Powerful Paws - a unique approach to improving public health
Harnessing the powerful relationship between people and pets, to overcome social barriers to wellbeing, brighter futures for communities.
Bringing people close to animals and the natural environment has been recognised as an effective way of engaging with and improving the wellbeing of people who have issues which make traditional interaction difficult, and who struggle to engage with other community or supportive services; “The dogs make me feel happier and more confident when meeting new people”
Orchards Primary School, growing rates of exclusion, and significantly high social, emotional, behaviour needs, report that; “We have seen a remarkable change with the children at school, they are more settled, more confident, and better able to learn. The children have said it is their favourite time of the week, they talk about it all week!”
We have harnessed the motivational effect that animals have, engaging those whose emotional needs and challenging behaviour keep them isolated and excluded from society, bringing them into structured sessions to promote the essential life skills they need for brighter futures.
Cambridgeshire County Council added; “We have been able to build better relationships with families that are more difficult to reach, the dogs just seem to bring people together!”
The Wisbech Community Development Trust says; “The community are so excited about this positive development for an area that is so used to negative press, minimal investment and a feeling of segregation from the rest of the county. Here people can gain confidence, develop new friendships, strengthening the community for healthier futures of people living in one of the most deprived areas on England.”
“Without Toast I feel my life would be more empty"
“In January my life was going no where. Suffering at home with my mental health issues. Today not even 6 months on they have all given me the confidence to speak to other people, to be around dogs for the first time in my life and I am 48 years old and now I’m a volunteer for the people and animals group.”
Everything we do involves our talented community members – everything becomes a community-led project to bring people together, from establishing a community farm to session activities.
This piloted initiative has provided early intervention to just over 100 children and young people, whilst also creating life changing positive connections to 500+ families most isolated and ‘just about managing’, in the most deprived area of Cambridgeshire, Wisbech.
Harnessing the motivational effect that animals have, our multi-disciplinary team facilitate long-term change in people and communities - organisations across the health & social care sector already taking notice, we can do more!
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
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Where are you making a difference?
Website or social media url(s)
Fostering emotional intelligence and behavioural competences
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?
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.
The magic of animals as facilitators of social interaction has been observed for years. This project is passionate about drawing on this to drive social change, bringing together specially trained therapy animals with a multi-disciplinary team of therapists, community workers and animal welfare experts. Wisbech Community Farm was established as a safe space for those who are most isolated to help them to overcome barriers that restrict their wellbeing and access to brighter futures. So far, we have created positive connections to over 1000 of those who are most isolated living in Cambridgeshire, an area recognised as in the top 10% most deprived in England.
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 and health inequalities. With generational challenges to engage those most vulnerable into education, employment or active citizenship, there are a high proportion of UK residents left alone in their homes, disengaged from services, with no future dreams.
3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Feedback shows that our model of engagement through human and animal therapists helps to provide alternative routes to reduce loneliness and social anxiety, raise aspiration and improve access to training, education and employment. People experiencing mental health difficulties will be able to utilise the therapeutic relationships established to gain confidence and discover their strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses. Young people disengaged from education will learn new skills and feel empowered to engage with adults positively and proactively while overcoming negative preconceptions to education. People who are unemployed will overcome feelings of rejection, with routes into volunteering and opportunities for apprenticeships. People with learning disabilities will be empowered to reach whatever personal ambitions they may have. People with physical disabilities will feel accepted in an environment adapted to their needs. By being able to support a further 500 individuals, and consequently benefitting their families and local community groups, this community will become stronger and develop a greater recognition of shared passions for themselves, families and neighbours.
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 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 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 on health care services and costing the UK £3.6 million over 5 years. With many 'mainstream' interventions noted as inaccessible due to high anxieties with entering community buildings alone (or 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 safe space, through structured goal-orientated sessions for humans and animals. Our collaboration with organisations (e.g. social care, youth offending and care homes) and fostering of community activity, volunteering, education and employment, we enable communities to overcome isolation, develop a sense of evidential self-efficacy across generations and live 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; Raised social capital with a network of 80+ Local and Nationwide organisations, sharing lessons learnt annually amongst practitioners in HAI/AAI, education, and community development. 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 5 training programmes; locally for residents; Nationwide for health professionals. Impact measurement via; session notes, surveys, multi-agency reviews and feedback, as well as quantitative successes.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
Skills audit highlighting the need for teaching qualification to be inputted into the team.
Locally; reducing waiting lists, whilst expanding our outreach community sessions to ensure continual progression from therapy to community support. Increased signposting into community-based organisations.
Nationwide; respond to requests to provide training and accreditation to providers, demonstrating replication and expansion of this unique approach to community development throughout the UK.
Undertaking research with Norwich Medical School, exploring impact of our model on Public Health.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?
Building on the success of our pilot work, engaging Anglia Water’s @one alliance and Clarion Housing – a total of over 20 Corporate businesses covering Cambridgeshire, now inspired to support the development of support local mental health services such as Wisbech Community Farm.
