Reading Friends – a new project is coming to life!

This blog is courtesy of Katie Pekacar from the Reading Agency

In June 2016 The Big Lottery Fund awarded The Reading Agency £2.1 million over four years to develop Reading Friends, a new programme designed to reduce loneliness and start conversations with vulnerable and isolated older people through reading.

At the time it seemed almost impossible to imagine that we would be hosting an event in the Library of Birmingham less than one year on, with representatives from six projects ready to launch their reading activities in communities across England, Scotland and Wales. But that is exactly what we did a few weeks ago – and it has been a busy year to get to that point!

The project has been entirely co-produced with older people, including people with dementia, carers and disabled people. At several points we’ve changed our ideas completely as a result of this process – for example, the design of the leaflet, how we describe the programme and even the format of the programme itself, moving from a reading challenge, to a more inclusive befriending model.

We have also developed important partnerships with Literature Wales and Scottish Book Trust, who will help us develop Reading Friends so that it meets the need in those nations. Our partners also include a number of national charities and the network of public libraries across England, Wales and Scotland, to ensure we’re building on existing work and infrastructure.

So last week we all met up and heard from each of our six test projects about their exciting proposals to adapt and deliver Reading Friends to meet the needs in their area over the next 12 months. Although we can’t do justice to all their plans, here are some short examples:

  • In Sheffield, Dementia Action Alliance is working with Sheffield Libraries to start conversations through reading with diverse audiences across the city, including a local Pakistani men’s reading group who are interested in Pakistani heritage and a dementia reading group meeting in an antiques shop
  • In Conwy in Wales, Conwy library service will be working with isolated older farmers, many of whom have Welsh as their first language
  • In Newcastle, Age UK Newcastle and Newcastle Libraries will be working together to bring Reading Friends to an existing befriending service
  • Three different organisations across West Sussex – Age UK Horsham, Dementia Support in Chichester and the Abbeyfield Society in Horsted Keynes – will be trialling a networked approach to Reading Friends with West Sussex Libraries providing the infrastructure support and access to a wide range of digital and assistive technologies
  • In Stirling the library service will be looking at how oral storytelling can be used to engage isolated older people, especially those with Gaelic as a first language
  • Oldham Library service will be using an asset based model to engage deprived and socially isolated communities in Oldham with designing and delivering Reading Friends so that it meets their needs.

The Reading Friends team left the meeting feeling excited by all the brilliant ideas, energy and enthusiasm shown by the test projects. We look forward to continuing the journey of discovering what Reading Friends is and can be together with all our partners and the communities they engage over the next year.

Read more about Reading Friends here: https://readingagency.org.uk/adults/quick-guides/reading-friends/

If you want to find out more about Reading Friends email readingfriends@readingagency.org.uk

Imagining A Brave New World

This blog is courtesy of SallyAnn Kelly, CEO of Aberlour

‘Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very beginning that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and in the country around it. Rub it in.’  Aldous Huxley

5 days away from the ‘day job’ including a residential weekend seemed like a big ask.  5 days of time with people I barely knew.  5 days on systems leadership. My initial thoughts on the invitation from the Life Changes Trust, to be honest, centred on how I might be able to say ‘no I’m just too busy’.  For those of you who know me you will understand that was never actually going to happen, especially after I spoke with Heather Coady who kindly talked me through the thinking behind the course and what she wanted to achieve.  I got curious, very curious, and was enthused by the prospect of bringing 16 people together from across the public, higher education and 3rd sectors to begin to imagine how we might play a role in shaping thinking and improvement in our systems for looked after children.

Day 1 of the course was like many other courses – a process of getting to know each other, building trust and challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones as well as testing the waters for much of what was to come in the residential weekend planned for just a short few weeks ahead.  

That first day, though, differed in one important and profound way, for it was on that day that our true task was set, and set very clearly, by a group of care experienced young people.  Quite simply, their ask was ‘how do we put love and relationships at the heart of the care system?’  Another pointed, but fair, question was ‘what are you actually going to do about making things better?’

