How do we connect in a changing world? Retooling to make real relationships the central operating principle


We network and transact more than ever, but meaningful relationships are being systematically undermined and displaced by fast and feeble connections.

Shifts in technological capability, in ideological influences, and in managerial models and protocols have diminished the quality of our lives, reduced our collective capacity and eroded the efficacy of our agencies and services.


Growing relationship centred development with three streams of work:

Open Knowledge Bank – Sharing what we know   on how relational principles work in business, on what delivers deep value in public services and on the community activities that generate enduring relationships.

Open Framework for Relationship Centred Design – Developing a community of practise jointly building and applying the principles of relationship centred design along with instruments for co-designing and matchmaking.

Open Platform – Cultivating first a conduit for information. Next a forum for collaboration. Ultimately a catalyst for growing the field.


VIDEO: The You and Me Principle

October 9, 2018

How relationships change the world and where to go with what we know. Film of lecture by David Robinson


Connecting Well

David Robinson is Shift’s founder and a community worker in east London. He is currently exploring new work on social isolation at the Marshall Institute. This is the first in a series of blogs.


Case Studies

As part of the Relationships Project, we’re collating a series of case studies from a range of sectors and contexts that demonstrate the benefits and workings of relationship-centred design. We’ve got a range of short and long reads from private, public and non-profit sectors, which we’ve grouped by topic area, including:

Whilst we hope they help build a case for prioritising deep-value relationships, we recognise that – especially at this early stage – we are still learning. We therefore welcome comments, insights, critiques and ideas for case studies from people and organisations across sectors. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch at

Appliances Online

Prioritising Customer Relationships to Deliver Fantastic Business Success

AO is a multi-billion pound testament to the value of businesses investing in relationships with their customers. If you’re intrigued by how showing radical trust in customers and staff can improve business outcomes, even when it seems it may backfire, you should read more. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Customer Relationships; Brand Building



Selling Frozen Food to Thaw Perceptions of Ex-Offenders and Previously Homeless People

We were impressed by how thoroughly COOK has oriented its brand around relationship-building, including its decision to employ ex-offenders and people who have experienced homelessness. Give this case study a read if you’re interested in what a relationship-centred, socially-minded commercial organisation looks like. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Employee Loyalty; Brand Building



Supermarkets and Relationships: Do They Check Out?

Supermarkets are incredibly important social spaces, and this case study highlights a range of initiatives demonstrating the benefits more relational supermarkets might bring. We encourage anybody interested in relationships in a retail environment to read on. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Customer Relationships; Employee loyalty, Brand building



Trusting Ex-Offenders to Deliver Social and Business Impact

Timpson struck us as a pioneering organisation in terms of using trust to build loyal, impactful relationships with stigmatised groups – in this case ex-offenders – in a business environment. If you have an interest in challenging stereotypes and cultural norms by building relationships, this case study is for you. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Employee Loyalty; Brand Building



Pioneering a Care Model Rooted in Nurse Autonomy and Social Networks

Buurtzorg originated as a nurse-led model of holistic care in the Netherlands. It prioritises client autonomy, draws on existing social relationships and afford nurses a high degree of autonomy. After improving quality of care, reducing required hours of care by 50% and reducing costs by around 40% versus the Dutch healthcare system, the Buurtzorg model has since expanded to new countries and sectors.

Relevant to: Health, Care, Staff Engagement



Roommate Relationships as a Stepping Stone to Independent Living

FABRIC provides semi-independent accommodation for care leavers and looked-after children in Swansea, after realising independent living often comes too suddenly for young people in these groups. As well as providing housing, education, employment and personal support, FABRIC ensures its young people live in pairs, to allow them to develop and benefit from mutually supportive relationships. It also anticipates offering savings to the Local Authority of up to £2,497 a week, where emergency accommodation is not required.

Relevant to: Care, Young People, Local Authorities


Compassionate Frome

Frome Model of Enhanced Primary Care: Harnessing The Community Cure

The Compassionate Frome Project has helped achieve remarkable, robust improvements in health outcomes, simply by drawing on the power of community. Read more if you’re involved in health, social prescribing or creating resilient communities (or if you simply like a fantastic story). Read full case study.

Relevant to: Health; Wellbeing; Social Prescribing; Community Relationships


Trust on Tap

Care Relationships Based on Choice and Consistency

Trust on Tap believes in care relationships built on choice and consistency. Clients actively select their preferred carer, from whom they receive regular, tailored support. Trust on Tap also uses a tech-based matchmaking service to cut costs, ensuring carers are paid well and clients receive good value.

