Aspire Community Benefit Society supports more than 1000 adults with learning disabilities to have better lives through the provision of day opportunities, supported living and respite services.
As the Learning Disability Community Support Service, we were formerly the Council’s in-house provider of these services, but in August Aspire was launched. Over 750 members of staff TUPE transferred to the staff-owned social enterprise – one of the largest ‘spin outs’ of a public service in the country.
So, four months on, how’s it going? Carol Benson, Aspire’s Business Development Manager, reflects on progress.
Last week a member of our team retired after completing almost 33 years of service. Of course, this did not come as a surprise, but marking the occasion in an appropriate way posed something of a dilemma.
Mary began work for the Learning Disability Community Support Service in February 1983 at Horsforth Adult Training Centre as a care assistant. She remained at Horsforth until it was closed in 2012 as part of the Day Services Modernisation Programme. Mary could have retired then, but opted instead to continue working at one of the new community bases which had replaced the old centre because, though initially concerned about the change, she was now convinced that having smaller facilities located in the heart of communities was the best way to provide day services.
Later that year, with the prospect of increasing budget pressures looming, the senior management team began giving serious thought to what alternative options there might be which could help us preserve future service delivery. We wanted an option that would enable us to continue to deliver high-quality, person-centred services to the people we support, provide security of employment for staff and help the Council to manage future budget pressures. Clearly the answer was going to have to be innovative!
After much research we decided that setting up a social enterprise was the best way to achieve our ambition to create a long-term sustainable future for the service. This meant ‘spinning out’ of the Council and becoming an independent, staff-led, public sector mutual.
After much work on the part of both our own staff and the Council Aspire Community Benefit Society was launched on 1 August 2015 and all permanent members of staff transferred to the new organisation. A social enterprise is a registered company like any other but with a key difference: it operates with a social purpose which, in our case, is to improve the lives of people with a learning disability. So, although every member of staff holds a £1 share in the company, no-one will make a personal gain since all profits must be ploughed back into the organisation to improve or develop the services we provide.
The last four months have been extremely busy. Of key importance to us throughout this period has been achieving a seamless transition from being in the Council to contracting with the Council and maintaining continuity of service for the people we support, their family carers and staff. Not only have we elected/recruited a Board made up of customers, staff, elected members, trade union representatives and non-executive directors, we have reviewed and ‘Aspire-ized’180+ policies and procedures, moved head office from the Roseville laundry site, set up bank accounts, recruited new staff, taken on apprentices, launched our website and formally opened the new £2m Rothwell day service. Aspire continues to provide the same services, supporting the same people from the same buildings as before. Astonishingly, the above is only a representative list of what we’ve been doing (and is in no particular order). The time has passed very quickly!
Mary, like many of our staff, has been a fantastic advocate for the proposal to spin out. Satisfied that “we’ve come through it all OK, and Aspire is just going to get better and better”, she finally felt able to retire last week after completing 32 years and 5 months service with Leeds City Council and 4 months with Aspire.
The dilemma for Aspire was how to reflect Mary’s ‘dual’ service in a retirement gift. After some discussion we settled on something which we thought represented both the Council and Aspire: a glass rose bowl (as presented to Council long-service retirees) engraved with the Aspire logo and words thanking her for her service to people with learning disabilities in Leeds.
In the end the decision was very easy to make. The rose bowl is a beautiful memento that reflects our intention to retain the best traditions and values of the Council and blend these with Aspire’s own.
Aspire’s website is: www.aspirecbs.org.uk
You can follow us on Twitter: @AspireCBS