Some answers to this challenge, we hoped, lay in the group and we knew that uncovering those potential solutions would involve a lot of introspection, honest conversations and respectful challenge to ourselves and each other.

Our residential weekend took place in the beautiful surroundings of Ardoch House, a picture perfect venue, made more so by the ‘taps aff’ weather we enjoyed.

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Systems leadership encourages curiosity and people to actively notice what is happening around them.  This was a welcome reminder from my perspective to consciously practice those techniques and reflect on how I can normalise them in my daily work.  It was also an opportunity to begin to imagine what our own ‘brave new world’ of care could look like and what bold steps were needed to start us on our journey.

Our time in Ardoch saw us engage in a variety of different learning opportunities, including action learning sets,  and drama workshops.  All of this was aimed at how we can be the best possible version of ourselves.

The work took us into unexplored territory for some, and the approaches encouraged trust and understanding within the group.  It was heartening to notice that the more introverted group members quickly found their voices.   Our time together didn’t always feel like work, though, and there was much fun and laughter amidst the thoughtful reflections and soul searching that went on.  I will be forever thankful for the memories from our last night when members of the group role played their ‘best selves’ in comedic styles. Kate Rocks – your OSCAR is on its way!!

The final day of our residential culminated in a presentation to the young care experienced group when four groups of the participants outlined our learning from the course and set out what our bold steps would be after the residential.  Some great suggestions came through, all of which had children and young people at their very centre. These included how we put children’s rights at the heart of what we do and how we create more meaningful involvement of children and young people in inspection and improvement.

I’ve thought carefully about how I can articulate the learning from all that we have done over the four days we were together and I hope you have a flavour of some of what happened.  My ‘take aways’ from the experience so far are around the deep connections that were made between people in the group.  Whatever our brave new world looks like, one certainty is that the health of that world will be determined by the quality of relationships of those who inhabit it.

Effective change will always be driven by humans and human connection – systems leadership understands this well.  If relationships are not at the heart of the wider system how can we expect them to be at the heart of our face to face engagement with children and young people?  We talked extensively about positive relationships and the part compassion, nurture, empathy and guidance play in our development as humans and how we embed these values in our care system.  We also talked about love and the need to resist the simplification of that as a concept, whilst simultaneously embracing all of the different aspects of that love. It seems to me that we have important choices to make as we move forward with our Review of the Care System.

I am reminded of a powerful quote from Bruce D Perry

Fire can warm or consume, water can quench or drown, wind can caress or cut. And so it is with human relationships: we can both create and destroy, nurture and terrorize, traumatize and heal each other.’

So with one more day to come together formally as systems leaders, I hope that we can continue to strive to be the quenchers, the creators, the nurturers and the healers – in doing all of that we will demonstrate what love is actually about.

This experience will prove, I am sure, to be a transformative one for many of us. It is one The Life Changes Trust should seek to repeat for other sector leaders.

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SallyAnn Kelly, CEO, Aberlour

Shinkansen!

This post is courtesy of Andy Hyde, and was originally published on the Upstream website.  Upstream works with people affected by dementia to improve mobility services. Andy was part of a Scottish delegation to attend the Alzheimer Disease International (ADI) Conference in Kyoto in April/May 2017.

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After the great evening with the Dementia Friendly Japan Initiative the sharing continued with another gathering a few days later, this time in Tokyo. Thanks to arrangements made by Makoto along with Atsushi Matusbara and Daisuke Sawada at the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation (or the “Eco-Mo Foundation”), I was invited to talk at a meeting of transport operators, academics, designers, and representatives from various disability groups.

EcoMo is working on a range of projects to achieve ‘barrier-free’ transport and environmental transport measures that they describe as ‘… activities to create a social environment that is friendly both to humans and to the earth’. Who could argue with that?

