Path for Life – process, people and holding on to the ‘Deep Value’

Michele Armstrong is the CEO of 2D, an organisation based in the Durham Dales providing nationally accredited Volunteer Centre services, promoting, supporting and developing volunteering, and helping people to access
volunteering. Before this, she worked for NACRO as a placement manager, but started her working life with Marks and Spencer through their management training programme.

2D in County Durham, as part of the Volunteer Centre programme within the Nesta Innovation in Giving Fund, has embedded the original concept of social prescribing for people with long term conditions. The ‘Path for Life’ project is operating across the whole of the Durham Dales and working in close partnership with the Durham Dales Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group (DDES).


At 2D we set out to build a service in partnership with the newly formed Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) responding to the needs of people with long-term conditions who have been referred by their GP.

We always knew the benefits of this service that would give more time to develop the relationship with the patient, listening to them and leading to mutually agreed next steps. In fact we were downright passionate about that. We were also responding to the needs of GP practices themselves. At the start of the project we all knew we had an innovative concept but did we have all the processes in place? Did we have all our ducks in a row? Did the CCG? The answer to both those questions was NO! But that’s what innovation is about, isn’t it?

An innovative concept must evolve and grow with practice and experience and develop processes and systems, achieving ownership and ultimately delivering. But delivering a new service at the same time as developing processes is problematic. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and going into year 2 of the Volunteer Centre Programme we had learnt that some of our ducks were off kilter, these included; what were we measuring and how to agree that concept with both GPs and patients.


Deep Value

We all need numbers. For us, ‘number of referrals’ justifying the investment. But agreeing as a partnership what we capture and then do with the information that comes from ‘numbers’ is the big challenge.

‘It is clear that strong relationships are instrumental in achieving quality outcomes and value for money. We need a better understanding of this deep value.’

People of influence, Council on Social Action, 2009

Another of key ‘number for us at 2D was; the number of volunteers involved to buddy referrals (patients). But to us, it was equally important to collect and share the gems of narrative introducing us to a value beyond numbers and process – the ‘Deep Value’.

Involvement in the project has given me a different perspective; have had a difficult time myself and the work gives me a purpose.

Volunteering is an outlook; gets me out of home; my partner has a disability and I take something fresh back home, it’s something for me, it keeps me level.

I’m on my own, so having someone else to think about means I’m not wallowing in my own stuff.

It’s given back myself belief; doing something useful. I’m not useless.

I’m at university so I have the time. It’s helping the community, where you live, improving the area. It’s about a sense of community.

The Path for Life project addressing isolation and developing innovation in giving has been inspirational, uplifting and even life changing for some. The ‘Deep Value’ has been in developing quality relationships, building up trust and rapport whether this has been with a client, volunteer or a professional (referral point). But to others this was anecdotal rather than statistical and as a result was achieving at best ad-hoc ownership. From the GPs perspective the product was improved wellbeing as measured by a validated research tool (some will have a more sophisticated view) but for most this sort of data is the only ‘true’ measure.

Brining people and process together

The big dilemma we had was the marrying of a service that has developing relationships with individual clients at its heart with the need to collect and fully understand metrics such as improved well-being as well as demonstrating value for money – the marrying of process and people while holding on to the ‘Deep Value’.

The Nesta programme gave us the space to do this. We evolved our practice and processes. We learnt evaluation is our critical ‘friend’ – sharing knowledge and better understanding and commitment between all partners. We developed tools to balance relationships creating positive journeys and outcomes for all.

Process is not just systems, evaluation must be there from the start, and shared ownership (between all partners) is everything.

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