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16 Apr 2012
Jeff Skipp, chief executive, Deafblind UK

Deafblind UK's new care and support social enterprises

Deafblind UK today announces two new social enterprises which will offer personalised support to more people, maximize our staff’s skills and ensure a more stable financial footing for the future.

Jeff SkippAs a registered charity, dedicated to improving the lives of those with dual sensory impairments, Deafblind UK will be maintained as a user-led organisation solely focused on promoting services for deafblind people and their families, governed by deafblind people. But while we want to retain our focus on our charitable objectives, we also want to expand the services we offer.

So we are creating two new social enterprises, About Me Care and Support and About Me Brokerage, wholly owned subsidiaries of the charity and which we expect to be up and running from July. All surplus made will be reinvested back into the relevant social enterprise or gifted back to Deafblind UK, supporting the charity’s information, advice and community services that help tackle the isolation often faced by those with sensory impairments and their carers.

About Me Care and Support will deliver services across the sensory spectrum and we’re transferring all of our existing Deafblind UK social care provision into this enterprise.

As well as supporting those who are deafblind, the new organisation will help people with single sensory impairments to benefit from the bespoke packages of care and support on offer. This extends our reach and is a response to local authorities that regularly ask us if we cover single sensory issues – something we cannot do under the charitable terms of Deafblind UK.

Deafblind UK’s new initiatives will help support a wider range of peopleOur second social enterprise, About Me Brokerage, is being created with the help of a grant from the Department of Health Innovation, Excellence & Strategic Development Fund (IESD) to develop a brokerage service for a pan-disability customer group.

This organisation will empower individuals by providing expert advice and support to help people gain control over the delivery of their care plans, helping them to make informed choices about how they want to live.

For example, in cases where the individual needs to employ someone, About Me Brokerage will offer a human resources service which covers recruitment and criminal record bureau CRB checks as well as delivering payroll, conducting reviews and supervising staff using dedicated staff management systems that will alert the team if any issues arise.

This brokerage service, which is totally separate to the operational side of what we do (so there’s no conflict of interest at play), will enable people with direct payments or individualised budgets to control their own care and support.

So why have we done this? As mentioned, it’s partly a response to an increasing number of enquiries from councils regarding care for people with a single sensory impairment - those who are either deaf or blind.

It’s also a way to maximise the skills and training of Deafblind UK’s workforce, who offer specialist knowledge about sight and hearing impairment alongside Deafblindness.

We want to maintain and grow our contracted services and increase the number of people we support. We also believe we will increase the number of deafblind people benefitting from our services, as many do not associate themselves as deafblind but instead see themselves as, for example, deaf with sight impairment or vice versa.

Like most organisations in the current funding climate, we experience highs and lows in terms of contracted services. Dividing our operations in this way allows us to reach more and a diverse range of people, while at the same time making full use of our staff’s rich skillset.

Crucially, our staff and service users shouldn’t see any change whilst we maintain our  quality services – we are changing only the delivery vehicle as we’re keen not to compromise the objects of the charity as the only user-led deafblind organisation in England and Wales.

From an employee perspective, we’ll TUPE transfer all of our operational staff to About Me Care and Support on the same terms and conditions they have with Deafblind UK. Neither the terms of their employment nor any part of the role they currently undertake will be affected; it’s simply that the employer will change to About Me.

Such changes are not without challenges, and the main ones so far have been the time taken in planning, informing and consulting staff and the people who use our services. For our users of British Sign Language (BSL), for example, we’ve sent out BSL DVDs, so everyone is kept informed.

We are adamant that the move to our social enterprises will help us to support a greater number of people and offer wider options. While we don’t offer residential care, we do give people choices about their support, which our brokerage social enterprise should increase.

What lies at the heart of what we’re announcing today is the ethos of individual choice. Our move towards social enterprise means that the core focus of Deafblind UK - what the individual wants – will be maintained and developed.

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