The day started with a trip on the Bullet Train or Shinkansen to Tokyo which was a real highlight! A fantastic experience …although it started with confusion as you have to put both tickets (travel ticket and seat reservation) in the machine at the same time – took me a few goes and a hurried conversation to work this out. It was a good reminder that travel is complicated if you don’t know the rules…

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But the trains are smooth, quiet, on schedule, super-frequent, accessible … and very fast.

 I liked the information on each seat – made it clear where you are, what’s nearby and where you’re going!

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Daisuke Sawada met me at Shinagawa, one stop before central Tokyo, and took me to the Kokuyo office which was hosting the event. The rooftop garden office and pool was slightly different to the usual Upstream workshop environment.

I felt very welcomed and an honoured guest. Around 60 participants came along – transportation professionals, academics, people with disabilities, architects, designers … a great mixture of experience and skills.

Atsushi Matsubara started off, presenting results from a survey that EcoMo had carried out to discover the thoughts of people affected by dementia regarding transport and travel services. Around 4.4 million people are living with dementia in Japan. Of the 380 people contacted, 190 responded and some key messages were:

  • 80% had faced a situation where confusion had made travelling difficult
  • a number of people reported that that they often mistakenly travel without money
  • access to public toilets during a journey is a major issue

Some transport operators had responded:

  • 11 reported that they had training materials for staff around disability/dementia, 3 of them had created materials themselves
  • 12 companies reported that they would welcome opportunities to learn more about dementia

There is recognition that there are many passengers travelling with dementia and also that transport for people living in care homes could be more appropriate too. There was talk of accreditation for employees and also the value of recognising their own personal experiences. This was all sounding very familiar and Atsushi shared his experience of witnessing support available for people affected by dementia in the UK… then it was my turn.

And a few minutes later 60 people were doing the Upstream thing, drawing their journeys through Tokyo and talking animatedly with each other about their different experiences … these pictures include some from Dementia Friendly Japan Initiative

After describing the project (with fantastic translation from Taka) we had a Q & A session where participants asked about driving with dementia, the problems with tickets, the colour of ramps that help people get onto buses, the inequalities of travelling with dementia and more. There was particular interest in the Gatwick Airport lanyard, and it was interesting to note that in the ADI conference pack there was a luggage tag that promoted a similar idea – to identify people who might require some assistance, or a seat. This seemed to be more widely known – a few people at the workshop had them tied to their bags and I’d noticed signs about these on Kyoto buses the day before. So it looks like quite a comprehensive approach although I’m not sure what operator training is part of the arrangement… [update – more information about this from the Kyoto Prefecture website]

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There was much more to talk about but we ran out of time. It was another great chance to exchange ideas, to learn from each other and to explore how we might work together. Again, Upstream’s approach was well received. In summarising, Atsushi Matsubara noted that the biggest message for him was the importance of involving people affected by dementia and that this approach was something to work towards in Japan. It made me think about how lucky we are in the UK to have a network of groups and individuals who are willing to give their time, energy and insights to helping projects like Upstream.

It’s easy to talk about collaboration and sharing but it truly felt as though Upstream, the Dementia Friendly Japan Initiative, the EcoMo Foundation, Fujitso laboratories and others are using similar language and have similar aspirations – to work towards inclusive design and service improvement to enable people affected by dementia and others who may need assistance to travel with confidence. We parted as new friends, talking right up to the Shinkansen departure gates, wondering how to turn our animated conversations into collaborative action in the future.

IMG_6873.jpgThanks again to Makoto, Atsushi Matsubara and Daisuke Sawada for their enthusiasm, collaboration and warm welcome!

 With thanks to Andy Hyde.

Hello Kyoto! An evening with the Dementia Friendly Japan Initiative

This post is courtesy of Andy Hyde, and was originally published on the Upstream website.  Upstream works with people affected by dementia to improve mobility services. Andy was part of a Scottish delegation to attend the Alzheimer Disease International (ADI) Conference in Kyoto in April/May 2017.

