Profile – Gerry, Accrington – Service User Involvement
Service User Involvement: Give it a go, it can be great fun!
I moved into a flat in the Accrington Project in May 2007. One of the things which most impressed me was the way that is was stressed that this was my home and that I had a lot of choice in how it was decorated and furnished. I was soon to find out that these were not just platitudes being quoted but really were the way that things worked. Even before I moved in I was consulted as to the colours that I would like for the carpets, curtains, etc.
I soon became aware that the ethos of the project was that this was our, the service users’ service and that Creative Support, as an organisation, positively encourages service user involvement at all levels. This includes being part of the interview panels, service user consultation groups, acting as lay assessors and arranging and chairing their own service user meetings. This is fine and there will always be people who enjoy being involved at this level. On the other hand many may not feel comfortable to take part in these more formal involvement activities; however I would like to say that from my experience the Creative Support team are excellent at providing support and encouragement for those who wish to get involved at this level. So if you are not sure, then have a word with your project staff and they will be able to explain things to you so that you may well feel more like getting involved.
At a more local level, I was surprised at how the staff at the Accrington Project really did believe in service user involvement and for at least a year before I moved in there were some good developments with service user meetings and involvement with interview panels and in the last eighteen months I have seen service user involvement move forward in leaps and bounds.
Service users from the project are now involved with several “Head Office” procedures such as interviews, service user consultation groups and lay assessment. More importantly the service users have started several initiatives of their own.
We have no garden or outside space but there is an area at the rear of the property, which incorporates a fire escape, where we could make a space for sitting out when the weather is nice. So as a group the service users decided to improve the area, with the help of staff, by pressure washing the area and painting the steel work which had become very rusty. We then clubbed together to buy some planters and hanging baskets, as well as compost and plants so that over the summer we have a lovely floral display in what had previously been a pretty depressing area. In recognition of what we had achieved, the project contributed by purchasing some folding chairs so that we can sit out when weather permits. At the end of last summer we moved most of the half hardy perennial plants indoors and we have already had a fine display of bulbs this spring.
We also put up a bird box and feeders and it has been interesting to watch a family of great tits feeding and raising their young. We kept the feeding going right through the winter and the birds have been daily visitors to the feeding station. We look forward to seeing their family expand once again and this spring they have been joined by a pair of chaffinches and one very greedy blackbird.
One concern we had, which by working together we have sorted out and so benefited us all, was dealing with problems with rubbish disposal. We had been waiting for almost a year for a new bin as the old one had no lid and so was being used by several neighbouring businesses to dispose of their rubbish on the cheap. At the same time we had increasing problems with fly tipping. The bin, which services seven flats, was filling up so quickly that we didn’t have any room to put our own rubbish, so as a group we decided to make representations to the Refuse and Recycling Department of the local council. After all, we are residents of the borough and are entitled to just as high a quality of service as anyone else. Within 7 days we had got a brand new bin and the environmental health enforcement officers had visited all the local businesses and put an end to the fly tipping. We were so pleased with our success that we decided to try and get involved with the borough’s recycling scheme. With some help from the support staff we have now been recycling for about 3 months and each fortnight we are able to recycle two sacks of waste paper and four sacks of plastic bottles. Of course, this means that we have a lot more room in the bin for rubbish which we cannot currently recycle.
Another initiative that we have just completed is to have our own little library on a couple of shelves in the communal area. We had discussed this idea at our Service User Meeting but did not have access to any funds so we decide to approach the local library and see if they could help. We went along with one of our support staff to verify that we were a genuine case. We talked to one of the managers and asked if we could have some books once they had taken them of the shelves to sell off to the general public. They were delighted to help and we acquired around fifty books to start off with and we can buy as many more books as we want for 5p each.
We also now run our own Service User Meetings, right from appointing a service user Chairperson and Secretary, deciding on the agenda, running the meeting and producing the minutes. We let the staff know which agenda items we would like them to contribute to and, of course, consult with the project management at all stages so that they are aware of what we are doing. We are off to Howe Top (Creative Support’s holiday home in the Lake District) again this year. Last year we made the choices and the staff organised things for us, but this year we are trying to carry out as much of the planning and organising ourselves, knowing that the staff will be there if we need support with something.
This spring we have all been very busy as another project has now come under the responsibility of Creative Support and we have already involved them in our Service User Meetings and they have come with lots of ideas and activities which they have organised for themselves. So now, jointly, we are developing the gardening group and a group to help service users to enjoy walking, cinema, theatre, dining and sports activities. We are either organising these totally by ourselves or in some cases linking into facilities already available in the locality.
We have become very aware of the issues of diversity and equality as we do try to make sure that all the activities that we organise are open and accessible to all. This could include that the venues we use do not serve alcohol as that could be a problem for some people. When we went to Chester Zoo we arranged for scooters and wheelchairs to be available for those with limited mobility. Yes, there are difficulties, sometimes but with a bit of ingenuity and cooperation we have always managed to overcome them.
We have all benefitted from service user involvement and as one of our service users said, “It gives you something to get out of bed for!” So, don’t sit back and wait for things to happen, get involved and help to make things happen.
Gerry is amazing! He organises service user meetings and activities; produces a regular newsletter for service users in East Lancs; helped develop a weekly gardening group; successfully applied for grants and raised thousands of pounds for gardening equipment and a summer house; participates in consultation meetings and committees; encourages and supports other service users to get involved; and is a member of Hyndburn Mental Health Accommodation Group and the Hyndburn Green Partnership Forum.
When Gerry first joined the project, he said that he likes to keep busy, something we can say he has definitely proved!