At a very special evening in London on Tuesday, all the winners of this year’s Guardian Public Service Awards were revealed, including the transformation and overall winner, Cheshire West and Chester’s library service team, and the public servant of the year, Annette Smith, voted for by the public.
Here are the judges’ choices in the eight other categories:
Care winner: Safe Families for Children
Established in the UK five years ago, in north-east England, Safe Families for Children has since spread across the UK to the north-west, the Midlands, the south and south-west, Scotland and Wales. More than 6,000 children have been helped. The charity employs 67 staff and has 1,173 volunteers. Its funding comes from local authorities (£1.48m) and donations (£778,000).
For most people, a weekend walk in the park is a normal part of family life. But for Debbie Johns*, from Derbyshire, it was little more than a dream – until recently.
Over the past decade, the 33-year-old has put her life on hold. Having a 12-year-old son with a range of autistic spectrum disorders means she has been unable to leave him alone with his 11-year-old sister.
“Our whole life revolves around his care,” she says. “David* is very bright and goes to mainstream school during the day. But he is made very anxious by normal demands and has pathological demand avoidance disorder. The pressure of keeping a lid on all his feelings at school means he explodes when he comes home. I can’t leave him with his sister – not even to go to the bathroom.”
Now, thanks to Safe Families for Children, a little-known charity that links struggling families with a network of supportive volunteers, life is beginning to look brighter. Johns and the children head to the park every week with the support of a volunteer especially matched to the needs of the family.
They are among more than 1,000 families helped this year by the charity, which works with 33 local authorities across England and Scotland, supporting vulnerable children and their parents who are suffering from isolation, disability, ill health or other issues.
Volunteers accommodate children in their own home, donate useful items such as children’s toys, or act as a family friend, offering mentoring and support. The aim is to give tailored support to enable parents to bring stability to their lives.
Kat Osborn, the charity’s chief executive, says her organisation can free up local authorities so they can concentrate on people in need of intensive support. “For people who are isolated and need community, we can provide it. For a lot of people, what they need is hope, a friend and a bit of a break every so often.”
This is exactly what Johns has received from volunteer Ruth Golton, a trained special needs teacher and mother of a daughter with Asperger’s syndrome. Her experiences help her provide support as a family friend to Johns.
“I know how lonely it can be – and it makes a difference to have someone just come and have a cup of tea with you,” says Golton. “I wanted to give something back, so I started volunteering two years ago. I come round every Thursday and we might take my dog to the park.”
For Johns, who struggled to get a diagnosis for David for years, the support has been invaluable. “I have felt very dark at times. Ruth accepts us and doesn’t judge our situation. David knows there is someone out there who understands him. That is incredible.” LJ
*Names have been changed.
Digital and technology winner: SH:24
SH:24 is an online sexual health service with links to NHS clinics. It provides home testing kits for gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and chlamydia. In the first year in its launch areas of Lambeth and Southwark, south London, STI rates fell by 8%. Today it has contracts with NHS and councils in 15 regions in England. It takes 10,000 test kit orders monthly, handles 150 inquiries daily and its website has 13,500 hits a month.
The digital sexual health service SH:24 is revolutionising sexual health services nationwide, at a time when demand has never been greater. The social enterprise, based in Southwark, south London, offers free around-the-clock home test kits for four common sexually transmitted infections – chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV.
But SH:24 is more than a remote testing service. It fast-tracks patients with positive results for gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV to NHS clinics and directly prescribes treatment for chlamydia. Its team of specialist doctors and nurses offer support and advice via text, phone or webchat 24/7; it provides a confidential partner notification service; and its website provides clear information and advice about what it takes to maintain good sexual as well as reproductive health.
Public health consultant Dr Gillian Holdsworth helped found the community interest company after she and others recognised the need to improve access to sexual health services: “We also wanted to help people manage their sexual and reproductive health more themselves, and also give them support if they needed it,” she says.
The organisation has had impressive results since it launched in two south London boroughs, Lambeth and Southwarm, three years ago. SH:24 calculates that in the two boroughs alone it has helped save £500,000 of NHS time, and self-testing offers cheaper screening than seeing patients in a clinic.
More recently, the service has expanded across England. Today, SH:24 has contracts with the NHS and local councils in 15 regions. Only 8% to 12% of people screened need to be referred to an NHS clinic, giving those services more time to devote to more complex cases. “We’ve taken the simple cases out of the clinics,” Holdsworth says.
Creating SH:24 was not without challenges. One of the biggest hurdles was to unravel the funding complexities of NHS organisations and local councils, which between them share responsibility for sexual health services. Holdsworth says: “Doing service transformation in the NHS is always difficult. The pace of delivery is so slow, compared to the rate we work at.”