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Visiting the ADI conference gave me opportunities to reach out to see who I could connect while there and was lucky enough to be introduced to Makoto Okada, Director of the Co-Creative Social Ecosystem Project at Fujitsu Laboratories and also a leading figure in the Dementia Friendly Japan Initiative (DFJI).

We discovered a mutual interest in improving transport for people affected by dementia as DFJI has a special interest group focusing on transport. Makoto was kind enough to organise an evening gathering in Kyoto, coinciding with the conference, bringing together a group of around 30 people to learn about work in Scotland and Japan and to exchange ideas. Participants included occupational therapists, GPs and researchers.

Mr. Matsumoto, manager at Kyoto’s Regional Comprehensive Support Centre spoke about “Planning and managing SOS exercises using the bus in Kyoto.” described his work coordinating local transport providers to assist with people affected by dementia who are becoming lost when travelling around the city. By providing a central service that puts calls out to all transport providers, people are found quickly reducing the anxiety of all concerned. The crucial link here is that they have provided information and training to all parties concerned including the police. We saw a short video showing the system in action.

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Pictures from Dementia Friendly japan on facebook 

Luckily, a number of friends of Upstream were also at the conference – Philly Hare from Innovations in Dementia, James and Maureen McKillop along with Elizabeth from Life Changes Trust and so they were all able to join us for the evening too. So, in addition to me sharing what Upstream has been up to, we heard from Philly about other work in the UK, from Elizabeth from a funder’s perspective and importantly from James about his own experiences of travelling with dementia.

This all made for a lively group discussion as we compared experiences and different project approaches. Perhaps one of the most notable points was the extent to which people affected by dementia are getting involved in projects in the UK. The network of peer support groups such as DEEP groups that we have been lucky to work with is a precious resource that is, as yet, isn’t so established in Japan.

Equally, those of us from the UK noted the coordinated approach that Mr Matsumato had taken in training all the parties concerned. This should be a goal for us – engaging with all the unusual suspects as we sometimes call them – the many different players that contribute to travelling well with dementia.

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Championing the rights of people living with dementia – the VERDe project

This blog was first published on the Mental Health Foundation’s website by Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Assistant Director of Development Programmes at the MHF. 

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In the past ten years, the landscape has changed significantly and the profile of dementia has risen in policy, research and practice. The Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia 2020 gave a further boost to the interest in dementia care across the country.

Certain organisations, including ourselves at the Mental Health Foundation, have also advocated for a more preventative approach to dementia, especially in relation to the inequalities faced by people living with dementia and the significant co-morbidity with mental ill health. A growing focus on the links between public health and dementia is promising in reflecting how dementia is beginning to be seen through lenses that go beyond the traditional medical model. But we are not there yet.

Progress in dementia has stalled for too long because of a substantial but narrow focus on developing new pharmacological treatments, confusion around the understanding of the wider public of the range of conditions involved under the umbrella term, and lack of systematic application of human rights approaches in the relevant practice and research.

Thus, we are still facing considerable challenges in taking dementia into wider policy spheres, which is why a focus on fundamental values, equality principles and human rights is still urgently needed. We have tried to address this gap with the VERDe project.

The Values, Equalities, Rights and Dementia network (VERDe) has connected people with dementia, carers, practitioners, policy makers, services, organisations and communities across the UK. Through a series of events, VERDe has aimed at increasing awareness and understanding about how values, rights and equalities affect people with dementia and can help improve dementia policy and practice.

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VERDe has enabled productive conversations between experts by background and experts by experience. We have:

  • facilitated the sharing of positive stories of empowerment and hope
  • explored ways to support people in their transitions (e.g. into care homes)
  • recognised that people living with dementia should be treated as persons, not just patients
  • advocated for cross-agency communication and national policies informed by people
  • explained the human rights deficit that exists in dementia and how supported decision-making works.

But our collaboration and network does not stop here. We will keep working with our partners, including Innovations in Dementia and the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project to champion the voice of lived experience and help sustain this active community.

