Powerful Paws - an unique approach to improving public health

Harnessing the powerful relationship between people and pets, to overcome social barriers to wellbeing, brighter futures for communities.

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:

  • Yes, I’m eligible
  • Yes, I’m 18 years old or older

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:

  • Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
  • The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020

Initiative's representative name

Katie Bristow, Director - Project Lead Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) Programmes

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United Kingdom

Headquarters location: city

Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

Where are you making a difference?

England, Cambridgeshire

Website or social media url(s)

Website: www.peopleandanimals.org.uk Twitter: https://twitter.com/UKPeopleAnimals  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peopleandanimalsuk  and https://www.facebook.com/WisbechCommunityLedTherapeuticFarm/ 

Date Started


Focus Areas

  • Fostering emotional intelligence and behavioural competences
  • Promote inclusivity
  • Enhance physical activity and wellness
  • Re-imagining the role of pets in society

What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?

  • €100k - €250k

Organisation Type

  • hybrid: a combination of different types of organisations, such as a social enterprise (an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being)

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Imagine such crippling fear of social situations, that you find yourself alone, unable to leave your home, disengaged from friends, family and any social service offered … for 7 years. Today, you open the door to a non-judgemental one-eyed Golden Retriever named "Urwin" - you hardly notice the human holding the lead! You don't need to make eye contact or 'small talk'. You find yourself taking him walking outdoors. Later, you find yourself talking to dog walkers. Now, you volunteer to help others with “Urwin” beside you. New friends and a new found life. Regularly witnessing these scenarios, combined with background in Nationwide HAI project development, founding the Dogs for Good PAWS Family Dog Service, I know this initiative works.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Wisbech, is one of the most deprived towns in the UK, with socio-economic challenges that include; high levels of deprivation, poor educational attainment, low skill and aspiration levels, health inequalities. With generational challenges to engage those most vulnerable, into community-based positive activities, there continues to be a high proportion of UK residents unable to access these opportunities, and/or education/employment. We can help!

3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We have demonstrated a model of community engagement surrounding the motivational effect that animals have, engaging those whose emotional needs and challenging behaviour keep them isolated and excluded from society, bringing them into weekly Animal-Assisted Intervention sessions to promote essential life skills and ambition for a brighter futures, with opportunities for employment and education. This is not "Talk to us if you have mental illness" - its different to talking therapy, its mindfulness at its best, being with nature whilst caring for other living beings to learn and share new skills. Attendee D says: "I do feel that by going to P&A, I have been able to develop new friendships both within the group and outside of the group. Without P&A I feel my life would be more empty and could potentially lower my sense of wellbeing, and I look forward to the end of the week when I have something to do, whereby me and Max are welcome and feel part of a P&A family." 82% HAVE REPORTED THAT THEY FEEL MORE CONNECTED WITHIN THEIR COMMUNITY AND HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO FORM NEW FRIENDSHIPS WITH OTHER PARTICIPANTS, FEELING LESS ALONE THAN BEFORE THE PROJECT BEGAN.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

Combining Play Therapy with Animal Welfare, our approach is aligned with the diamond model of Animal-Assisted Therapy. To bring the impact of AAT right into the community, we have been able to successfully apply the model of Asset Based Community Development to our work, re-engaging those most isolated and vulnerable in our community. Some of those that we have piloted this model with had not left their homes for several years, but the attachment to our therapy dog has enabled them to enter the community and create a life for themselves full of hope and aspiration. Feedback shows that our model helps to break negative patterns of disengagement, providing an alternative route into volunteering, community-activity, education and employment.

5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?

The "epidemic of loneliness" affects 1.4 million Brits - correlating with poor mental and physical health, reliance of health care services, and costing the UK £3.6 million over 5 years. With many good interventions being noted as inaccessible due to high anxieties with entering community buildings alone - even leaving the house alone, we now consider the fact that 26% of the UK adult population own dogs - we have found a shared interest! The first step to engagement into community services! "Bring your pet dogs and come to see us for a chat!" This enables our highly skilled multi-disciplinary team, with expertise in community development, psychology, social care, animal welfare, animal training and behaviour, to offer a range of therapeutic interventions in a non-threatening, safe space, through structured positive for humans and animals. Bridging this gap, collaborating with organisations, e.g. social care, youth offending, care homes - and community activity, volunteering, education, employment, we enable communities to overcome isolation, develop a sense of evidential self efficacy across generations, living more independently with access to wider support networks.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

Business outputs; Supporting 150+ people weekly. Grown staff team following skills audit and financial stability. Opened a community farm to offer wider-impact through bespoke nature-based therapeutic activities. Now 85% self-funded with commissioning services, proving sustainability. Social impacts; Retained and developed social capital with a network of local organisations and volunteers sharing/expanding skills. Returned 50+ young people into education. Returned 50+ of those in long-term unemployment to work/volunteering. Raised a sense of neighbourliness in a disengaged community, and sense of aspiration. Developed training programmes; locally for residents; Nationwide for health professionals. Strategic plan drives business outputs. "People's journey" measures. Participant monitoring via reports, session notes, surveys. Multi-agency reviews and feedback. Informs business plan.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

With proven track record and increased demand, we are looking to say "Yes" to those currently waiting to access our services. Adults and young people cannot attend the farm at the same time due to lack of indoor space. Our strategy is to add a building and resources to our community farm, enabling adults to access day services, whilst not impacting on alternative education provision. With Norwich Medical School expressing interest in a research project exploring impact of our model on Public Health, such funds will enable us to take this further, for the wider field to benefit across the UK.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

The impact of this unique model, Creates Shared Value, focussing on the reduction of loneliness within deprived communities, whilst developing social capacity for long-term social change. Harnessing the skills and development of all attendees, the community itself becomes the assets and the story tellers, sharing the positivity in their own networks and places. Planned involvement of the whole family, collaboration with allied health and social care networks, engagement of local businesses, councils, organisations - opportunities to share pride and "give back". With registered demand for this to be replicated in other areas, our networking and training events also Create Shared Value, sharing learning across the field of HAI/AAI.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

With a Business Plan and Strategic Plan along with Financial Strategy, forecasting 3 years evidencing mid term sustainability of the project. Short term sustainability detail, includes; being 85% self funded through commissioning projects, via Council Alternative Education Provision, Adult referrals from Cambian Healthcare, Caretech, and payments via personal budgets. Evidence of increased demand for services and sessions, demonstrates project sustainability, and the customer-base already established, along with reputation already gained. Long term plan includes; increased indoor space and staffing, to take on additional work demanded, locally and nationally; building on practitioner training programmes; replicating model across the UK.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

We are a strong team of 2 FT, 4 PT, 2 Executive Directors - combining expertise to MSc and BSc level in Animal welfare & behaviour, Clinical Psychology, Animal-Assisted Intervention, Community Development, Youth Work, and Teaching. We are also steered by a community member based Advisory Board. Funding enables additional qualifications; Play Therapy & Teaching. PhD researching HAI impact on Public Health undertaken by Director AAI Lead. Volunteer qualifications for project sustainability.

11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?

If we were to win this edition, we would strengthen the field dramatically across Animal-Assisted Intervention, Community Development and Public Health. Already active, inputting learning and models of best practice into a number of Task Forces supporting the development of Regulations, Policies and Codes of Practices within the field of Animal Assisted Intervention; International Association of Human Animal Interaction Org (IAHAIO), Society of Companion Animal Studies, and Green Care Coalition (via Public Health England) - funding will support the standardisation on an International level. Published works with Norwich Medical School, highlighting the impact of our model on Public Health, progresses the field. Model grows across UK.

12. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

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