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The Network is the Key: How KeyRing supports vulnerable adults in the community


© KeyRing 2013


The charity KeyRing has developed an asset-based network approach to improve the quality of life of vulnerable adults. When it was set up in 1990 it focussed on adults with learning disabilities but it has now expanded its membership to other groups of people.

KeyRing Living Support Networks are networks of vulnerable adults who need some support to live safely in the community. The purpose of each Network is to enable Members to take control and responsibility for their lives, live successfully in a place of their own and make a contribution to their local community.

Typically a Living Support Network comprises ten people living within walking distance of each other. Nine of these people are vulnerable adults and the tenth is a Community Living Volunteer (CLV) who lives rent-free in the Network area. The CLV provides at least 12 hours of their time each week to help Members with issues such as bills and budgeting, getting into education, employment or volunteering. They also promote mutual support between Network Members and help Members build links with neighbours, community organisations and local organisations.

Each CLV is supported by a Support Manager who manages a cluster of Networks. Members also get direct support from their Support Manager and access to the KeyRing “out of hours” service.

Network Members can also draw on additional one-to-one support through trained KeyRing staff when needed. In a number of local areas, KeyRing also runs Community Hubs where Members can drop in for one-to-one support, socialise, plan events or get information and advice.



KeyRing was initially set up to develop and provide an alternative housing and care model to a group of people with learning disabilities who were in institutional care and wanted to be able to live in a home of their own. This model uses an asset-based approach which grows the capacities and skills of Network Members. KeyRing also promotes an understanding that citizenship involves everyone and provides members with the opportunity to contribute their talents to their community.

By enabling people to develop support networks where they help each other and become skilled good neighbours, KeyRing seeks to:

  • promote the rights of its Members as citizens
  • help its Members to gain confidence, skills and autonomy
  • help its Members to build safe, mutually supportive and trusting relationships
  • reduce social isolation and dependence on paid support.

Change management

KeyRing Members have often previously experienced more traditional types of social care in which they have been disempowered in terms of their own life choices and marginalised within their local community. Membership of a KeyRing Living Support Network turns this on its head by restoring personal autonomy and opening up opportunities for the person to receive from and contribute to the Network, develop good neighbour relationships and sustainable community connections and access paid or voluntary work.

Personal change and growth is supported through an individual planning process.

The development of the Network is supported through a process of local community planning which enables KeyRing Members to identify what works well in their Network and their community and use this to co-design the activities of their Network. Members are encouraged to apply to the Small Sparks fund which provides small grants to resource people, either individually or collectively, to take forward an idea that enhances their community. Examples include a community allotment, a football team and a drama project.

As co-production between paid staff and Network Members is at the heart of the KeyRing model, this results in KeyRing Network Members being involved in the running of the organisation to a much greater extent than in other social care organisations. There is a range of initiatives and structures that support this, including:

  • Members are involved in regional and national groups which enable Members to agree shared activities and to link with the Board and the wider organisation.
  • The KeyRing Board always has Trustees with lived experience of services. Anyone can apply for these positions but they have so far been filled by KeyRing Members. They are full Board members, with all the authority and responsibility that entails. Member Trustees receive additional training and meeting preparation so that they come to Board meetings well-informed and able to contribute on an equal footing with other Trustees.
  • The Members’ National Forum has run national conferences in 2009 and 2013. Conferences were held at Warwick University and attracted around 400 delegates. Members made all key decisions concerning the conference and were fully involved in the practical aspects of running it.
  • KeyRing Members are the organisation’s best advocates and are regularly involved in delivering presentations and marketing to local authorities.
  • KeyRing Members are involved in the staff and volunteer selection processes and have an equal say with managers on appointments.
  • KeyRing members have editorial control of the organisation’s quarterly newspaper.
  • KeyRing has supported the ‘Working for Justice Group’ which campaigns on behalf of people with learning disabilities who have experience of the criminal justice system. As part of this work, KeyRing Members have been involved in providing prison officer training in every prison in England on working with people with learning disabilities.


Fundamental to KeyRing’s approach is taking an asset-based approach to all aspects of its work.  This includes focusing on the assets of the people we support and other people in the communities in which they live.  Fundamental to this is that Community Living Volunteers (CLVs) are active members of the communities where KeyRing Networks are present.

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) uses the assets which people in a community bring and the resources in the community as the basis for development; it empowers the people of the community by encouraging them to utilise what they already possess.

Principles that guide ABCD include:

  • Everyone has gifts
  • Relationships build a community
  • Citizens at the centre
  • Leaders involve others
  • People care
  • Listen: decisions should come from conversations where people are heard.
  • Ask: asking for ideas is more sustainable than giving solutions.
  • Local community members are in control.
  • Institutions serve the community

CLVs are in an ideal position, as active and supported community members to lead on this.  CLVs know their communities inside out. Their approach as leaders is to involve others - KeyRing Members and other citizens - in what will help all; more, their approach is to empower others to take a lead to ensure greater effectiveness, wider ownership and improved sustainability.  As leaders, their role is to develop autonomy in people and communities, not to create dependency in them. Therefore, CLVs connect people to each other and to wider community assets. This is empowering; they listen, and ask, and encourage Members to show local leadership.