Above all, we will strive to remember what one of our dementia activists stated: that people diagnosed with dementia are humans and the people who care for those with dementia are humans too. Therefore, a lot of the issues we want to discuss are, above all, human rights issues. And we know how human rights issues can impact on people’s mental health.

“Taking Local Action”

So, the simplest intervention we can start with is to make sure that the human contact and emotional support for people living with dementia is always there.

VERDe has been coordinated by the Mental Health Foundation, supported by Innovations in Dementia, and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Life Changes Trust (which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund).

Empowerment Grants for Care Experienced Young People

Recently I had a planned stay in hospital. It was an eye opening experience in a number of ways.

I suppose the big thing I noticed was how quickly I lost my usual confidence. In the hospital environment, I had no real expertise, and I was in a vulnerable condition – dependent on others and temporarily unable to do even the most basic tasks for myself.

This was a shock, since I’m used to thinking of myself as a pretty competent person. I haven’t always had masses of confidence but I’ve worked hard, learned from my mistakes, listened to others and probably most importantly, I’ve just about conquered my fear of failure.

One of the things I have learned in this job is that, for care experienced people, even those well into adulthood, lack of confidence is a key issue. It can lead to feelings of self-doubt, of not quite being up to mark, which often never really goes away.

I’ve met people with care experience who are highly successful in their chosen field, inspiring role models, who still battle with feelings of inadequacy.  I recently met a young woman who left her first job after a few months, even although it was a great opportunity, because she was convinced that she would be fired anyway. This was despite the fact that she had all the right qualifications and had secured the job in a highly competitive process.

At the Trust, we’re aware of some of the reasons that can cause care experienced young people to struggle with confidence. I’ve been lucky enough to have supportive, caring adults in my life who have encouraged me. Care experienced young people often don’t have access to those kind of relationships.

Another challenge is that care experienced young people as a group don’t get the same opportunities as their peers to take part in activities like sport, art, drama and music. These informal activities are important in helping us to build social skills. They also provide safe spaces for us to make mistakes and to learn from them.

We want to do what we can to address some of these issues, and our current Empowerment Grants funding opportunity is one approach to supporting care experienced young people to develop their confidence and skills.

Empowerment Grants offer groups and organisations the opportunity to apply for up to £10,000. With this funding, we’re particularly looking to reach care experienced young people who may face barriers due to protected characteristics (e.g. disability; sexual orientation; race; religion and belief; sex), as well as young people who have experience of youth justice or are looked after at home.

Empowerment Grants can support activities for mixed groups which include young people who are not care experienced. We’re asking youth organisations, sports groups and community organisations to think about how they can include care experienced young people in their activities.

By including young people in this way, organisations can help young people to increase their social networks and develop positive relationships with adults which can be so vital to improving their confidence.

My hospital stay was an important experience – a reminder of how easy it is for hard-won confidence to slip away, and an insight into the impact of losing control (albeit temporarily). Care experienced young people tell us repeatedly that they feel important decisions about their lives are made without them, and they can struggle with inconsistent relationships with adults who are not always free to show them they care.

Empowerment Grants offer one route to supporting care experienced young people to grow their confidence, speak up and increase their connections to the wider community. Please take the opportunity to think about what you can do to get involved.  Read more about Empowerment Grants on our website

 

 

 

 

 

Carole Patrick, Programme Manager, Care Experienced Young People Programme

 

Travelling Well with Dementia

This blog was written by Andy Hyde from Upstream, reflecting on their conference ‘Travelling Well With Dementia’, held on the 7th December 2016.

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Planning a journey. We’d all done it in order to arrive that day but maybe not really thought about it too much. We might have put up with a frustrating web site, weighed up cost-versus-convenience or different ways to get to the Festival Theatre. But what if you’re living with dementia and you’ve lost the confidence to even consider such a journey?  This was just one of the topics that we mulled over in discussion groups at Upstream’s Travelling well with Dementia event last week.

In recent months we’ve been bumping into lots of interesting people, hearing about their projects and initiatives and making connections around mobility, transport and travelling with dementia.

