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It's About Connection, Isn't It

I’m the Lived Experience Advisory Forum (LEAF) coordinator. I think I was ready in my old job, ready to make a change. I'd been there for some time, I'd done my diploma in management in health and social care level five and I was like, ‘Okay, I could go on to be a manager somewhere.’ So, I saw the advert for LEAF and I was like ‘This is amazing, you know – a coordinator to get the voices of people heard… you know, to make change.’ Yes, I’m here for that.


I have come into LEAF and recognised all the good work that they've been doing. I could see that they lacked communication and transparency as a team purely because there was no coordinator role in place. I think everybody tried their best to do what they felt was right for LEAF, but there wasn't a mutual goal for everybody. And, if people are not working to the same goal, you're going to get different outcomes. So, we're just kind of starting to embed and build the foundations for LEAF, ensuring that they've got support for development and growth as well as maintaining the good work they're doing. So yeah, it's been interesting, very interesting. I think everybody's trying to figure out their roles, what we're doing, what I'm doing. I think that's what the coordinator role is there for, to kind of make sure everybody's swimming in the right direction, so, everybody's going to benefit.


What we’ve been developing is an induction package that supports the needs of the individual, recognising any disabilities, barriers to education and training. We've looked at tablets to break down barriers for contact. A lot of people don't have emails, a lot of people don't even have a phone. Not everybody in LEAF will want to have the development package, which is fine. We’ll go out and try and do some outreach, whether it’s at services, or for people who are currently still street homeless, we're kind of looking to ensure that a lot more voices are heard, from LEAF’s side, breaking down barriers for the county. I kind of always think too far ahead, but I think obviously we want forum members to be paid as well - that's a tricky barrier.


One of the changes in my new role is working with people at a strategic level, which has been very insightful, trying to understand what part does what and looking at what is working well and what isn’t. A lot of work is needed to build the gap between people making the decisions and people who use the services. But if you've got evidence-based research to kind of go ‘Actually no, this is what's happening on the ground, you need to make changes.’ I feel that may support change quicker. I think that's the reason why I took the post, to advocate for the people, and recognising that stats and data are not always, or perhaps never, the right way to go. And feeling heard, because in previous jobs I'd always question my work. I would be asking ‘Why are we doing this?’ and on occasions it would be ‘Just get it done.’ Whereas here you can question, voices of lived experience are heard at a higher level, so it feels like things are working which is nice.


It’s already helped the people who were using the services. So, I think that's a massive change, and I've really enjoyed being part of it – doing stuff which is more worthwhile. Working on my own and then managing my time, that's fine, I don't mind all of that. I think I just need to use the team at Aspire and the Gatehouse as well because I'm kind of a social person. But I'm adapting to that and knowing what I can and can't use. So, for me, that's been a massive change. And just the people. Obviously, that's a huge change. I guess, for me, not working in the drug and alcohol sector, it's more homeless focused. I feel like that's changed, and that's expanding my knowledge and information, from my own personal growth as well. That's been really nice.


I've always advocated for service users who I've worked for. Going through the services myself, it was the people I met through my journey that really prompted me to make a change. It was a housing worker who prompted me to just get a grip. And I think that speaking to me with honest, real talk, whilst also showing me empathy and passion, meant I knew it was coming from a good

place. She showed me that she actually cared, and I kind of felt I could listen, and I was worth more. It’s hard going through the services. And I think all of that experience has kind of led me here. I think it was just meant to be. This… LEAF… I just love it. And, again, advocating for the individuals, having that empathy and passion is a must. When I worked for my previous service, there were staff that showed compassion and care. You could see the relationships form, and that's when you see change in individuals. And I just think if everybody had staff like that, God, it wouldn’t be a bad place, would it? That's kind of why I think that's important to me, very important to me. It’s knowing that we can together make change for the people who are still using the services and know that there's hope and faith there for everybody.


LEAF is working. At the moment, education and development is a vital part of the change that is happening. But I just feel on a bigger scale a lot more could be done if people were empowered more with communication and research skills. Empowering the LEAF forum in this way, that would make a massive change, I think. That would bring just so much more to the table.


When I started at LEAF, I got asked to go to the Gatehouse to meet the staff team. But when I got there, there was a queue of people waiting for hot food. And I could have just knocked on the door, but I didn't – I joined the queue. And I just started talking to the guys and they were like ‘Oh, here’s an umbrella!’ and I was like ‘I don’t need your umbrella,’ but we just… built that kind of rapport up. And I was like ‘How long you been using it for?’ just chatting, and it was pissing it down with rain. So, I built up trust. You’ve got people standing out there for an hour to get some warm food and that, you know? And just talking to individuals. I love it. I like to get to know the people. And then before I knew it, the guy was like ‘Oh, are you supposed to be going in to see the staff?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ And in order to get inside I climbed underneath the table. So, for the first introductions to the staff at the Gatehouse I literally just crawled through some beans and cheese, and I was like ‘Hi…’ and they were like ‘Oh! Hi, there! You know there is a door on the other side that you could have come in.’ I think difference is wanting to be connected to people. It's about connection, isn't it?


At the moment, the forum is once a month. I’ve submitted a proposal for weekly sessions. One-to-one work, by appointment only, to support signposting on development, training, education activities, which will help people’s self-esteem and confidence. And inductions as well. So, if we know if there's barriers into education or anything, then we can try and break that down and try and ensure that they've got all the opportunities everybody else has.


We will also have a coffee morning. Which is going to be literally just a coffee morning, so coffee, cake, and just get to know each other, team building. I'm building that cohesion between the forum that will then support the buddying up system. So, it's kind of like using the forum and their skills to be able to develop other forum members as well. And then we’ll have fortnightly development and forum meetings. So again, that will kind of help the development, and having their voices heard, and continuing the good work that they're also doing with the forum. So, that's the idea and that's the pilot, and then we'll just adapt it to whatever is working and what's not, then we'll just kind of, push it to the side. But yeah, it's all about trial and error. Let's see where LEAF can get to.

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