Relevant to: Care; Technology; Staff Retention


The Big Lunch and The Great Get Together

A Nation of New Relationships

The Big Lunch and The Great Get Together show how simple, fun and powerful community relationships can be. Both are excellent examples for anyone looking to learn more about grassroots relationship building, social capital and community organising. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Community Relationships; Community Events; Public Spaces


Amplify NI

A Relationship-Centred, Community-Led Innovation Process for Community Change

We love the way Amplify insists that the best people to solve social issues are those who have experienced them. Its community-led innovation process is founded on collaborative relationships between local people. You should read this case study if you’re interested in what a more collective, relationship-centred approach to social innovation looks like.

Relevant to: Community Relationships, Wellbeing


Every One Every Day

Creating the World’s First Large-Scale, Fully-Inclusive Participatory Ecosystem

Every One Every Day is an ambitious collaboration between Participatory City and Barking and Dagenham Council, aimed at creating the world’s first “large scale, fully inclusive, practical participatory ecosystem.” Now in its second year, it is aiming to make relationships between people and their neighbours, communities and local government more active and collaborative. This is why we were delighted to write a case study on it.

Relevant to: Community; Innovation; Place-based Initiatives

Little Village

A Place of Crowdsourced Gifts and Friendly Ears for Struggling Families

Little Village crowdsources clothes, toys and kit for babies and children in families experiencing challenges like homelessness, unemployment, low wages and domestic violence. It also offers friendly drop-ins for parents to pick gifts and simply chat. Little Village provides essential items that other service providers often can’t. 56% of referral partners say Little Village also helps reduce social isolation, and 70% that it helps promote good maternal mental health.

Relevant to: Families; Isolation; Mental Health


Murton Mams

Groups of Fun, Friendship and Support for Single Mothers

Murton Mams is a group that provides fun, supportive activities for isolated single mothers living in a deprived area. Mothers report feeling happier, more useful, less isolated and more connected to the local community after participating. They also volunteer more and find new training and work opportunities. 

Relevant to: Community; Isolation; Motherhood


The Village Project

Cooperative Care for Children with Mentally Ill Parents

The Village Project supports children with mentally ill parents in Tyrol, Austria. Such children (roughly one in four) are at higher risk of negative life outcomes such as mental illness themselves, and incredibly hard to identify. The Village Project is developing a “cooperative care” approach that works with both the child and wider social networks to identify the need for and deliver support. 

Relevant to: Mental Health; Care; Community



Empowering Women Through Relationship-Driven Self-Reliant Groups

WEvolution supports disadvantaged women to start self-reliant groups (SRGs), which show how powerfully supportive it can be for people with shared experiences – especially those from marginalised groups – to simply gather and talk. But SRGs also provide a foundation for learning skills, starting projects and launching businesses together – all of which bring further benefits. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Self-help; Women’s Empowerment; Finance


Grow Well Cardiff

Tending Good Health Through Community Gardening

Grow Well Cardiff is a good example of how social activities can improve health and wellbeing, reducing the pressure on public services. This case study also shows the impact that physical spaces – in this case gardens – can have on this process. Anybody interested in social prescribing, community gardening or building a financial case for investing in relationships should read more. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Health, Wellbeing, Social Prescribing, Community Relationships


NHS Community Pain Service and Pain Clinic Plus

Managing Pain Together, as Expert Patients

The NHS Community Pain Service and Pain Clinic Plus supports people living with pain. However, instead of assuming an ‘expert’ position, it adopts a community approach: it works with ‘expert patients’ to help others design and meet tailored goals. The thriving, peer-led service helps pain sufferers gain confidence and skills, and even serves as a lifeline for some. It also helps reduce reliance on GP appointments and a passive approach to managing health conditions.

Relevant to: Health, Wellbeing, Pain Management, Peer Support


Schwartz Rounds

Space to Reflect and Connect for Pressured Healthcare Professionals

Schwartz Rounds provide a structured forum for healthcare staff to gather and discuss the emotional and social aspects of their jobs. Not only do regular attendees feel less stressed and isolated at work and more connected and collaborative with colleagues, but 85% also feel better able to care for patients. Taking time out of their often hectic and stressful schedules to build supportive relationships with one another brings benefits to them and the patients they serve.  

Relevant to: Staff Relationships; Health; Mental Health


Talk for Health

Supportive Conversations between the Super Connected and the Isolated

Talk for Health was a project that formed peer-support groups combining isolated people, well-connected ‘super connectors’ and frontline community staff in New Cross Gate, London. As a result, participants felt more connected to a community, and 90% reported improved wellbeing.

Relevant to: Peer Support; Isolation; Community



Delivering health outcomes via time-credit networks

Tempo works with local authorities to design time-credit networks, which allow people to volunteer time in the community in exchange for access to activities. It has been used alongside social prescribing, with positive early indications for cost savings. And, in 2018, 83% of participants reported improved quality of life, 35% improved mental health and 52% feeling less isolated and lonely. 

