When Jenny Dutton arrived at Pam King’s home the other day, she had to apologise for being covered in mud. On her way to King’s isolated Exmoor cottage, she had stopped to rescue a stranded sheep. The animal had complied, but only after a struggle.
The story reflects both Dutton’s gritty determination and her commitment to her local community – qualities that make her ideal for the work she does as a “micro-provider” of support for older and disabled people in her remote part of Somerset. Without her backup, clients like King might have little option but to move into residential care.
Yet Dutton has no background in care or support. She spent almost 30 years working in financial services, before illness forced her to stop. Now, at 49, she runs her own business, Floors and Chores, and works a six-day week helping her clients to live independently by cleaning, washing, cooking and shopping for them.
King, 90, a keen artist, returned to her cottage near Wheddon Cross, the highest village on Exmoor, after being hospitalised with a broken hip and shoulder. With no support at home, she rang her local “village agent” – one of a network of part-time workers in Somerset funded by lottery money and a mix of other grants to act as links between vulnerable people and statutory and voluntary services – who put her in touch with Dutton. Now she drops in regularly to help out and provide King with company.
“Last week we spent one morning clearing out old sketches, or, rather, moving them from one pile to another while she told me a story about each one,” Dutton recalls. “After we finished, the only items for the rubbish were some old Christmas cards from 1977.” Dutton was inspired – and set up her micro-provider business a year ago with the help of Community Catalysts (CC), a social enterprise that helps people to develop grassroots solutions to address health and wellbeing needs. She found out about the organisation through her GP. It took her through the basics of setting up a business, helped her with insurance and criminal record checks and even gave her a grant to buy cleaning equipment. It also introduced her to the village agent, local social workers and other nearby micro-providers so that they could pass on referrals and provide holiday backup.
What CC is achieving in west Somerset is quite remarkable. In 2014, despairing of getting any established homecare provider to run a reliable service in the area, Somerset county council put up £75,000 a year of pooled council and NHS money to see if CC could spark development of small-scale enterprises to plug the gap. The gamble has paid off.
Given a target of 50 micro-enterprises, providing paid employment for 80 people, CC achieved 133 businesses and 180 jobs by the end of the initial two-year contract in November. Since then, the…