These recommendations are based on what Brightlife has learned about best practice for making projects and services sustainable.

Recommendation 4.1 - Develop an appropriate model for sustainability from the outset.


The successful delivery of any project or service requires a significant investment of money, time and effort. The purpose of this, as with any investment, is to ensure a return – albeit in terms of social value rather than financial gain. To maximise this gain, it is crucial that projects and services are sustained beyond the end of any initial funding period.

To this end, sustaining funded activities was a key priority for Brightlife. All providers were challenged to develop a sustainability plan with the support of the Brightlife team and Cheshire West Voluntary Action (CWVA).

Sustainability models

There are many different models that can be used for sustainability, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. The most appropriate model to use depends on the type, format and requirements of the individual project or service to which it is being applied.

One option is for delivery partners to seek access to alternative funding sources, either from the original commissioner or from a new funder. While this can seem like a straightforward way to maintain provision while minimising disruption to delivery, it can be surprisingly difficult to find funding for the continuation of existing programmes. Most funders have strict conditions for awards, including requirements for projects to meet specific objectives, which are unlikely to be exactly the same as the original aims of the project for which further support is being sought.

Another option is to introduce affordable charges for services. For projects that involve large numbers of participants meeting on a regular or semi-regular basis to learn new skills, this can be a sensible option – participants are usually willing to pay for what they perceive to be a valuable service. However, for projects that involve a smaller number of participants, or which deliver services or benefits that are less tangible, a charging model may be less appropriate.

Projects and services involving mainly social activities can also potentially be maintained by training volunteers to take over their delivery. While this may appear to be a low-cost option, there is likely to be a significant outlay involved in terms of skill development. Some project teams reported that in this situation, volunteers need a great deal of training and experience before taking over delivery, especially for ‘facilitating’ roles, which often involve the challenge of managing the more vocal members of a group while catering to the needs of those who are less forthright. Projects with a strong element of top-down coordination in their delivery were found to be less sustainable under this model.

Recommendation 4.2 - Invest in communications to facilitate sustainability.


As discussed in the ‘Making connections’ section, early investment in marketing and promotion of projects and services can facilitate participant recruitment by raising the profile of the offer in the community it is designed to serve. However, marketing – and communications more generally – is about more than just recruitment – it also has an important role in sustainability.

There is a common misunderstanding across the voluntary sector that spending money on marketing (rather than directly on service delivery) is somehow wasteful. But without effective marketing and promotion, it is not only difficult to attract, recruit and retain participants and volunteers, but it is also very hard to secure ongoing support from potential funders and partners.

In risking both the success and the sustainability of their projects, providers that fail to invest in marketing and promotion are ultimately far more wasteful than those who do.

However, delivery partners may not always have the necessary skills or resources available in-house. While Brightlife has encouraged all its delivery partners to allocate 5-10% of their budget to marketing, many providers – especially smaller ones – struggled to develop and implement an effective marketing plan, with few developing a branding, PR or digital strategy.

A commissioner can help by providing support with marketing and communications, including training. At Brightlife, this meant offering delivery partners ongoing support with marketing and promotion, the duration and extent of which is based on individual needs. Providers were given help to create a strong visual brand (and digital presence where relevant), as well as help with promotional activities including PR, advertising, networking, partnership promotions and events.

Case study: Chatter Chairs (DIVA Fitness)

Personal trainer Emma Fisher received funding from Brightlife’s ‘Bright Ideas’ strand to set up Chatter Chairs, a chair-based group exercise club designed to boost muscle strength, flexibility and balance while improving social connections for over-50s.

The Brightlife marketing team supported Emma to establish and promote the Chatter Chairs brand, including through the development of a distinct logo and visual identity, a professional website and a branded uniform for the delivery team. Emma also acknowledged the value of the support she received from Brightlife in creating a professional promotional video, which she reported had provided excellent value for money over print marketing.

The early investment in brand development for the Chatter Chairs project meant that all subsequent marketing material looked more professional. In turn, this encouraged potential referral partners, such as pharmacists and physiotherapists, to direct clients to the project, as well as encouraging the display of leaflets and posters in public and community venues.

The profile of the Chatter Chairs brand helped to secure significant press coverage for the project, including in a national news publication (Metro).

As a result of the exposure this generated, Emma received a number of enquiries from others interested in replicating the project elsewhere, and she has now begun discussions with a view to expanding delivery of the Chatter Chairs project nationwide.