Relevant to: Social Prescribing; Volunteering; Mental Health


The Scottish Men’s Sheds Association

Helping Men Improve Health with Relationships

Men’s Sheds are striking because they create powerful benefits through such a simple idea: providing an accessible, welcoming space for men to socialise, share skills and discuss what’s important. If you’re interested in masculinity, health outcomes, social prescribing or fostering relationships among isolated demographics, this case study on the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association will certainly be of value. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Community Relationships; Wellbeing; Skills Sharing



Using Cookery Classes to Help Refugees Build Relationships and Settle into London

We like how Migrateful sees refugees as boons, not burdens. This is the foundation of mutual, supportive and impactful relationships helping refugees settle in the UK. Read more about Migrateful if you’re interested in how relationships can empower minority groups. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Refugees; Skills Sharing; Support Networks


Students and Refugees Together (START)

Blending Practical Support and Social Activities to Welcome Refugees

START stands out to us for two reasons: it supports refugees by drawing on what refugees can offer, and it prioritises social activities as a source of wellbeing. If you’re interested in supporting minority groups through relationships despite funding constraints, START is a useful organisation to learn about. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Community Relationships; Students; Wellbeing



Harnessing Exercise for Social Good

We admire the way GoodGym creates powerful relationships in a counter-intuitive way: by pairing runners with older people. This case study will be especially useful if you’re interested in running, social isolation or community volunteering. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Volunteering; Community Relationships; Social Isolation


Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU)

A public-health approach to ending violence

The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) has attracted a lot of attention in recent years for its public-health approach to reducing violence. This approach rests on empathetic community relationships of many types, which it shows can avert enormous social pain and dislocation. The SVRU offers valuable lessons for relationship-centred designers everywhere. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Violence; Policing; Public Sector; Crime


Big Picture Learning

Education Built on Students’ Preferences and Relationships

Big Picture Learning’s educational model, originating in the US, jumped out at us for two main reasons. First, it gives students a radical degree of control over their own learning, reframing the fundamental relationship between students and teachers. Second, it draws on existing social relationships to feed into that learning. Big Picture Learning has achieved exciting results that are worth championing, especially with a pilot arriving in Doncaster in 2019.

Relevant to: Education; Young People


Blue Marble

Empathetic, Holistic Support for Young Londoners Experiencing Challenges

Blue Marble is a training programme in London for 16 to 25 year olds experiencing challenging circumstances. Support is tailored through reciprocal relationships, combining culinary training with a range of other support as required. Support continues for as long as needed after the programme, and participants who drop out are welcome to return. The programme results in a range of positive outcomes.

Relevant to: Young People; Training


Chance UK

One-to-One Mentoring for Children with Behavioural Difficulties

Chance UK provides a one-to-one mentoring programme for 5-12 year olds with behavioural difficulties over 9-12 months, engaging students in fun activities outside school and home. Pro Bono Economics found that, given the costs of behavioural problems, Chance UK would pay its way if 1 in 42 pupils avoided such problems. In fact, Goldsmiths found that 98% improved their strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) scores, with 51% improving to the extent that they would no longer be eligible for the programme. Chance UK is currently awaiting the results of a randomised control trial being undertaken by Dartington Social Research Unit.

Relevant to: Young People; Mentoring



Intergenerational Mentoring Relationships Between Care Leavers and Older People

Grandmentors is an intergenerational mentoring programme coordinated by Volunteering Matters that matches care leavers, aged 16-24, with older mentors, aged 50+. Care leavers typically face greatly reduced life changes. In the UK, for example, 6% attend university versus 50% of the general population. Grand Mentors use their wisdom and experience to support their mentee through challenges. Whilst 71% of mentees are NEET (not in education, employment or training), only 19% are when they leave the programme. Supported by the Second Half Fund, Grand Mentors is on track to support over 500 young people in the UK by October 2019.

Relevant to: Young People; Care; Intergeneration Connections


Off the Record

Using Strengths-Based Collaborative Relationships to Support Young People to Improve their Mental Health

Bristol’s Off the Record rejects mental-health services that encourage passive, dependent relationships. By co-creating vibrant, creative programmes with young people, it gives them real agency in exploring, understanding and improving their mental health and wellbeing – all whilst focusing on positive relationships. Read full case study.

Relevant to: Mental Health; Young People


The Place2Be

Creative Emotional and Therapeutic Support for Primary and Secondary Pupils

Place2Be provides “emotional and therapeutic services in primary and secondary schools, building children’s resilience through talking, creative work and play.” Its services are based on the strong evidence supporting early mental-health intervention. During the 2017/18 academic year, Place2Be supported 5,503 students one-to-one, 1,147 in group sessions and 39,641 through open drop-in chats. Classroom performance improved in 77% of all students, according to teachers. Parents also reported that home life improved after counselling for 76% of students. And 82% of students themselves said their lives improved as a result.

Relevant to: Young People; Mental Health; Wellbeing

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