There were also technological challenges: it took 17 different versions – with constant feedback from service users – to get the website right. Service development manager Chris Howroyd says: “Our biggest challenge wasn’t digital at all. The problem was informing people how to collect their own blood in the test kit. We had relied too heavily on the physical instruction leaflet. We realised we could do a lot better and so we looked at how we could digitise the instructions and looked at online videos: that has been, by a long shot, the biggest learning from this project.” DA
Diversity and inclusion winner: Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service serves a population of 1.8 million people. It has 68 stations and approximately 2,230 employees, including 917 full-time firefighters. There are also 994 retained (part-time) firefighters, who have other jobs but who live and work no more than five minutes away from a fire station. The 2018 firefighter intake was 11% female, 11% were BME and 7% were LGBT.
In 1991, Heather Smart became Northern Ireland’s first female firefighter – and she stayed for 27 years, retiring this year. Thanks to her efforts, more and more women are finding their vocation in the fire service: today, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) employs 60 female firefighters.
Even so, it remains – as in the rest of the UK – a service dominated by men. In 2017, 3.6% of the service’s firefighters were women, an increase from 2% in 2009. NIFRS has already acted to address the under-representation of firefighters from the Catholic community, but wanted to do more to improve its record on recruiting women.
It was important, says David Moore, director of human resources, to have a workforce representative of the community, but another driver was that organisations that are diverse are more successful.
The organisation set a target of having at least 10% of applications from women. This involved an active approach – reaching out to women and showing them the attractions of a career in the fire service – rather than passively waiting for them to apply, but also identifying elements of the recruitment process that indirectly discriminated against women.
NIFRS created an outreach programme, much of it aimed at the 14-16 age group, the age when girls are likely to make decisions about a career. It invited schools to nominate participants for five-day work experience courses, and also advertised “come and try” days on social media, inviting women and girls to come into the station, experience what it was like to wear fire kit and breathing apparatus, and to find out more about what the job entailed.
Moore also re-examined the recruitment process, part of which involved putting candidates through practical aptitude tests that measure their ability to perform typical firefighter tasks, such as climbing and descending a ladder or performing a deadlift. There was a big differential in the pass rates: 45% of men, but only 19% of women. This was largely due to the use of tests that were harder for women, such as one in which candidates had to roll out lengths of hose, a task requiring a good deal of upper body strength.
Having consulted with the service’s firefighters about how often their job required them to perform that particular task, Moore and his colleagues removed it, and redesigned other tests to make them more relevant to the job. As a result, 62% of men and 59% of women now pass.
Moore also wanted to make the service a more welcoming place for women. “I do a lot of work with firefighters themselves around the culture of the station and making sure that it’s appropriate,” he says.
The 2017 recruitment campaign exceeded targets: the 2018 firefighter intake was 11% female. It was diverse in other ways, too: 11% were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, 7% were LGBT and 11% were over 40 years old.
It is also important, says Moore, to have women in more senior roles to show that it is possible for women to rise through the ranks: the strategic leadership team, formed in 2017, is 32% female. The service has also teamed up with the Boardroom Apprentice scheme, which aims to make boards more accessible to young people, providing 12-month placements to two young people.
Moore is also proud of the service’s pioneering work in creating a culture of greater acceptance of transgender people within the fire service. A station commander, Karen McDowell, transitioned while working for the service, and was supported so effectively, says Moore, that “other organisations come to us – we are pretty much seen as best practice because we’ve been through that in a predominantly male organisation”. KT
Health and wellbeing winner: South London and Maudsley (Slam) foundation trust
South London and Maudsley NHS (Slam) foundation trust has 4,600 employees who serve a local population of 1.3 million people across Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon. But it also provides more than 50 specialist services for children and adults UK-wide, including perinatal services, and services for eating disorders, psychosis and autism, and its own biomedical research centre.
Young people’s lives can be blighted by mental ill health – an issue that Dr Irene Sclare, consultant clinical lead at South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust, knows only too well. Mental health problems emerge before the age of 14, she explains, but rates rise in young people aged 16 to 25.
Problems such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem can have an impact on young people’s lives, and on their long-term health. “It is such an important time when someone is aged 16 to 18,” says Sclare. “It’s the last chance from an adolescent service point of view to try to make an impact on the future.”
It was this thinking that motivated her to set up Discover – a service dedicated to 16- to 19-year-olds. Teenagers, particularly those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, today face multiple barriers in accessing help. During the past five years, Discover has tackled some of those stumbling blocks, such as long waiting lists, by providing support in schools.
