Circles Network

Summary

Circles Network is a UK wide voluntary organisation based in Warwickshire, renowned for building inclusive communities on the foundations of justice, advocacy, empowerment and friendships. This organisation has  expertise in the development of Circles of Support, Independent and Collective Advocacy, Person Centred Planning and Inclusion into the mainstream of life.

Issue addressed

Circles Network has a great experience in building circles of support. Over the last  two decades they have initiated and developed thousands of Circles of Support across the UK and they also directly provide on-going facilitation to build Circles of Support across the UK.

Background information

The idea of a Circle of Support was developed in Canada, spread fairly quickly through North America and then began in the UK in the mid 1980s.

Circles Network works with disabled or disadvantaged adults but also with parents to support them and their children.

Description of practice

A Circle of Support or a Circle of Friends, is a group of people who meet together on a regular basis to help somebody accomplish their personal goals in life. The Circle acts as a community around that person (the ‘focus person’) who, for one reason or another, is unable to achieve what they want in life on their own and decides to ask others for help. The focus person is in charge, both in deciding who to invite to be in the Circle, and also in the direction that the Circle’s energy is employed, although a facilitator is normally chosen from within the Circle to take care of the work required to keep it running.
The members of the Circle of Support, who may include family, friends and other community members, are not paid to be there. They are involved because they care enough about the focus person to give their time and energy to helping that person to overcome obstacles and increase the options which are open to them. Although the focus person’s goals are the primary drive in everything the Circle does, the relationship is not just one way. The members will all have diverse gifts and interests, and there can appear many new opportunities and possibilities which had not even been considered before forming the Circle.

Because of this, an important function of the Circle is to regularly re-visit the plans which they are working with, to keep the direction current in terms of what the person really wishes to achieve.

A Circle of Support is not a service or tool to be applied to a certain group of people. Circles are about seeing people as individuals who feel they need support in order to take more control over their own lives. A Circle properly facilitated is empowering to all of the individuals involved and, unlike many service systems, does not reinforce dependence.

Circles Network help to set up and facilitate Circles of Support. This works also thanks to their volunteers. This is why their expertise working with volunteers is also very important.

Circles Network also offers training programmes on facilitating Circles of Support so that more people can learn the skills and tools required to implement and develop Circles of Support.

Several stories can be read on the Circles Network website, which illustrates the work done with specific individuals:
http://www.circlesnetwork.org.uk/index.asp?slevel=0z114z115&parent_id=115

Analysis

This presentation of Circles Network focuses mainly on circles of support but Circles Network has a wider experience, also in other fields like Person Centered Planning or Advocacy. Nevertheless, this organisation has an extensive experience in building circles of support not only for people with intellectual disabilities but also those living with elderly parents or carers. Many tools and materials have been specifically designed by Circles Network to help people dream, explore, build and plan their future lives.  The materials are unfortunately not available online. However, the available information, especially the personal stories, are very inspiring. It also gives examples of how you link or reconnect isolated people (what “hook” is used – each person’s experience is different). It also illustrate what time frame this work takes.

More information

http://www.circlesnetwork.org.uk/

2014 Inclusion Europe. Rue d'Arlon 55, 1040 Brussels, Belgium