We had a sell out event with 90 delegates in total including 40 new people from across the county and beyond. The event was opened by Danny Taggart representing the SHSC and Becki Meakin, co-director of Shaping Our Lives a disabled peoples organization who co-produced the event with the university. This was followed by an opening talk by Professor of Citizen Participation Peter Beresford who threw down the gauntlet to the university in working to make citizen participation meaningful and transformative rather than tokenistic and ameliorative.
After lunch the focus shifted to our current volunteers , service users and carers from the Service User Reference Groups at Colchester and Southend. The session started with a fantastically creative and affecting set of short films produced by a number of local people on living with life changing health conditions. Facilitated by Mary Kennedy and colleagues from the media dept at the university, the films were clips of longer pieces that are designed to be shown to health and social care students in order to help bring to life what it is like to live with dementia, mental health problems and the legacy of child abuse.
We had an emotive and inspiring talk from Robert Pipkin on the importance of involvement in nursing interviews before hearing about the Colchester SURG from co-chair Ray Goodey. Shurleea Harding spoke passionately about how volunteering helped her recover a more meaningful life after long term institutionalization and challenged the use of language by academics when describing our volunteer colleagues. Harry Few gave us some insights into how Southend SURG has been working to improve education before Ken Ellard offered some amusing and thought provoking reflections on how important volunteering and involvement work has been for him. The session ended with a moving and honest talk from Sue McClellan who talked about learning to become a carer for her partner David who was also present.
After a much needed tea break the delegates came back for a final session which allowed them to speak to current volunteers and academic staff about the range of involvement activities available in the school. Tables were allocated to involvement in teaching, curriculum development, research, sharing your experience and general involvement in the SURG committees at both campuses. Whatever our colleagues said must have worked as almost all new delegates signed up to be involved in the future making it a highly successful recruitment drive and reinvigorating the range of people being involved across the school.
The event closed with plans for an induction event for new volunteers in early 2019 and an expression of appreciation on behalf of the school for organizing such a well thought out and accessible event. Recognition was given to Becki Meakin’s recent achievement in making the BBC Top 100 global women list for her work in helping domestic violence shelters adapt to the needs of disabled women. The event was closed fittingly and poignantly with a poem from a new volunteer Suzie which focused on the transformational impact sharing our stories can have on our lives and the lives of the people who are privileged to hear them.
Plans are already afoot for a regular Involvement Matters newsletter detailing ongoing involvement work across the school and a 2019 event in Southend. Watch this space!