Discover is a one-day interactive group workshop where participants learn psychological techniques based on cognitive behavioural therapy principles to make helpful changes to their lives and to build resilience to stress.
The confidential workshop uses video and interactive activities that focus on real-life teenage problems, and is delivered by trained clinical psychologists. At the end of the workshop, the teenagers set a goal to work on for a three-month period; they then receive calls from the Discover team to check in on their progress.
Funding for the programme came initially from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the trust. Current funding comes from participating schools and academies, a grant from Maudsley Charity and ad hoc NHS commissioning.
The programme has been delivered to 900 teenagers to date. This year it was delivered in 27 schools; 72% of the teenagers were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and 73% had never accessed psychological help before.
Sclare hopes to widen the Discover programme to include groups that are even more vulnerable, such as young people in socially deprived areas and from different cultures, who may be less likely to receive help. The team, along with groups of young people, has created a Discover app and they hope to extend their existing digital systems for information gathering, data analysis and collating actions taken, to support the most troubled people on the programme.
Meanwhile, Discover has had another unexpected professional benefit – it has transformed how the team thinks about delivering mental health services. Sclare says: “It’s moving to see how change happens and it challenges our notions and the way we were trained. There’s something about the energy it brings, and the energy we get, from working with children and teachers in schools rather than bringing them to us. It helps us think about how we can spread knowledge and skills.” SJ
Housing winner: Benjamin Foundation’s Heart and Home scheme
Heart and Home started out offering supported lodgings with three hosts in North Norfolk; today it has 20 hosts across the county and 12 in Suffolk, where it has been contracted by the local authority since 2016. It is run by the Benjamin Foundation, a charity supporting people through life challenges including homelessness, bullying and abuse. The number of placements hasincreased from eight in 2011-12 to a record 37 in 2017-18.
For many young people leaving care, the formality of hostel accommodation may not provide the support necessary at a tricky time of transition to independent living. That is where the Heart and Home scheme comes in. It offers young people aged 16 to 18, and sometimes older, the chance to live in supported lodgings in the home of a host family or individual who can help build their confidence and life skills.
Set up in 2011 by Norfolk charity the Benjamin Foundation, and now also operating in Suffolk, the scheme looks for hosts who can offer tolerance, understanding and a nurturing environment. A careful matching process makes sure the home is in the young person’s preferred area, close to existing support networks and jobs or placements, and also that it is the right fit for their interests and lifestyle.
“Sometimes those kind of hostel environments aren’t suitable for everyone,” says Heart and Home manager Pip Yaxley. “Some young people need a more one-to-one environment. It’s those young people whose support needs are perhaps more emotional needs. They’re quite vulnerable: they’re leaving care, coming from a children’s home or a foster care placement.
“We’ve got city locations, rural locations: it’s very much about getting the match right in terms of where young people want to be. For those young people doing apprenticeships or college training, the thought of affording their own place at that age is daunting. To have an affordable option where they can go off and flourish, and have that opportunity, is amazing.”
A Heart and Home placement costs between £270 and £650 a week, compared to the national average cost in a non-local authority residential children’s home of £3,701 a week, and the price for non-authority foster care of £915 a week.
There is no time limit on stays, though they tend to be around 18 months. Some young people may just need six months, or even a respite stay of a couple of weeks.
All sorts of people become hosts, including couples and single people, people with grownup children who have a spare room, and sometimes older couples. Those inter-generational placements can be especially fruitful, according to Yaxley. “They really seem to gel and be supportive of one another.”
With the consent of a social worker, the scheme can even set up a lodging where a young person is already living with someone supportive, such as a friend’s mother.
Young people have their own bedroom and tend to eat with their hosts. “Food is the thing that brings households together,” says Yaxley. “It’s amazing the young people who tell me: ‘Gosh, I’ve learned how to cook a roast’, or, ‘You should try my shepherd’s pie now.’”
Many of the young people stay in touch with hosts long after they leave; Yaxley knows one who still goes round for a cup of tea four years later.
“I’ve found myself since living with Tracey,” says Kate*, a young person helped by the scheme. “I’m finally on the right road and I’m relieved,” says Rob*, who lived with his host for a year and has now moved out into his own place not far away, often going back to visit and take the dogs for a walk. “I feel like a member of the family.” RW
*Names have been changed
Learning and development winner: HM Land Registry
Created in 1862, HM Land Registry is a non-ministerial government department that registers ownership of land and property in England and Wales, with its running costs covered by the fees paid by users. The land and property ownership it safeguards is worth more than £4tn, including £1tn of mortgages. Short of caseworkers to tackle complex cases, the Land Registry now offers legal training apprenticeships to employees of all ages.
