THINKPIECE: The freedom to innovate is the cost of growth

CRISPIN TRUMAN, director of the Revolving Doors Agency

One of the strengths of the voluntary sector is its ability to innovate.

Small organisations find it easier to be flexible and experimental. They can also be entrepreneurial and take risks. As a result they often develop ideas and new ways of working, which - if successful - can later be adopted by mainstream agencies.

The Revolving Doors Agency helps people with mental health problems who are in contact with the criminal justice system. It's a difficult and challenging client group to work with.

However, we have been successful because we have been creative and innovative.

We have established multi-disciplinary teams and developed a "link worker

model, offering help to vulnerable people who are not getting support from mainstream services.

We are pleased with the results. By working with the police and the prison service, our link workers have doubled the number of clients registered with GPs and halved their use of temporary accommodation. We have reduced the likelihood of them reoffending because our schemes offer clients the practical support and help they need to tackle the issues that exacerbate their mental health problems and precipitate their offending behaviour.

But it is very tempting for us to roll out our link worker model by attracting funding for replicate schemes across the country. After all, we know it works. If this model was used across the UK it could deliver huge benefits and would offer a pathway for Revolving Doors Agency to grow and prosper.

Instead, we will share our knowledge through consultancy, training, evaluation and development. We are actively seeking other agencies that will take on our existing schemes and secure their long-term future, or who want to set up schemes of their own.

Our role is not to grow into a large provider organisation. We want to try out new ideas, test new thinking, take a few risks and establish new pilot schemes. We can only do this if we remain relatively light and nimble, free from the burden of running large-scale services.

Many larger charities do an excellent job running national services but continual growth is not always the best way. It can reduce the voluntary sector's ability to take risks and dilute its willingness to experiment.

For us small is definitely beautiful.

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