via Flickr user abbyladybug

“I’m doing it for myself and for everyone else who lives here.”

Burcu is in her fifties and a resident of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. She came across Circle, Participle’s membership organisation for over 50s, when it launched in her neighbourhood and used it to inject a bit of life into her routine by meeting new people and trying new things.

I joined Circle when I turned 50 and decided to give up smoking. I live on my own, don’t see my family much, and I wanted to find new ways to keep busy. Circle was a local social gathering right on my doorstep. I live close to one of the regular meet-up spots so it was very convenient. I decided to attend a few events. It seemed easy going and you were never obligated to attend. It was just a nice way of signposting to people who are lonely.

We’re creating community, which is not so common in big cities any more.

I’m one of the younger members, but I liked that there were older people there. It was great to tap into that wisdom. Most of the members are quite wise, well-seasoned people. They have lots of interesting stories. Our conversations are incredibly therapeutic. We discuss everything from travel, life, and grief to what made the best window cleaner. It’s refreshing!

I started volunteering to host events and helped out at the theatre, concerts, outings and the wine and cheese evening. Now I know far more local people that live in the area than I would have met before.

Circle gives you a structure for social interaction and connectivity… I don’t see it as volunteering any more. I see it as getting together with members of my community, as an active neighbour and a friend. We’re creating community, which is not so common in big cities any more. I have something to give to my local community, and
Circle has helped me find a way to channel that energy as well as giving me a great network of people who will be there for me as I get older. I’m doing it for myself and for everyone else who lives here.

While there isn’t a formal Circle being run in Kensington and Chelsea any more, Burcu is one of several members who is still keeping things going in the area, organising wine and cheese tastings and games nights. We’re very happy she is continuing to give her time to organising this network of friends, but on the other hand, it’s not about us.

What Burcu and her neighbours are doing is something that’s owned completely by them and built on their own relationships with each other. Yet, as they’re able to support one another through good times and bad, the members will likely see increased mental and physical wellbeing, which benefits them, their neighbourhood, and society as a whole. Keep up the good work, guys.

If you’d like to know more about the Circle Movement, you can check out or read more posts about Circle

Martyn Picture with Pat & Hospice Staff

“This was living again!”: Martyn’s story, in his own words

Martyn is a member of Rochdale Circle. He sent us this because he wanted others to understand the sort of problems older people in his position face, and how he’s helped himself and others lead a better life.

I am a retired local newspaper editor, and as such had quite a hectic social life, with many friends, prior to retiring.

I retired early at the age of 58, and over the following years lost touch with many of my work colleagues and acquaintances.

I have been widowed twice, my first wife dying suddenly on our 25th wedding anniversary, aged 46, and many years later my second wife, again very suddenly on our 1st wedding anniversary.

This affected me badly.  I later moved away from Rochdale to live with Julia, a lady-friend in Saddleworth.

Not meeting other people, life was like Two Boxes – one full of life’s’ love with my family; the other full of loneliness.

We both became keen ramblers, going on holidays with the Rambling Club.

Then in 2000 I had a double heart attack when in Morecambe with my friend, Julia.

They revived me twice and I had a stent fitted, but still having one artery that was not brilliant.

I smoked all my life, but not had a cigarette since.

After a while I continued rambling with Julia but I was beginning to get a little breathless.

Julia and I went our own ways four years ago for family reasons.

I had my annual health check three years ago at Edenfield Road Surgery, and a blood test showed I had a very high PSA Count from my prostate.

A few days later it was still rising. The end result was Prostate Cancer was detected and I had 19 doses of radiotherapy at The Christie Clinic, followed by 2 years hormone implants.

I was also diagnosed with COPD, after having numerous bronchial problems.

I am still on the implants and have a nebulizer plus walking aids, a stick, 3-wheel trolley and wheelchair.

My community matron referred me to the Hospice last year because, although I have a VERY close family I was not meeting anyone, or socialising outside my family.

I started to get depressed and had some trouble using stairs, so moved out of my home to live with my daughter and her family.

The weekly day visit to the Hospice started snapping me out of the worst of the depression as I was picked up by a volunteer driver and returned home the same day. This was vital as I panic if left on my own.

The staff at the Hospice were brilliant, and I left really at ease and loved meeting the other patients.

But after 12 weeks my Hospice visits came to an end.

I had a lovely life at home with my daughter who became my Carer, her hubby and my three grandchildren.

BUT I still felt lonely – not meeting other people, and life was like Two Boxes –

One full of life’s’ love with my family;

The other full of loneliness.

I was still wary of being out on my own.

My COPD gets slightly worse each year, and I won’t know for six months if the cancer implants have worked.

My community matron referred me back to the Hospice and the staff told me about CIRCLE.

I eventually rang them and Pat McDonald (on the left in the photo above) from Circle came to see me at my home and spent about two hours telling me all about Circle.

She actually encouraged me to join and after hearing that a Circle staff member would be at every event they held I joined.

My first trip was with 50 other members, to Oswaldtwistle Mills and Pat introduced me to everyone on the coach!

I was VERY dubious, but was soon chatting to a few people, and I absolutely loved it.

I felt so safe because a staff member of Circle (Pat) was with me.