For HM Land Registry, the property crash of 2008 resulted in a particularly hard landing. Following the crash, the Land Registry finished the year £3m in the red – down from £100m surplus the previous year. In response, it slashed its headcount by half and froze recruitment. But in 2014, when the volume of work was rising again, the organisation faced a resource and skills deficit, with a third of the workforce close to retirement age.
Much of the routine work of the Land Registry is done by its 3,000 caseworkers, but the most challenging is undertaken by 100 or so lawyers who are externally recruited, then trained in land registration. Caroline Anderson, the Land Registry’s HR director, says the career path for a case worker stopped at senior technician, but the lawyer roles started at three grades above that of the most senior caseworker – there was nothing in between. So there was no way a case worker could progress to the lawyer grades – the chance of promotion came to an abrupt end, “because of the structure, not because of their capabilities”.
To address the staff shortage, the Land Registry launched its first apprenticeship scheme, recruiting 510 junior apprentices in business administration to process the most straightforward work and ease the administrative burden. But there was still a gap when it came to staff who could take on the more difficult casework.
In partnership with CILEx, the professional body for chartered legal executives, the organisation designed a bespoke, two-year apprenticeship open to internal staff. The new paralegal and chartered legal executive apprenticeship, tailored to focus on conveyancing and land law, leads to one of two recognised qualifications: a level three certificate in law and practice for paralegals, or a level six professional higher diploma in law and practice, and qualification as a chartered legal executive. The chartered route provides the entry-level qualification for an assistant land registration lawyer grade – the usual entry point for the lawyer’s function. So, for the first time, experienced caseworkers could progress to the lawyer grades, making it possible to join the Land Registry as an entry-level caseworker and move up.
Since the scheme was launched last year, 19 caseworkers have joined the programme, aged between 21 and 59. “Their motivation for doing it is exactly the same – they want to learn more and be able to achieve more in their careers,” says Anderson.
The apprenticeship is delivered through a combination of face-to-face workshops, webinars, individual study, coaching and revision sessions in preparation for exams. Although it is academically challenging, the apprentices have found it hugely rewarding and, at the end of the first year, all 19 passed the first exam, with 10 achieving a distinction. An evaluation of the first year has recommended the programme be expanded across the Land Registry from next year. KT
Recruitment winner: Wellbeing Teams
Wellbeing Teams is tackling the staff crisis in adult care with an innovative approach to hiring employees. The organisation, which delivers domiciliary care under local authority contracts, has been running since January. Thanks to a radical new approach to recruitment, it is bringing in staff from outside social care – and keeping them. Staff engagement and wellbeing are measured monthly and shared among the teams to work out improvements. Wellbeing Teams is supported by the charity and adult health and social care provider Making Space, which contributed £500,000 for its first year.
In the face of a recruitment crisis in adult social care, the innovative approach adopted by homecare provider Wellbeing Teams is paying dividends. The organisation recruits people from outside the domiciliary care sector, particularly from customer service and retail, believing the priority is to find people with the right values who can acquire the skills needed to help older people to live well at home.
At present in Wigan and Oxford, Wellbeing Teams plans to expand into Greater Manchester and Thurrock, Essex.
Unusually for a finalist in this category, the organisation does not have a human resources department. Instead, its self-managing teams of up to 12 staff carry out their own recruitment, and share the roles traditionally carried out by HR. One member acts as the recruitment coordinator, spending two to four hours a week on the role alongside their care work.
Team members carry “referral cards”, designed to encourage people to apply to work for Wellbeing Teams. If a team member receives excellent service in a shop, cafe or restaurant, they give a card to the staff member. The organisation also advertises on electronic job boards, and through social media, posters and leaflets. So far, 90% of the team members recruited have not come from another homecare provider.
“We believe if you’re working in customer care, you are more likely to have the values of how you focus on the customer, how you make their day, how you pay attention to what they need,” explains Helen Sanderson, chief executive at Wellbeing Teams.
“Our stance is that if we recruit great people for their values, we can teach them what they need to know to be skilled at caring for people.” It is harder to unlearn traditional, hierarchical ways of working, Sanderson believes, than to learn new ways of working.
That has meant developing a different recruitment model. “We wanted a way that enabled us to find people who shared our values and, most importantly, to recruit people in a way that demonstrated our values,” she says.
Instead of using a standard person specification, Wellbeing Teams has a one-page profile describing the qualities it looks for and how it supports employees.