KeyRing joined a corporate group as a subsidiary in 2014. In 2017 KeyRing left that corporate group, following a detailed review and assessment of the viability of meeting our charitable purpose whilst remaining part of the group. The challenges we faced were

  • Ensuring long term sustainability to deliver our charitable objectives
  • Ensuring that the best interests of KeyRing were being served by leaving the corporate group
  • Working closely with the parent organisation to ensure a mutually agreed de-merger
  • Rebuilding the board which had reduced in number over the period
  • Reviewing governance activity
  • Leading on the new Strategic Plan,
  • Ensuring openness and accountability with beneficiaries, staff and volunteers

KeyRing overcame those challenges by:

  • Consulting with beneficiaries, staff and volunteers on our organisational purpose and agreeing what we would and would not do.
  • Reviewing the Strategic Plan and setting clear priorities based on this consultation.
  • Planning for sustainability by reviewing income sources, business models, investments, debtors and making effective changes.
  • Recruiting new trustees to the Board who had the skills and experience to help us deliver on the Strategic Plan. This involved creating a Board Appointment Panel so that service users were involved from advert to interview.
  • Reviewing Board skill mix, re-introducing Board appraisal, reviewing Board meeting structure and activity to ensure effectiveness and regular communication with beneficiaries, staff and volunteers.
  • Working closely with the Senior Team to ensure bureaucracy is minimised, that staff time is focused on outcomes and impact, that staff and volunteers have the tools to work efficiently wherever they were.
  • Reviewing progress against the Code.

Clarity in relation to our purpose meant that we were able to make objective decisions about our contracts. In the past 18 months we have remodelled, closed or expanded services to fit better with our purpose. In 2017/18 we supported 2001 people during the year compared to 1622 people in 2016/17 , despite income in 2017/18 being £389,000 less.


Members are very proud of their achievements and each person has their own “outcome” story:

“Being part of KeyRing and going to KeyRing events has given me new ideas, given me a sense of belonging, of not being alone, I’ve been able to meet, talk, pick up tips and tricks, and generally have a 'blast'.”

“Being a KeyRing Member and in particular serving on the Board of Trustees has given me confidence in all aspects of my life, a sense of status; I’ve been a part of the day-to-day running of KeyRing.”

© KeyRing 2013

Performance Indicators

KeyRing operates over 100 Networks across England and Wales. In 2017/18 it supported 2001 people in a range of services in 35 local authorities with a staff and volunteer team of 209.

KeyRing Members typically give and receive 2 hours mutual support per person per week.

99.9 % of KeyRing Members successfully sustain their own tenancy.

Costs and Savings

In 2018 Housing LIN conducted an independent assessment of the KeyRing model. Their report is based on an analysis of KeyRing Networks in 4 local authority areas. From this analysis, they calculated the financial benefits of a ‘typical’ cluster of three Networks, supporting 30 people. This showed each investment of £1 resulted in a saving of £2.19, which was a net gain of £1.19, a 120% return on the original investment of the local authority. This implied overall cashable savings of £187,168 per year.

The report also emphasises the outcomes that are linked to these savings. It defines our mission and values, demonstrating that financial savings can be made by adhering to these values, not compromising on them. 

It does so by focusing on outcomes that enable people to:

  • Move on from higher cost support settings
  • Reduce their need for direct and indirect support overall
  • Avoid going into crisis or be able to recover more quickly from it

In 2013 the work of KeyRing in Walsall was independently evaluated by Alder (2013) to follow-up an initial evaluation of an adapted KeyRing model. This model aims to enable people currently inappropriately placed in residential care placements (often out of their own area) or at risk of escalating into residential care, to move into community-based living within Walsall with a tailored support package. The difference is the addition of “transitional step down” floating support for Members of the Network who have relocated from a residential placement, which is provided by a Network Link Worker. This is called the “Network Plus” model.

The evaluation showed a saving to the local authority of £69,360 in the first year. However, two years later, while the financial case remained strong, it was not as strong as the initial evaluation, which concluded that the “Network Plus” model in Walsall was, at least, self-financing. The KeyRing “Networks Plus” model now appears to be costing the local authority around £79,000 p.a. because the proportion of members with the potential to be supported at much lower cost has reduced. Consequently, the savings generated can no longer cover the full costs of the ten networks.

In 2015 another external evaluation took place to evaluate a pilot project in Oldham, which combined trauma therapy with abstinence-based recovery when supporting individuals to live independently. The Recovery Network was born from a fusion of ideas between A4A and KeyRing (Emerging Horizons, 2015:5). The evaluation showed positive outcomes, without exception, for all members who participated. The findings demonstrated improvements in health and psychological wellbeing and suggested that the model could be effectively replicated in other contexts.

Lessons learnt and next steps

  • Principles and theory are better understood when applied to an action-based approach which allows them to be tested and refined
  • Everyone has more to offer; understanding, on all sides, what that might be and how it can be utilised needs the development of trusting relationships; this takes time
  • Everyone can be a leader
  • Organisational culture is fundamental.  It is hard to change, which can be a good thing (when the culture is functional) or a bad thing (when the culture is dysfunctional)
  • All voices need to be truly heard

Further information


Housing LIN (2018), The Financial Case for KeyRing,

Alder (2013), Summary of the updated Evaluation of KeyRing Networks Plus in Walsall,

Emerging Horizons (2015), Addicts4Addicts & Keyring Recovery Network: Final Report,

About this case study
Main Contact

Sarah Hatch
Communications Coordinator

phone:     07507 786 018

Sarah Hatch updated this case study in February 2019 based on previous versions by Jane Urmson and Jill Parker.

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