Recommendation 4.3 - Create a support network to develop the necessary skills for sustainability.


Commissioners have a responsibility for the sustainability of the projects and services they fund, not only in designing contract specifications with the capacity for longevity beyond the initial funding period, but also in supporting providers from the earliest stages of their application all the way through to the end of the delivery phase.

Just as delivery partners may require support with marketing and promotion, many will also require help with the logistics of delivery, especially if they are less experienced service providers, or if they have not worked directly with older people before.

In providing the necessary training and support, commissioners are not only facilitating the efficient use of their own funds – they are also giving providers the skills and experience to continue delivery into the future, ultimately improving the range and quality of services that are available for older people.

Case study: Brightlights (Little Actors Theatre Company)

Before applying for Brightlife funding, Little Actors Theatre Company was well-established in the local community as a provider of performing arts activities for under-18s, but it had not run any projects specifically for older adults.

With funding from the ‘Bright Ideas’ programme, it set up Brightlights – an over-50s theatre club. Over the course of 15 months, participants designed, developed and produced their own theatre show, which they performed at the Leverhulme Drama Festival in April 2019.

The project team reported that delivery of the Brightlights project had enabled them to build links with skills development organisations (such as Cheshire West Voluntary Action), while enriching their service offer as a whole to better serve the local community.

The Brightlights group continued to thrive beyond the end of the Brightlife-funded period. Many participants also went on to support other areas of work at the Little Actors Theatre Company, for example by becoming volunteers or by taking part in fundraising activities.


Commissioners can facilitate sustainability by challenging and supporting delivery partners to develop their own sustainability plans. Affording delivery partners more control over the models they choose can build their confidence in their own strategy, increasing the likelihood that their plan will be successfully implemented.

This empowerment of delivery partners was built in to the commissioning process at Brightlife, with all contract specifications requiring providers to demonstrate how they would ensure that their programmes continued to serve older people in the future.

Ensuring sustainability is particularly important for schemes involving mentoring. The services provided through these schemes often result in the establishment of close relationships that represent a vital part of the support networks for participants: if that support were to be suddenly withdrawn at the end of the initial funding period, this could leave participants even more vulnerable than they had been before.

Of course, mentoring and buddy relationships can continue informally without any external funding – however this leaves those in the mentor/buddy role without any formal support. Ideally, these types of projects should be designed with sustainability as an absolute priority.

Case Study: Bright Stars (Motherwell Cheshire CIC)

The Bright Stars project was set up with funding from Brightlife’s ‘Bright Ideas’ strand by Motherwell Cheshire CIC, a charity providing mental health and wellbeing support for women (primarily mothers) from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The project was designed as a pilot scheme to assess the potential for an intergenerational mentoring scheme, in which women aged over 50 could become mentors for younger women/mothers who had experienced mental health issues and/or family breakdown.

The mentoring relationship is designed to be long-term, developing over several years to establish deep trust: as such, it was important to ensure that it was designed and delivered carefully.

Brightlife funding enabled the project delivery team to provide volunteer mentors with appropriate coaching, training and safeguarding guidance for handling any challenges that may arise, and to be matched with mentees who would benefit from their own unique experience and approach.

As well as the financial support received by Motherwell Cheshire from Brightlife, the business development support that was provided also contributed to the sustainability of the scheme.

Brightlife was able to help Motherwell Cheshire to raise its profile through both local and national PR, while implementation of Brightlife’s ‘co-production’ ethos helped the project team to enhance the commitment and engagement of both mentors and mentees.

Delivery of several elements of the mentoring scheme have continued beyond the end of the initial Brightlife funding period, including ongoing support for existing matched pairs – ensuring that the relationships that have been developed continue to be positive and life-changing for both women involved.

“We have felt very supported by Brightlife and [the team has] provided us with the flexibility to make this project a success. This […] pilot project has supported us to look at what needs to change and what needs to stay. We are sure the intergenerational aspect of this project will continue within the core of our work.”

Motherwell Cheshire


Media Library


Brightlife Legacy Conference
Brightlife Chris McClelland on BBC Radio Manchester
Launching Age Friendly Cheshire West with a kaleidoscope of ‘Social Butterflies’
84 year old blogger Joyce Williams launches a national #AgeProud campaign to raise awareness of the negative effects of everyday ageism in our society


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