Last Thursday I attended this training event at our Llandrindod office run by two Participation Officer colleagues – Carla Rosenthal and Carol Hay. As one of the attendees reported later it was “interactive, engaging and full of useful content”.
The session was arranged specifically for people who want to become citizen representatives (and a couple who already are). It is key to our work in the mental health team, and specifically for our Comic Relief funded project Stand up! for emotional health and wellbeing, that reps are recruited and well trained. Citizen reps volunteer their time, energy and passion to make a difference for others and to the services we receive, and are helping influence change at local, regional and national levels. We wrote about the achievements of mental health reps Rhydian Parry and Jan Rogers on this blog in Powys voices count at the top a couple of years ago.
This training session brought together two groups of individuals – those interested in sitting on the Powys Mental Health Planning & Development Partnership and a second cohort who recently started sitting round the table of the Health & Social Care Regional Partnership Board. Their ages and backgrounds were quite varied, with experience of mental health nursing, the Royal Air Force, specific health diagnoses and carers’ views all brought to the session. The module was based on a training package that was co-produced by mental health team volunteers and Participation Cymru, reflecting on the experiences of people who were interacting and engaging with organisations to shape mental health services.
It isn’t possible to cover the entire session in one blog post, so I’ll highlight a couple of areas and also focus on the points made by the two guest speakers, Sue Hughes – Coordinator Regional Partnership Board at Powys County Council, and Louisa Kerr – Mental Health Partnership Manager at Powys Teaching Health Board.
It was fascinating to hear at the start of the day what people thought about the title of the training, and in particular what “sharing power” meant to them. One of the reps’ responsibilities is to attend meetings with service providers, either locally or nationally (or both) and feedback grassroots opinions about current services. Comments included:
- You will be listened to.
- To be working alongside people as equal partners.
- To be part of the process.
- Using personal knowledge and experience to shape services.
- Sharing with other people what I have learnt.
- Being a team player.
There was an interesting discussion about how it felt to sit around the table as a 'service user'. Whilst acknowledging that they brought a valid experience and were viewed as an equal some felt it put them on the back foot. Language, it was agreed, is extremely important. Some people felt comfortable being described as ‘experts’, whilst others said it was difficult being called ‘a carer’: “I’m a Mum. You’re given a label and boxed somehow. I find that really hard. People have masses more to bring other than being a service user.”
Sue and Louisa both emphasised that when individuals express their views passionately they are as important as anyone around the table. Sometimes we can box things in our own minds when actually we are being valued by everyone else there. “Everybody’s the same. There is no distinction between workers, volunteers and individuals. It’s about people coming together to talk informally. Collectively we are experts."
Carla and Carol went on to highlight the importance of researching partner organisations before attending meetings, and then we looked at “facts and assumptions”. “If I see a policewoman I might feel anxious. Guilty. Worried that she might arrest me. But that is an assumption. The only fact is that she is a policewoman, and I have to leave behind all the assumptions or I’ll be a nervous wreck.”
Sue then gave us a brief background to the Social Services & Wellbeing (Wales) Act which sets out the requirements for the Health & Social Care Regional Partnership Boards. Legally it is a requirement for citizens to sit on the boards. There is a need for people to work differently – for culture change – as the Act is all about the citizen’s voice. "We all need to challenge officers working in services to make sure they have involved citizens, but also to give praise where it is warranted".
Sue also spoke about how to use effective questioning at meetings. “Officers don’t encourage passivity as we won’t then have the opportunity to improve things. If you don’t understand a presentation as it’s not in lay language then it doesn’t comply with the Act. It has to be easily understandable language. You can raise this nicely – but the officers need to know.”
Louisa then provided us with an introduction to the Powys Mental Health Planning and Development Partnership Board which has been meeting for 2 years now. Mental health is governed by different legislation to Health & Social Care, so we look to the Mental Health Measure (Wales) for guidance, but there is much crossover. We learnt more about the various subgroups of the PMHPDP, including Engage to Change (looking at issues raised at the Stand up! for emotional health & wellbeing meetings), Performance, a Mental Health Officers’ Group and S136 Criminal Justice. Louisa recalled the first meeting of the board she attended where citizen reps Kate, Meriel and Rhydian spoke. “It was profound, and changed the dynamic of the meeting. Everyone was listening. That is the most important thing.”
By the afternoon we moved on to sessions on assertiveness, getting the most out of a meeting, and the support that Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations can provide to people. There were some intriguing slides on the nature of power, and specifically the 3 Faces of Power as described by Steven Lukes. And finally there were a few tips on building self-confidence – which can help us all in all areas of our lives.
All in all a thoroughly interesting day, and we managed to have a fair few laughs too as we introduced ourselves early on in fictional roles as “superheroes, tooth fairies, aliens, scarecrows and witches”!