As well as inspiring businesses to ‘give back’, the impact of this unique model Creates Shared Value, focusing on the reduction of loneliness within deprived communities, supporting the creation of voluntary community groups – local people engaged, enabled and empowered to work together and improve social opportunities for their families, thinking of the future for the first time.
UK wide training also Create Shared Value, sharing learning and raising standards.
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, social prescribing and 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?
13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.
Our beneficiaries comment; “We are so excited about this project, seeing first-hand how this approach supports our most vulnerable local people, and can see how this project would bring so many extra opportunities to people living in this area” and "I have been in such need for a safe place to meet new people, I am so pleased that I have found it"
We will continue to empower and enable our beneficiaries, with priorities that include:
- Working directly with beneficiaries, identifying goals and aims that they have for their own futures to empower at every level.
- Gaining session feedback by everyone involved in the project and those closest to them to ensure tailoring to the needs of each person.
- Keeping a comments box and online forum available at all times to ensure fully inclusive methods for feedback are provided.
- Ensuring wider community involvement; presenting locally and Nationwide; Oasis Community Centre Fun Days, National Play Day, College of Animal Welfare.
14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?
With animal welfare at the heart of our work, we not only have 3 staff members with qualifications and experience in RVN Veterinary Nursing, Animal Behaviour & Training, Animal Husbandry, but we also ensure regualar external assessment of our animals and human-animal interactions by APDT & APBC registered trainers and behaviourists, and a senior veterinary professional.
With symbiotic activities including; enrichment, socialisation, health checks, our beneficiaries grow and prepare 'healthy meals' for rabbits and guinea pigs, create treasure hunts to stimulate dogs, clicker training to grow confidence with our chickens, and learning body language of our horses.
Despite previous experience in training assistance dogs, the team have made a decision not to follow the same pattern of formal training of our therapy animals. We instead create bespoke training, care and behavioural assessment of each animal, because our animals are as individual as the people we work with.
15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
Having undertaken a high level market analysis of potential local competitors, analysed health and social care commissioning intentions, and looked at the national evidence base for similar animal assisted interventions and social horticultural therapy case studies, we can demonstrate that there are limited providers offering the combination of provision that we provide.
It can be demonstrated that the animal-assisted interventions provides our USP, alongside the added benefits of the service offer, including social horticultural therapeutic interventions for this target group.
Wisbech 2020 (a partnership of public, voluntary and private organisations) has identified this project as an important solution to bring about change; “Supporting people to overcoming personal barriers, improving their health and wellbeing whilst facilitating community action, this project targets key local issues identified" (Wisbech 2020 Vision, 2016)
16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.
Our broad network of contacts, including; Norwich Medical School, College of West Anglia, University of East Anglia, Cambridgeshire County Council, Jobcentre, Nova, Mind, Clarion Housing, Anglian Water and Animal Jobs Direct, will be brought into this project, working collaboratively to lead them towards educational and employment progression opportunities.
@oneAlliance are a collaboration of organisations, contractors, and consultants that work together to deliver Anglian Water’s capital investment programmes in the East of England. Companies include Anglian Water, Balfour Beatty, Barhale, Mott Macdonald Bentley, Stantec Treatment, Skanska, and Sweco. This partnership has led to the receipt of free labour, service materials, and construction of a car park and an access road (aligned to their wider capital investment programme).
Ensuring sustainable transferable opportunities to all participants, we will also be utilising our connections to explore an apprenticeship framework.
17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
Co-authored 2 publications, including; Companion Animal Economics, CABI, December 2016
Members of 10 Key National Organisations leading the way in evidenced based practice and quality assurance and standards, including; Green Care Coallition (Public Health England funded project to feedback benefits of this work to Public Health)
Requested to join IAHAIO Resident Animals Task Force - an international group of HAI professionals, establishing standardisation across the field of HAI/AAI.
18. Your Self-Elevator Pitch (OPTIONAL): Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.
Powerful Paws - a unique approach to improving public health
19. Financial Sustainability (OPTIONAL): Please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project, include an attached document with your detailed business plan or other equivalent information. (This information will NOT be shared with your fellow contestant, it will only be visible to you and internal Prize reviewers).
People and Animals have demonstrated a distinct ability to generate increasing year on
year. They have delivered increased revenue on an annual basis and will deliver an
income in excess of £135,000 this year.
The organisation currently operates on a mixed income model, drawing revenue through
external grants, and commissioned contracted services. The organisation currently does
not have any debt.
People and Animals are in a stable financial position at present with a number of income
streams which have generated an organisational surplus over recent years. However, a
number of these income streams are over a short term nature and a more sustainable
income stream is being sought in order to support the delivery of the organisation’s social
The table below outlines the organisational income, expenditure and surplus over the
previous three years, along with proposed project investment required and funding of upscaling this project post-pilot.