The LIFE Programme

No. 140 | submitted by: Deesha Chandra | 20.08.2010 | 20:10
Location: UK, Swindon, Wiltshire
Time span: 1 year
Initiated by: Swindon Council and Participle
Financed by: Swindon Council
Operated by: Swindon Council (UK), Participle, Headshift and Nesta
In 2009 Swindon Borough Council, Participle and a number of local families developed and prototyped a highly successful framework to support families in chronic crisis to build new lives. This new approach is known as the LIFE Programme (building new Lives for Individuals and Families to Enjoy.) LIFE was developed in Swindon as ‘the next step’ to the Family Intervention Projects (FIPs) model. This programme focuses on unlocking the capability for families to build and sustain the lives they want to lead through a number of enablers: the ability to value yourself and to become aware of what holds you back; a sense of agency and possibility that will allow you to create the life you want to lead; the ability to develop meaningful relationships and build new connections within your community. This has been achieved by the re-design of the welfare state system around them, offering a new type of team of key workers, that work with the families in a particular and radically different way. Core to developing the family member’s capabilities is this particular quality of relationship, built between the families and the LIFE team, that gives families the means and the space to change.

Project Description

Problem and objective

In 2008, the UK’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown famously said that there were 110,000 ‘problem families’, and if the issues within these families were solved, much of society’s ills would be cured. Participle, believing this figure was much closer to 150,000, referred to this group as ‘Families in Chronic Crisis.’ These families represent the point at which the current relationship between government and people has broken down to the greatest degree. They are the families considered the ‘hardest to reach’. Participle believed if we could build an approach and an infrastructure that supports a new, transformative relationship between the wider community, government and these families then we have repaired a deep failure in the current welfare state.

The ‘LIFE’ Programme focuses on unlocking capabilities for families to build and sustain the lives they want to lead.

Structure and process

LIFE was developed by families for families. The Participle team rented a house on an estate in Swindon, and spent 6 months living in the community, as well as shadowing front-line workers. They initially worked with 12 families over several months to develop and prototype LIFE.

Families are invited to join LIFE and choose a team of professionals they want to work with. Joint projects allow the families to develop capabilities: beginning to value themselves, build better relationships and contribute to the community around them. The team are trained not to bring their own judgments or agendas so that the programme is genuinely family-led.

The LIFE programme cost is £10,000 per annum per family based on 2 teams working with 38 families.


The 2009 pilot, with Swindon, saved over £200,000 in 12 weeks with one family alone, by preventing children going into care, reducing court orders and ASBOs.

The project also found that tools were needed to enable more time to be spent with families and to drastically reduce the effort spent on paperwork.

Participle is developing Lifeboard – an online self-reporting tool that helps to capture both ‘required’ data and softer information to allow families, frontline workers and their managers to chart the progress made by the families that receive support.

The aim of this tool is two-fold: to allow families and frontline workers to work together to collect data, but also to reduce the time that social workers spend on inputting these data into systems.

Participle is using an 'open source' model for scaling up LIFE. All the LIFE materials will be available on a shared public platform for feedback and development, so that the LIFE approach can be taken up by other local authorities and adapted to local conditions. This includes handbooks and training videos, tools for families, and evaluation frameworks. Feedback and suggestions from families and professionals will appear on the same platform, allowing the materials to be improved, the content to be further developed, and the ethos to spread - from a position of shared intent.
Detailed Information

Type of contribution by participants
They determined the outcomes of the project

Target group
"Families in chronic crisis"

Total number of people addressed by the project (approx.)
approx 32 families

Specific effort made to include disadvantaged groups
Extensive effort to address disadvantaged groups

Co-production method used to create the service.

Adoption by others
In some cases

10,000 per annum per family

Time and working days
1 year
Status: finalised
Country: United_Kingdom
Scale: local
Project type: community development/social capital building
Kind of Influence: communicative influence
Policy area / Issue area: social cohesion