So we thought it would be good if Upstream could start joining up some of these conversations, connecting people and start turning talk into action.

Last week’s event at the Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre was our first attempt at doing this. Around 60 people travelled from across the UK to hear about Upstream and more. We’re busy writing up the outputs of the discussions and we’ll share these soon. In the meantime, here’s a brief summary of the day…

As participants arrived we drew our journeys and shared our stories of our trip to the venue – just like we do in our Upstream workshops.  Rich stories emerged about the highs and lows of getting out and about.

Tommy Dunne opened the event with humour, warmth and some hard-hitting truths about travelling with dementia.  After many years working in the transport industry, Tommy now co-chairs the Service Users Reference Forum (SURF) in Liverpool and works with transport operators to help them understand the realities of travelling with dementia, using his own experiences.  Tommy gave us some great context and insight to start the afternoon off, describing his experiences of travelling by train and bus and the need for a greater understanding from operator staff and fellow passengers alike. A key message from Tommy was the need to enable people to travel in order to reduce the very real dangers of loneliness and isolation.

It was stories like this that prompted us to start Upstream. Wendy Mitchell had also written a timely blog post the day before about her experiences of travel – unfortunately Wendy couldn’t join us but we shared some key points from her post with participants.

We shared what we’re learning at Upstream and talked about developing models for shared experiences which allow transport operators to work together with people affected by dementia.  We can only respond to the challenges of travelling if we move from dementia awareness to a deeper understanding of how a service currently works (or not) for people living with dementia and develop a vision for a new reality where transport always acts as an enabler rather than a barrier. Upstream could facilitate the experiences and conversations that can lead to this understanding and then help to make service redesign happen.

Paula Brown from the Arora Dementia Friendly Community based at An Lanntair in Stornoway, touched on the work that we’ve been doing together in the Western Isles, including the workshops at Stornoway airport that might hopefully lead to involving people affected by dementia in reviewing airport services. Oh, and some of those remote bus stops we’d visited on Lewis…

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Similarly, Sarah Geoghegan from Alzheimer Scotland reflected on Upstream workshops in Aberdeen and our connections with Aberdeen airport. We have engaged with a range of staff there and, following an Upstream workshop and several Dementia Friends sessions, the airport terminal management are interested to explore how we can involve people affected by dementia in reviewing airport services.

Lee Glen from Dementia Friendly Dunbar gave some personal reflections on the shared journey we took with Virgin Trains from Dunbar to Waverley Station and noted how several people in the group had learned a good deal about the assistance that is available to them when travelling by train.

James McKillop told us about an experiendriving-with-dementia-front-pagece that we encounter on a regular basis in our workshops and discussions – giving up driving. James drove for a number of years after a diagnosis of dementia but after his application for an extension to his licence was refused he experienced a difficult time coming to terms with not being able to legally drive even though he felt capable.

He told of his experience of eventually driving again, under controlled conditions.

It was a powerful story, emotional and yet hopeful. You can read more about James’ story here.

We were lucky enough to have Samantha Berry from OCS at Gatwick Airport join us to talk about their lanyard scheme, an option for passengers with hidden disabilities to discretely alert airport staff to their need for a little more time or help. As Samantha pointed out, so many people at the airport wear a lanyard that another doesn’t really stand out although it’s distinctive design is known to staff. It seems as if the scheme is popular and there are plans for trying the lanyard in other airports. Samantha also pointed us to Challenging for Change – an OCS report on disabled passengers’ experience of air travel – and the imminent publication of the Civil Aviation Authority’s new guidelines on making air travel more accessible for passengers with hidden disabilities.

Jill Mulholland told us about the development of the Scottish Government’s Accessible Travel Framework ‘Going Further’, working with people with a range of conditions to set out a roadmap for mobility operators to include people with disabilities in the design of new transport services.

We then discussed a range of topics that can be a challenge when travelling with dementia. In addition to planning a journey, we considered going to a hospital appointment, making a connecting (flight/taxi/bus/train…), buying a ticket, going on holiday and others.

