Unlocking potential

Rotherham Council challenges the traditional model of community support for people with learning disabilities through working with social enterprise Community Catalysts on a project that supports local people to set up innovative new activities for people with learning disabilities, as well as supporting them to develop their own projects. This case study forms part of the health inequalities hub.


The traditional model of community support for people with learning disabilities involves day centres and other institutionalised models of support.

But Rotherham Council has a different vision, which provides a wider choice based on personalised and flexible opportunities that help unlock the potential of people with learning disabilities. To achieve this the council has been working with social enterprise Community Catalysts on a project that supports local people to set up innovative new activities as well as working one-to-one with people with learning disabilities.

How it works

The work started in 2017 with Harry Clarkson, a local Catalyst, employed to lead on two main strands of work – a community micro-enterprise development programme and bespoke support for people with learning disabilities to recognise their own strengths and talents and use them positively to connect with others locally.

The enterprise development programme started first and is aimed at supporting local people and groups to develop innovative, community-based support for adults with a learning disability. They are encouraged to come forward with ideas for projects and activities and are supported to get their schemes off the ground. Once up-and-running, taster sessions are also hosted to encourage people with learning disabilities to try the activity.

Community Catalysts Operations Manager Helen Allen said:

We support developing entrepreneurs to understand regulation and legislation around their idea and signpost for insurance, training and DBS checks as well as helping to plan their community micro-enterprise.

“We have also developed a set of standards – the Doing It Right Standards – which they sign up to. It is a mark of quality and gives people the confidence that the activity is safe, sustainable and won’t let people down.

“It takes time to change the culture. New activities need that little bit of help to get off the ground and that is what we provide. They are reliant on funding from direct payments and self-funders. The results have been fantastic – we have some great options for people now that are really helping them stay connected and develop their skills.”

The impact

There are now more than 20 community micro-enterprises running activities for more than 470 people with learning disabilities. They include sports projects, an arts-based scheme and training and work opportunities.

Liz Carrington, from ArtWorks, a group of artists which holds weekly workshops, said: “The Community Catalysts support has been great in helping us get established. They have supported us to network with other great organisations and involve us in a variety of projects which has helped our service grow from strength to strength.”

The pandemic obviously meant services had to adjust. To help, Community Catalysts established an online platform called The Buzz. It helped enterprises create and share accessible videos so people could keep doing many of the activities they had been doing in person.

The second element of the work in Rotherham, the People Can project, took off two years later. Local Catalyst Mr Clarkson works with individuals or small groups of people with learning disabilities to help them develop their own projects which can support them into employment or volunteering. At any one time the Catalyst will be working with around 10 people.

Ms Allen said: “There is a risk for people with learning disabilities that when they undertake courses at college it may not lead to anything beyond that. They may return to complete another course and another course with little outcome.”

The Catalyst fills that gap, provides a different type of support to make the most of their potential and helps them to build a fulfilling future for themselves.

One person who has been helped by Mr Clarkson is Charlie who is on the autistic spectrum. She completed a beauty therapy course, but was struggling to find employment afterwards. She was supported to set up her own business – Charlie’s Beauty Zone – and introduced to local care agencies, who employ her to provide beauty treatments for staff. “I received great support and the business has been a big success. I am so proud of my achievements – it shows what autistic people can do with the right support.”

Rotherham Strategic Director of Adult Care, Housing and Public Health Anne-Marie Lubanski said the work done over the past few years has transformed the way people with learning disabilities are supported. “It has been a great experience and we have delivered together a number of exciting initiatives, providing exciting opportunities for people. Harry from Community Catalysts is seen as part of the wider team in our transformation agenda and we could not have got as far as we have without that challenge, innovation and support.”

Contact details

cat.thomas@communitycatalysts.co.uk