Voices for Change

Published: May 22, 2015
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Blog by Neil Taggart, FitzRoy Operation Director

Sometimes something happens and you realise you are missing out on the main action. This was brought home to me with force recently.

Still with my office head on, checking for emails and so on, I went along to FitzRoy’s East Regional forum, called Voices for Change; a place where the people we support can meet and socialise and talk about the things that matter to them.

The buzz in the room hit me as I walked in, and looking around it was obvious that it wasn’t the support workers creating it, it was the people we support. To say I was surprised at what I saw is a massive understatement, I was stunned. They had taken control of the forum and all the inspiring things I witnessed there are testament to them.

Now in its eighth year, this forum originally came about because we wanted people to have the opportunity to speak up about their support, their issues, and to meet each other in an informal way. Back then we worried that it wouldn’t work, worried we were imposing something just to make us feel better, potentially paying lip service to engagement – how wrong we were!

I realised they didn’t need us in the room â it left me wondering âwhy were we there?â It was 100% their session, their conference, and their agenda. I watched and learnt as they led group discussions; encouraged opinions, and handled disagreements. People put their hands up to speak; others shared experiences with fellow members on their tables. The importance of it was further brought home as I heard how one member, inspired by a talk by the local police at the forum, had found the courage to share his experience of hate crime for the first time. He said he hadn’t actually realised it was a crime to be treated in that way. He does now!

Over 50 people came from our services; supported living, registered care, support at home; some choosing to travel over an hour to be there. The sense of togetherness was exciting, and it felt just as important as a social event as a forum to share ideas and challenge FitzRoy.

With social isolation being one of the biggest causes of breakdown in independent living for people with learning disabilities, it is vital that organisations like FitzRoy help people connect with their communities and make friends and form relationships. Long may forums like this flourish.

I came away proud and humbled in equal measure. Proud to work for an organisation that isn’t frightened to stand back and enable the people it supports to lead the way, and humbled to find how, despite my best effort to remain connected and accessible to the people we support, my âprofessional’ life with all those meetings, can sometimes still be a distraction from the main event â the lives and thoughts of the people we support. I could have sat there all night!