How a small organisation made a big difference

 Clenton Farquharson

As we start to see the first signs of spring, and we put the gloomy winter days behind us, I would like to share a spring-like story with you – one of optimism and growth. It is a story of how a small user-led organisation has achieved dramatic changes to personalisation in the workplace, and learnt a lot about co-production in the process.

That organisation was Community Navigator Services CIC. We help build capacity in both individuals and organisations, and we help those two tribes talk to each other. Robert, Jack, and I are directors; Mike and Matt are Personal Assistants, (PAs) while Beth tries valiantly to keep us all on track.

Let me start this story at the beginning. Way back in 2014, Rob and Mike attended a Skills for Care conference about training and development opportunities for PAs and other front line staff. Mike asked how they could help develop him, as a skilled and experienced PA, he did not need yet another course on manual handling, he wanted something to lift the spirit and build the relationship.

“How about,” came the reply, “advanced medication management?”

Mike told us something had to change. “Ask anyone,” he said, “they’ll tell you.”

So we asked lots of people.

Some were very articulate. Tracey Surgeoner, who describes herself as a mother, a wife, and an activist, amongst other things, told us “power, choice, and control – if I were ever going to have a tattoo, they would be the three words I would have.” But mainly, we heard a thunderous roar of silence, which reminded Rob of Munch’s Scream painting, or, as Rob renamed it, “The Silent Scream” – the feeling of too many people that they have no voice and are not listened to.

Following this, we decided to do something different. We decided to help people have their voice heard.

The first people we spoke to were Skills for Care (SfC), after all, it was their conference that got us started on this track! To their credit, they listened, and gave us innovation funding to run a small six-month pilot project raising awareness with front line staff about what personalisation really means and how we can make it happen. Hint, it’s all about conversations and small purposeful movements (SPMs). There will be more information about the project on the SfC website very soon.

We used co-production. We got together with people who could influence or be influenced by our awareness programme – including people who use services, carers, front line staff, managers, commissioners, and senior decision makers – and we worked together as equals.

The result was the Refocus Personalisation Programme, a series of workshops and follow-up communications where front line staff and people who use services could share what personalisation meant to them and what could be done differently to make it better.

We expected it to be hard work and slow going. It wasn’t. There was a gratifying energy and momentum in the workshops. One delegate emailed us: “First, can I say how much I enjoyed the workshop yesterday – it certainly opened my eyes into things I didn’t even realise I was / wasn’t doing for people. I can’t wait for the next one!”

Solihull Council (SMBC) have worked closely and enthusiastically with us on the pilot, and it has been entered for the “Together for Better Lives Awards 2016” under the “collaborative working” category. A Social Worker from the Solihull Advancing Adult Social Care Team described it as “a personalisation awareness programme for front line social care workers like no other programme before it … the impact on SMBC workers attending the sessions has been huge, with much more self-aware and person-centred practice taking place as a result.”

Others are now taking the Refocus Programme and making it theirs. That’s great. All we ask is that people who re-use our programme retain our core principles of personalisation and co-production.

You only have to switch on the television, or follow social media, to hear about the age of austerity. Front line staff are worried about making promises that they may not be able to keep in these times. However, we have learnt that personalisation and co-production may take time in the short term, but often prompt innovative thinking and problem-solving that help everyone in the long term.

If we can do it, anyone can. Talk to us and we’ll be happy to explain more. Or just follow these three simple steps (that we wish someone had told us before we started).

1. Just do it.

2. Be comfortable with uncertainty.

3. Don’t do it alone. Co-production works!

Community Navigator Services website

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