To finish up we heard from Chris McCoy, Head of the Accessible Tourism Programme, at VisitScotland followed by Terry Dunn CEO of the ESP Group. Both Chris and Terry reminded us that people want to continue to travel to visit friends, family and destinations. They want to continue to take a holiday … this is a market that transport operators and related organisations have an opportunity to develop products and services for. The key to creating sustainable businesses will be to work closely with people living with dementia to truly understand the challenges and develop solutions using an inclusive design approach.

We think this was the first time that people from transport, health, government, design, the third sector and more had gathered to consider the range of issues that are emerging around the need to enable people affected by dementia to continue to travel well. However, as Agnes Houston reminded us via Twitter that morning, it’s good to talk and listen but we need to turn our words into action if we’re to make a real impact.

This is the key aim for Upstream and, we hope, for those that joined us last week.

 

Aim high, dream big!

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Aspirational Awards

We’re getting very close to a pretty exciting date for us at the Trust. On the 1st of November we’re launching our new ‘Aspirational Awards’ funding initiative, and I wanted to talk a bit about the development journey we’ve been on over the last six months to get to this exciting stage.

I should probably say with a bit of context first of all that, at the Trust, each of our funding initiatives are underpinned by what we call ‘theories of change’. In basic terms, this means that there is an idea which we believe when supported and acted on correctly, will support transformational change for the people we support: care experienced young people and people affected by dementia.

One of our theories of change is that when people are given genuine space, time and opportunity to shape and influence the issues that affect them, then something really special happens. This isn’t a revolutionary idea by any means, but it’s often only given lip-service by those in power, and less often seen in practice. And that’s something which clashes with a personal view of mine which is, if you believe in something then there’s no point in doing it half-heartedly – you might as well go for it.

It was with this in mind that we started to develop an approach for Aspirational Awards led by young people themselves.

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Aspirational Awards are about providing care experienced young people with the opportunity to think big about their future and apply for grant funding from the Trust to support their ambitions in life. Again, a fairly simple theory of change here is that, when empowered to decide what they want to achieve and then provided with some financial support to help them along the way, care experienced young people can achieve anything they want to in life.

As this initiative is based on care experienced young people applying to us directly for funding, it felt essential that it be care experienced young people who would ultimately make the decisions on these applications. Not only that, we felt that young people should lead the design of the funding initiative from beginning to end; ranging from what should be the overarching aims and objectives of the initiative, right through to the nuts and bolts of designing an evaluation process and being there to support applicants when funding opens.

With this commitment in mind, we recruited a group of 12-15 young people from a range of care experiences and backgrounds who would become volunteer advisors to the Trust to work specifically on this initiative. We held our first ‘big’ meeting in April this year in the Prince’s Trust Wolfson Centre, and since then we’ve met over 20 times to develop something which I think has the potential to really transform the lives of care experienced young people.

Not only that, but those young people who have been part of the group have themselves really developed at the same time. I’ve seen first-hand a noticeable development in their public speaking, leadership skills and ability to resolve conflict. And that’s only in the first six months; this is a three year project, where some of them will go on to be trained as paid grant assessors as well as gain skills in areas such as evaluation, budgeting and application writing.

Since that first big meeting, the group have come on leaps and bounds and the workshops almost run themselves. That’s in part because we’ve developed strong relationships – another cornerstone of the work we do at the Trust – but really more of a testament to the sense of responsibility, maturity and pride that each young person has brought to the group.

One of my initial concerns was that it might take a while to get a productive discussion going around subjects that could be seen as dry (due diligence process anyone?) or abstract.  More fool me! It will come to no surprise to anyone who has worked with young people that, when given a platform to speak about something that’s important to them, they generally tend to take it. They’re also a huge amount of fun!

It has by no means been a completely seamless process, nor will it be, and we’ve had a few challenges along the way, but as we (rather frantically) prepare for the launch of Aspirational Awards, I feel a huge degree of trust that the group have developed something spectacular for young people. That’s not trust in them simply as ‘young people’ or ‘care experienced’, but rather, trust in them as competent, conscientious individuals who have been able to bring a level of insight and experience which I simply could not have.

