support social and health care staff provide.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia:

Front line refers to the forward-most forces on a battlefield.

What a message to send the many wonderful staff providing such an important and sensitive role about the people they work with – are we indirectly implying they are going into battle with them? I know the argument that ‘front line’ reflects the importance of the staff who fall into this category – we couldn’t do it with out them – just like soldiers are the most important factor in winning a war…Oh dear that doesn’t really quite work does it? Unless of course one really is of the view that we are at war…and I really don’t believe that for a second. In a similar vein, when asked where you live? – have you ever replied in a unit on the Fulham Road? I suggest not.

I think what this describes more than anything is complacency – most of us when challenged would say of course we don’t mean it like that!! When I said ‘Jo, a front line support worker helps Harriet who lives in a unit for people with learning disabilities’ what I really meant was ‘Jo provides personalised support to Harriet in her own home’. So let’s end the complacency on this – let’s challenge our own narratives and describe people in the way in which we think of them as valued individuals. In essence if we are serious about respecting our committed, compassionate and person centred individuals and teams then the way we describe their work must reflect that value.