Liz Davidson, Vale People First and Linda Pritchard, Vale Centre for Voluntary Services (VCVS)’ Health and Social Care Facilitator, introduce Vale People First.
“Part of my job as a minister is to beat the drum for co-production, to try and spread the word about it, to try and get people talking about it.” (Mark Drakeford, AM, Health Minister, Welsh Government)
If co-production is about sharing power and working together in an equal partnership, then Vale People First is an organisation which puts the theory about co-production into practice.
Vale People First is a self-advocacy group for, and led by, their members; people with a learning disability in the Vale of Glamorgan. Their objectives include empowering people with learning disabilities to participate fully in society, influencing decision making and changing policy.
The members planned and delivered the conference from start to finish with minimal support from staff. The event was met with a very positive evaluation from professionals, parents/carers and other people with learning disabilities.They work to ensure their members are engaged in planning and running the whole organisation from the top down. Half their Board of Trustees are members whilst half are drawn from professionals. The members write policies and procedures and help to develop and submit funding bids. They support recruitment by drawing up job descriptions and are on all interview panels for new staff. Vale People First makes sure that all their information is accessible and that meetings, such as Board meetings, are jargon free and use plain language. To help them play a full role, members are assisted to identify the training and support they need.
All sessions involving members are evaluated in appropriate, creative ways to ensure that they are fully involved. Members are encouraged to express how they feel, for example whether they feel more confident. They film each other and ask each other questions.Real Lives is one of their projects. It helps members discuss the things which are important to them. Members have formed a planning group and elected a Chair and Vice Chair, developing procedures, rule and roles for the project and gaining skills in participation in meetings. [Editor’s note: following some work carried out with Real Lives earlier this year, the members are composing a ‘Co-production in Action’ article for us for a future newsletter.]
As members gain skills and confidence through their involvement with Vale People First they begin to find ways in which they can use these outside the organisation. One example is by providing training and guidance on disability awareness to external organisations such as schools, the police, GPs and the local authority, using inter-active role play. By drawing on their own experiences and life stories and building on their qualities and assets they have an influence and make changes. Their work is positively evaluated by the external partners.
They also have a representative member on the Learning Disability Planning Group, the formal, multi-agency planning group for learning disability services in Cardiff and Vale. Recently, they have been asked to attend Community Cohesion meetings working with the police and other community forums.
Through this work, members have helped to change school policies, given guidance to the police on how they can help people with learning disabilities and campaigned to end discrimination against parents with learning disabilities.
Vale People First places their members at the centre of everything they do; a model of success in engagement and empowerment and an example of third sector coproduction in action.
“Public services should be delivered through meaningful collaboration across sectors, organisations and boundaries, with co-production of services being a key feature in the service delivery toolbox.” (Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, 2014)