It’s inexcusable thlisten-understand-actyat services for care experienced young people have followed a top-down approach for so long. However, I see a lot of hope that this tide seems to be turning and we’re beginning to see young people being empowered in many aspects of their lives – not least through the excellent efforts of some of the organisations we work with such as Who Cares? Scotland, our peer mentoring programmes, and, of course, our Champions Boards.

As a funder, it’s important that we set an example in this respect – by having the voice of young people at the centre of what we actually fund.  It’s being in the mind-set of ‘let’s ask young people about that’ and not assuming that the path we’re currently following is the right one.

This can be challenging, as it’s certainly not about shying away from the hard questions; but it means we are really asking young people, and taking the time to listen to and understand what they have to say.

This has co-production at its core. In developing our Aspirational Awards in this way, we have a stronger project because of it and I’m thankful for the commitment of each of the young people who have been on that journey with me over the last six months.

I started this blog to highlight the benefits of empowering young people to take responsibility and trusting in them to thrive in that environment, but have ended up with a tribute to the individuals who have actually embodied it – that feels very fitting somehow.

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Paul Sullivan, Funding Manager

 

Love is a doing word

Nicola Sturgeon announces root and branch review of the care system, driven by those with experience of  care.

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Since the First Minister’s announcement on Saturday of a full scale independent review of the care system, we’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster ride here at the Trust.

The announcement of the review in itself is obviously massively important, but it’s the language used by the First Minister to set the context for the review that has really struck a chord. She promised that the review will be driven by those with experience of care – young people themselves. Crucially, the First Minister was also unequivocal about love – to be truly engaged in a review of the care system, we have to acknowledge that every child, regardless of circumstances, deserves to be loved.

Here at the Trust, it’s difficult to find the words to capture the range of emotions we’ve been feeling – excitement, elation, expectation, pride – but regardless of the words, we have the sense that this is a seminal moment. Care experienced young people, and those who support them, have a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-imagine care based on this all important premise.

We’re inspired because from the earliest days of our Programme, we have believed that if young people are offered a safe place and are surrounded by people who are not afraid to show them love, they will find their voice and use it to transform not only their own lives but the lives of care experienced young people across the country. This belief has been at the root of all of our efforts to effect transformational change.

We saw this in action during the passage of the Children and Young People Act. Buoyed up by the success they had in influencing this legislation, care experienced young people dared to think big. They decided to go beyond campaigning for incremental changes to the care system. In the ‘Who Cares’ documentary aired by STV in September, five care experienced people showed enormous courage in openly and honestly addressing the challenges they faced growing up in care, and highlighted the importance of loving relationships in giving them hope for a different future. They took this message of love and hope directly to the First Minister and she clearly heard it.

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Love isn’t a word that crops up often in political debate. In Scotland, we’re not always particularly comfortable talking about it in relation to the care system either. Every day, foster carers, residential workers, advocates, teachers, coaches and so many others show their love for young people in the care system in a thousand different ways. They wipe tears, make meals, listen, hug, encourage, motivate and do all those everyday things that can make such a big difference.

But very few of them will talk about love; in fact, going the extra mile for a child or young person is often something which happens under the radar, because professional boundaries can discourage a human response. In other words, sometimes the system forbids love.

We know some of the reasons behind this, but the key message is that life without love is damaging for children and young people. In the fast moving context of 21st century life, where individuals can increasingly feel the troubling weight of global events, love is something we all have the power to call on.

Loving others helps us to love ourselves, and engage with the world on our own terms. Let’s get behind care experienced young people and support their efforts to bring love and hope into the open, and join with them to re-imagine the kind of care that will consistently celebrate, sustain and nourish them wherever they live at whatever stage they’re at in their lives.

 A very happy CEYP programme team

 Carole 2015Catrionapaul

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