Review: Creating an Ordinary Life – ARC Annual Conference 2014

This year’s ARC Annual Conference focused on something that has been talked about, researched, dissected and appraised for over thirty years and that is Active Support.

Active Support is a method of support which enables people with learning disabilities, mental health, autism or dementia to take part more in their own lives. Many staff and organisations think that they deliver Active Support and say it is embedded within organisational culture – but is it?

Active Support – Research, Implementation, Coaching and Monitoring

The morning sessions looked at research around Active Support, Positive Behaviour Support and support for dementia; as well as the concept that training alone does not create the changes in staff behavior that Active Support requires.Conf

Dr. Edwin Jones, Service Development Consultant Directorate of Learning Disabilities, spoke about how staff can get into a vicious circle of ‘Hotel’ type support. This is where staff focus on doing ‘for’ and not doing ‘with’. Edwin reminded us that Active Support greatly improves the quality of life of people with learning disabilities by staff supporting people to take part in their own lives. Also, how Active Support benefits people with more complex needs who will need more support.

Active Support is one of the proactive strategies for reducing behaviour that is challenging as it replaces the environmental conditions or triggers for such behaviours to take place.

Paul McWade, Operational Director at Halton Local Authority, suggested that Active Support could be implemented in all support services whether it be learning disabilities, dementia, mental health and / or acquired brain injury. Paul spoke about implementing Active Support within one of the Local Authority Dementia Services. Base line studies were taken prior to staff training, showing a lesser level of engagement in meaningful activities for people in their service. After staff training, and with management support, engagement increased in all areas of a person’s life with behaviour that had been challenging either dramatically or totally reduced.

The work that Halton have been developing has won them the BILD (British Institute for Learning Disabilities) Positive Behaviour Support Leadership Award 2014.

Dr Sandy Toogood, Applied Behaviour Analyst spoke about the importance of supporting and coaching, which is called Interactive Training. Teams need support to provide the right support and assistance which does not come naturally to many staff and they have to learn how to do it well.

Staff are generally motivated by Active Support training but lose the motivation quickly if no one is reinforcing the changes in a positive and constructive way. The changes in staff behaviour in turn impacts on client engagement and positive outcomes. Studies consistently show that when teams are supported in the right way by their managers, client engagement increases and behaviours are reduced.

Sandy has written a training pack on Interactive Training. For further details please contact Christine Rose.

Sandy Toogood and Paul Griffiths share ideas

Paul Griffiths, Director of …is 5, a personal development coach with experience in many sectors, offered the conference a different perspective. He showed that achieving personal change involves new thinking and new beliefs. He challenged delegates to view alternative approaches with an open mind. Paul confronted the shortcomings of conventional approaches to training. Training alone does not make changes happen in the workplace and staff behavior only changes when good practice leadership and coaching is present. In conclusion Paul offered key lessons learned from the effectiveness of coaching to be incorporated in training.

Professor Kathy Lowe Directorate of Learning Disability Services presented on the Active Support Model for Outcome Monitoring and paperwork. She explained some of the reasons why we need to measure outcomes, from feedback to staff, to the monitoring of service effectiveness.

Active Support has three areas around paperwork. First, Activity and Support Plans, which are used to help plan the day for the client and for staff. These plans are not for measuring outcomes but help us to know what is happening day to day and who is doing what. Opportunity Plans are very good for identifying and monitoring progress and Participation Records and Summaries are used to show the range of activities a client is engaged with and shows progression. The Participation Records and summary sheets are very easy to use and can be set up on an excel spreadsheet. The examples Kathy used are available to see in the Active Support Handbook, which you can download from the ARC Website.


Creating and Ordinary Life – how Active Support is improving the quality of support for people with learning disabilities

Robert Owen Communities exhibit their workThe afternoon presentations came from three organisations who have been working with ARC on the Creating an Ordinary Life Project – Active Support. Robert Owen Communities, Edward Lloyd Trust and Martha Trust are 12 months into the Project and they shared with us how they used the project to review change and improve their practice and process. They shared some of the barriers to implementation and spoke about what they needed to change and the difference these changes have made in peoples lives.


Catherine Carter, followed the project presentations, speaking about her experiences as a trainer at CHANGE, the leading national human rights organisation led by disabled people, and the importance of receiving the right support at the right time.


Rounding off the conference was a short questions and answer session inviting questions from the audience. Topics discussed included the necessity of implementing and maintaining a system of review, the importance of continued support from an enthusiastic and motivated staff team and the struggle to bring commissioners round to recognising the benefits of Active Support. A transcript of the questions and responses is available here.



Here are some of the things delegates had to say about the day:

“Enjoyed the whole day. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly which is important. We learned a lot in some of the areas and made some very useful contacts. The venue was great.”

“Beautifully organised. Everything went very smoothly in an exceedingly friendly, relaxed but efficient way. Most impressive and welcoming.”

“Having real examples well explained, with pictorial evidence was great – very informative.”

“It helped us to challenge some of our current implementation of Active Support.”

“All excellent. We found some of Edwin’s and Kathy’s the most useful. We are implementing some of Kathy’s ideas for recording as I write.”

“Just inspirational to move forward.”

“I thought Paul Griffiths and ROC were inspiring. We could see how we could take home what they were saying and put it into practice in our organisation.”

“A thoroughly enjoyable day – well organised, very well attended and I gained a lot of knowledge. Thank you.”

“Excellent day – our motivation has increased 100 fold!”


All the presentations from the day are available to download – Click here.

Thank you

ARC would like to thank all the speakers and delegates who contributed to making our Annual Conference 2014 an overwhelming success. We hope you enjoyed the day as much as we did.

Further Information:

  • Find out more about Active Support and ARC’s Active Support Development Service here
  • Contact Christine Rose, ARC’s Active Support Lead and Consultant – Email: [email protected] or contact us on 01246 555043