Interesting things are afoot in Renfrewshire. ALISS was invited along to take part in the yesterday’s Disability Network Day at the very grand Paisley Town Hall where there was some lively discussion, great participation and some creative thinking. The event was put together by the Renfrewshire Access Panel and the Physical Disability Steering Group. It was designed to get local people together to find out what’s happening locally, to share ideas and concerns and to hear from a range of speakers.
I took part in the morning’s proceedings during which Heather Fisken, Project Manager at Independent Living in Scotland challenged us to think about what independent living really means. To quote the ILiS site, ‘…Independent living means all disabled people having the same freedom, choice, dignity and control as other citizens at home, a work and in the community. It does not necessarily mean living by yourself or fending for yourself. It means rights to practical assistance and support to participate in society and live an ordinary life’. Heather also talked about the need to involve people in designing services … something we were about to attempt.
As the audience split into workshop groups, a small gathering including Cathy Gormal and some of her colleagues from Renfrewshire Libraries, found a quiet corner in which to try out some rapid co-design.
We’ve had a number of conversations over the months about services which provide advice at a particular location – the local Citizens Advice Bureau, voluntary groups, the library or perhaps the GP surgery. We wanted to explore with the group what works and what doesn’t when accessing this type of service.
We looked at the entire journey – from how we might find out about such a service to how we would get there, the problems of access, the challenge of getting the most out of a consultation and then what we’re likely to come away with.
Time was short but some useful points came up:
- we often find out about these services by word of mouth although posters work in places like GP surgeries, supermarkets, libraries and the like.
- access, in its widest sense, needs to be flexible. Drop-in arrangements might be more useful because getting around on public transport (particularly with mobility issues) can be unpredictable – so appointments might be missed.
- there must be ways of taking the service to people rather than having to go to a particular place?
- framing the question is difficult sometimes – what is it that I really want to know? there’s so much I probably need to know about, what is it that’s important right now?
- the question isn’t always about ‘health’
- training is important for everyone involved in the journey – for those asking and those giving information.
- we need to come away with printed information and some kind of follow up. A phone call perhaps?
Throughout the discussions the need to have someone to call on for help was mentioned. We gradually built up a picture of an info-buddy – someone who would:
- help us to think about what we want to find out – ahead of time. Maybe using a mind-map to show the types of information available.
- translate our needs and concerns into useful enquiries
- prepare us for the consultation – ensure we get out of it what we need.
- maybe accompany us to the consultation – or bring the service to us if we can’t make it to the location.
- ensure we come away with the information we need in a form we can use.
As I wandered back to the exhibition hall I was thinking back to the workshop we held in Paisley last year – and how the group I had been facilitating had worked up a nice idea about volunteers helping people navigate the disability benefits system. The people around the table agreed that the services we needed to put in place to make the idea work exist already – they would just need to be joined up in a useful way.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I bumped into the people at You First – Advocacy Service. You First supports individuals living in Renfrewshire who need help engaging with advice services. They’ll come along to appointments with you, write or telephone agencies on your behalf. I also picked up information about the Renfrewshire Carers Centre and discovered that they run an Advocacy Project that can help carers to access social work, health, housing or education services.
Maybe the beginnings of an Info-Buddy service are already in place in Renfrewshire.
Events like this are incredibly valuable for making connections, starting conversations, raising awareness and to show the local support that’s available – I came away with information about Recovery Across Mental Health, the Renfrewshire Visually Impaired Forum, the West of Scotland branch of Ataxia UK and others as well as some ideas and phone numbers to follow up.
Thanks to everybody who came along and contributed to the workshop. It was fun and useful but, as I mentioned at the time, the outcomes will help us to shape an idea we’re working on. If you’d like to be involved do get in touch.