Rather than request CVs, it asks people to answer three questions and then book a call at a time that suits them. This call is taken by the team coach and the recruitment coordinator. Applicants who pass this stage then come to a recruitment workshop, having created a one-page profile describing what people appreciate about them, what matters to them and how best to support them at work. They also receive the one-page profiles of the staff who’ll be running the recruitment workshop.
Sanderson estimates that 30% to 40% of the people who attend workshops come from word-of-mouth referrals – her preferred method of finding employees. Although the teams have not yet got any new members directly using the referral cards, she believes they are an important part of that process. “Even if they don’t [end up applying], it may be something they tell their partner or their kids about,” she says. “If nothing else, we’ve given somebody that we don’t know a compliment.”
After probation, Wellbeing Teams has a turnover rate of less than 10%, compared with 42% (including probation) for care workers with domiciliary providers in England. It is proving successful in attracting younger people into social care, too: 16% of team members are currently aged under 25, compared with 11% of the adult social care workforce. RW
Leadership excellence winner: Lynn Saunders, prison governor and founder, Safer Living Foundation
Lynn Saunders is the governor of HMP Whatton, a category C prison in Nottinghamshire that holds up to 841 adult male sex offenders. The largest treatment centre for people with sexual convictions in Europe, it runs a wide range of educational and vocational training, as well as offending behaviour programmes.
Safer Living Foundation is a charity founded in 2014 by Saunders. It is a joint venture between HMP Whatton and Nottingham Trent University, with support from the National Probation Service (East Midlands) and Nottinghamshire Police. It focuses on reducing sexual offending and reoffending through rehabilitative and preventative initiatives.
When Lynn Saunders was nominated for this year’s Leadership Excellence award, university researcher Dan Micklethwaite described her role as “not for the faint-hearted”, adding “but it is a vital one for society, and one she carries out with professionalism, care, integrity and bravery”.
Micklethwaite wasn’t exaggerating. Saunders is a prison governor, running the largest treatment centre in Europe for men with sexual convictions, and has also set up – and runs – a charity to provide support for offenders as they move back into the community. On top of that, she is also midway through a PhD on socio-legal studies.
In the 10 years that Saunders has been governor of HMP Whatton, she has introduced a wide range of rehabilitation programmes. “In my job, you see the best and the worst of people, sometimes within the same hour,” she says. “You have to be strong to deal with that.”
That strength of character is clear: five years ago, when Saunders couldn’t get funding from the prison service for a programme to support prisoners to move back into the community, she set up a charity to do the work. “I’d been a trustee on a number of charities, so setting one up was the obvious solution,” she says.
Working with colleagues in the prison, police and probation services, as well as Nottingham Trent University, Saunders managed to secure initial funding for the Safer Living Foundation charity, which she continues to chair and run. Volunteers and eight members of staff now deliver a range of projects, including the ground-breaking circles of support project, in which groups of four volunteers from a local community meet up with a person with a sexual conviction after release to offer social, practical and emotional support, as well as monitoring and supervision. This has been shown to cut reoffending, improve lives and save public money.
For Saunders, this is all part of her response when people ask her why she works with sexual offenders. “Why wouldn’t you try to stop people doing terrible things?” she asks. “If I can stop people offending – if I can stop even one person offending – that is my motivation.”
Saunders began her career as a social worker and worked as a probation officer for five years. A job working in a prison sparked her career-long interest. “I’ve done more social work in prisons than in the community,” she says. Before Whatton, she was governor of Lincoln prison, and Morton Hall before that. Her work has already been recognised: in 2013, she was awarded a Winston Churchill fellowship. “I never had a gap year, so this was a bit like a very curtailed and long-awaited gap year, to visit prisons in the US and Canada.” Since then, she has visited many other prisons in different countries.
She feels her different activities have helped enhance her leadership skills, including her work in the charitable sector, where she has been a trustee of various charities since 2009. “As a prison governor, you are the ultimate decision maker. So it was hard to start with, being part of a team of trustees. But having to do things in a different way is very liberating,” she says. “I don’t have to be brilliant at everything. If I give people confidence, they’ll be far more skilled than me. I still make the ultimate decisions, but I am more confident about letting people come to their own conclusions.”
Saunders admits that when her children, now in their 20s, were younger, work/life balance was a challenge. “But that is true of lots of women in big jobs,” she says. She now relaxes by going to the gym, and says she has learned to be resilient. “I’m now of an age where I can help other people deal with that, too.”
Of her many achievements, what makes Saunders most proud? She says that some of the programmes she has started at Whatton, including controversial treatment to reduce prisoners’ sexual desires, have now been adopted more widely. “That’s fantastic, seeing something we started from nothing, rolling out to other prisons,” she says. “It’s the idea of having actually made a difference.” JD