We went on a Barge Trip up the Canal and I walked the length of the Barge saying hello to everyone.


The next event I went on was lunch at the Wine Press at Hollingworth Lake.

I went by Taxi, on my OWN, and some of the 40 plus people at the lunch knew me and greeted me, and Leanne, a Member of Circle staff kept an eye on me. IT WAS BRILLIANT.

I shared my taxi with another Circle member on the way home.

I was no longer lonely. I was making friends and socialising, but I couldn’t do it without a member of Circle staff being present.

My life has changed. You wouldn’t believe what difference this has made to my life. I am always happy go lucky now!

Why don’t thousands of people like me join!

We’re so pleased that Martyn is feeling happier now, and is one of hundreds of people over 50 making Rochdale a friendlier place. If you’d like to know more about the Circle Movement, you can check out or read more posts about Circle

If you live in Rochdale or Nottingham and are over 50, you can join Circle too. We’ll be happy to see you there!

via Flickr user Planet Leeds v3

Part 2: Nurturing the local (in Leeds and beyond)

As we at Participle reflected on the first chapter of Circle, we also asked what others are now doing to create new and different ways to support brilliant ageing.  This question led us to Leeds and the inspirational Mick Ward, the Commissioner of Adult Social Care, and the pioneer behind Local Links.

Local Links builds community capacity to plan and broker care  – it is a Circle-like solution developed from within the Local Authority.  There are strong parallels: Circles have thrived where local agencies share a big vision to which Circle is connected.  Leeds has just such a vision – of a council of civic enterprise – which encompasses all services, businesses and the population of Leeds.

There are also strong links between what we have both learnt.  Firstly it’s hard, slow work: lots and lots of door knocking; everyone being committed to being on the ground and knowing that nothing matters more than these horizontal, door level relationships backed by community champions.

A focus on relationships: it’s common sense, it’s better for civic life and it gets things done.

Secondly social investment: for all the promise it’s hard to make it a reality.  Local Links hope to secure funding from DERiC (a Social Investment Financial Intermediary) but have learnt not to underestimate the difficulties of long drawn out negotiations as different cultures try to align, onerous legal demands and the practical challenges of proving a potential return on investment in this slippery territory where measurement is difficult. On the plus side in Leeds engagement with social investment types has galvanised new work into action without the funding.

Thirdly, we’re both seen that the System Resists: local social workers have been reluctant to refer into a new community based system.  In part a challenge of culture, but also again of systems colliding.  Something we have experienced at Participle with both Circle and our family work, Life, but fascinating to see that work which is developed from within the system itself faces the same challenges.

And then there was one massive and critical distinction to anywhere we have worked.  In Leeds there has been a long, long term commitment to communities.  18 years ago a Leeds council community worker saw their role to be one of building social networks- they wanted to work with groups, not just individuals.  From this the first Neighbourhood Network was born, a network that has grown to 37 neighbourhood network schemes across the city.

These networks thrive because they are loved and nurtured:  Leeds has continued to sustain this precious capacity, providing £2 million of funding each year in eight year funding cycles, funding that actually increased this year to £2.3m.  I feel the need to repeat that: £2 million plus per year in long term, predictable funding cycles.

In the words of Mick Ward: “it’s a relationship business”; it’s common sense, better for civic life and it gets things done.  Now how can we spread this learning?

Hilary Cottam is Founder and Principle Partner of Participle.

You can read more about Circle here on the blog and also over at, where you can read the report on the learning from London Circle. You might also like to read Part 1 of this reflection.

Rochdale Circle Birthday party

Part 1: The learning from London Circle

This week we publish the learning from the first chapter of Circle – our membership service for people 50 and over. Circles are thriving in Nottingham and Rochdale but very sadly London Circle was forced to close in March this year.

What have we learnt? Circle has learned how to build robust and diverse communities that can really support each other – leading to happier lives and savings to the public purse. This is something everyone involved has been very proud of.

Less tangibly we have learnt that it is not just what you offer – in Circle’s case practical support and a rich social calendar – it is how you offer it. Relationships were at the heart of Circle: how we talked, what we did and how we did it. And members responded – they felt that this was something different and they joined in their several thousands, made new friendships and helped others in very concrete

Relationships were at the heart of Circle – how we talked, what we did and how we did it – and members responded.

In the end it is the experiences of our members in Part Two of our report that matter most and speak most. Circle also has good and independently reviewed social outcomes and business models, which show that we saved money – reduced hospital re-admissions, reduced visits to GPs.

But it was not enough. To thrive Circles need to be part of a strong local vision which marbles statutory and community approaches – something in which Nottingham Circle are starting to really progress, but is very hard to make happen. And they do need some recurrent funding – very little, but too much for most to contemplate.

In this context the London business model was wrong – it was an attempt to build too much too fast, but the Circle model still has much to offer as those who thronged to Rochdale Circle’s birthday party (picture above) were keen to celebrate.

Hilary Cottam is Founder and Principle Partner of Participle.

You can read more about Circle here on the blog and also over at, where you can read the report on the learning from London Circle. We’ll be publishing the Part 2 of this reflection on the learning from Circle tomorrow.


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