Putting Relationships First

The case for relationship-centred communities, organisations and systems

To say that human beings require warm relationships is no touchy-feely idea. It is hard fact. We need nutrition, we need exercise, we need purpose, and we need each other.

Professor Robert Waldinger, Harvard Study of Adult Development

Few people argue that relationships don’t matter, but many feel they don’t have the time, capacity or permission to prioritise them. This Case Maker assembles the evidence base for putting relationships first, describing why relationships matter, what great relationship-centred practice looks like, and how it could make an impact in your context.

Use it to…

  • Deepen your understanding of the difference that putting relationships first makes in a range of different contexts and scales
  • Develop your own narrative of why more investment in relationships will lead to better outcomes in your community or organisation
  • Start a discussion and build awareness around the value of relationship-centred practice amongst your team

Rewatch the Launch

On 22nd April Elizabeth Oldfield and Matt Lloyd-Rose were joined by a few of the brilliant people who shared their stories in the Case Maker, namely Sarah Yardley, Christine Frazer and Russ Bellenie. It was a warm, lively and engaging conversation, elevated by some brilliant questions from those who joined us. 

In the Case Maker you’ll find…

Set Up

What we mean by relationship-centred practice


The impact of investing in relationships


Relationship-centred practice in action


Making your own case for relationships 

Better relationships, better outcomes

Good relationships are good for us, we feel better, we live longer and we contribute more. There is no task in adult life, public or personal, which is not done better with an enhanced understanding of relational skills – how to collaborate, how to manage bias and power and parity of esteem, how to forgive, negotiate difference and resolve conflict. Everything works better when we do these things well.

Life expectancy

148 studies examining mortality rates across all age groups, genders and ethnicities show that strong connection increases the likelihood of surviving in any given year by more than 50% (Holt-Lunstad et al, 2010)

Reoffending rates

Studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates (Friedmann, 2014)

Disaster survival

Professor Aldrich has found that the death rate following the 2011 Japan tsunami was up to ten times lower where social connection was strongest, and this was more significant than the height of the sea wall and the height of the wave (Aldrich, 2023)

Hospital admissions

In Frome, work on building social networks has led to a 14% reduction in hospital admissions, compared to a national increase of 28%, resulting in a 21% reduction in costs (Abel et al, 2018)

Cancer recovery

A longitudinal study of 2,835 women with breast cancer found that those with a network of good relationships were four times more likely to survive than those without (Kroenke et al, 2006)

Waiting times

Great Yarmouth Council has reduced waiting lists by 95% by moving away from a standardised model to one in which the council holds individual conversations (The Guardian, 10th April 2018)

Medical compliance

A review of over 1,000 scientific abstracts and 280 research manuscripts found that when healthcare providers demonstrate compassion, medication adherence increases by up to 80% and healthcare spending reduces by up to 51% (Trzeciak and Mazzarelli, 2019)

Burnout rates

8/10 studies included in a systematic review found a negative association between burnout and empathy, indicating that providing empathy helps reduce burnout rates amongst healthcare professionals (Wilkinson et al, 2017)

Relationship-Centred Practice in action

Across the UK and beyond, there are many brilliant examples of relationships making a difference. We’ve compiled a set of stories which illustrate what can happen when we put relationships first. The stories represent different scales, sectors, geographies and types of organisation: from business to community group to charity to large state institution. They are not templates to follow, but rather accounts of some of the relational work that has inspired us. Between them they exemplify many of the key themes, practices and possibilities in relational working, as well as many common barriers and challenges.

We hope these stories provoke thoughts, spark ideas and push the boundaries of what you think is possible.

Find out how we wrote the stories

How did we choose these examples?

We approached people and organisations we have encountered through the work of the Relationships Project to date, including some who had added themselves to the Relationships Map.

Our aim was to give a sense of how relational work looks at different scales and in different contexts.

How did we create these stories?

We joined forces with author and social researcher Matt Lloyd-Rose who conducted semi-structured interviews with people closely involved with each story, asking them to describe the role of relationships in the work they do.

The stories are based on a combination of desk research and the transcripts of those interviews. Interviewees reviewed their story to check it was fair and accurate before they were finalised.  

I don’t work in any of these sectors. Are these relevant for me?

Sometimes the most exciting ideas come from sectors and contexts other than our own. We hope you find inspiration and provocation in all of these stories, regardless of whether they reflect the specific work you do.


Addressing entrenched social issues relationally not reactively


Transforming the lives of prison leavers through reliable relationships


Building social integration through shared ritual and mutual learning


Bringing a more flexible, relational approach to the deathcare sector


Connecting artists and communities to spark radical imagination

Three Community Groups

Tackling local issues by creating spaces and excuses to connect

NHS Palliative Care

Pursuing results through relationships in a large, complex system

The Relationships Map

We think that the stories told in this Case Maker are good stories, full of hope and kindness and a special kind of ‘can-do’ spirit, but they are not islands. All over the UK and indeed further afield, relational practice is gathering momentum. The contexts are diverse, as they are here in the Case Maker, but the driving principles are consistent.

On the Relationships Map we have begun to plot the organisations and individuals who are putting relationships first. The Map is more than a directory. It’s a meeting place; a space for finding one another and sharing ideas and resources. Please put your story on the Map, find kindred spirits and help to spread the word.

Making your case

We hope, having engaged with the statistics and stories in this Case Maker, that you’re convinced that everything works better when relationships are put first. And we hope that you feel better equipped to make the case to your colleagues, board members and commissioners that everything works better when relationships are valued. 

Here are a few things you can do to turn common sense into common practice in your community, organisation or system…

Spread the word

Share the Case Maker and help to spread the word

Make your own case

Use the DIY Case Maker to craft your own case, or come along to workshop

Join the Map

Connect with other relationship-centred practitioners and share your story