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Valuing lived experience and busting the lifestyle choice myth

VOICES lifestyle choices
Photo: Andy Meakin congratulating Jason Smith on his speech and poetry performance By Andy Meakin, VOICES Director This year’s national Insight Conference and Awards from Expert Citizens was spectacular.  From the moment our friend Bishop Geoff Annas opened proceedings, the event delivered one powerful message after another about lived experience as a vehicle for systems change. Jason Smith told his story of reflection and redemption from a prison cell.  Unable to free his body, Jason decided to free his mind.  The walls and bars could not confine his search for wisdom which began in the pages of comic books, then travelled through reading philosophy, and ultimately to self-expression through writing and performing poetry.  His journey of learning and growth is a humbling testimony.  People can and do change when the tools and services are accessible. Rideout, B-Arts, and Expert Citizens delivered a thought-provoking forum theatre based on real stories and experiences.  This demonstrated the barriers that people too often experience to both accessing services and to moving on from homelessness in to accommodation then employment. It would be difficult to overstate the powerful story told by Sammy Woodhouse of her experiences as a survivor of the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham.  Sammy chronicled in… Continue Reading

Welfare Benefits – Hints and Tips: Help to Save Account

VOICES help to save account
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Welfare Advisor, SNSCAB & Sharon Sharman, Learning and Evaluation Manager, VOICES   Help to Save is a new savings scheme for people on low incomes who are claiming certain benefits. Help to Save gives you a bonus payment from the government of up to 50% (half) on savings paid into the account.   How it works Help to Save is a type of savings account. It allows certain people entitled to Working Tax Credit or receiving Universal Credit to get a bonus of 50p for every £1 they save over 4 years. You get bonuses at the end of the second and fourth years. They’re based on how much you’ve saved. You can save up to £50 each calendar month. Help to Save is backed by the government so all savings in the scheme are secure.   What You Need to Apply Government Gateway User ID and password Details of your UK bank account.   Eligibility:  You can open a Help to Save Account if you are: entitled to Working Tax Credit and receiving Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit payments claiming Universal Credit and your household income in your last monthly assessment period was £542.88* or more living in the UK:  if… Continue Reading

Supervision: More questions than answers?

VOICES reflective pratice
Steve Freeman, Solution Focused Practitioner. www.stevefreeman.org.uk This article is late to press. It’s very, very late. I could claim that this is due to pressure of work, putting family first and any number of other reasons. The truth, however, is that the topic is overwhelming. This is the latest of several attempts that I’ve made at writing about supervision. And even now as the article is ready to submit I haven’t entirely succeeded. I’m the first to recognise that I should know better. I’ve been using, providing and researching supervision for decades. And yet…..when it comes to summarising the available information I’ve been stumped. For this reason I’ve decided to give a personal overview of the topic based on my reflective practice portfolio. This is produced as part of my nursing registration process. The contains a few references and other anchor points and observations of what works well. These are based on observation and feedback from both people that I’ve supervised and colleagues who work as supervisors. It’s worth considering what ‘supervision’ means. It isn’t ‘clinical supervision’ as described in much of the health related literature and yet it has common factors with it. Definitions of supervision vary greatly. For many practitioners supervision is… Continue Reading

A visit to Wrexham NPS taskforce and community hub

VOICES NPS taskforce
By Steve Willis, Service Co-ordinator, VOICES   Stoke-on-Trent Police recently organised a visit to Wrexham where they have set up a taskforce to address the difficulties faced by the rise in use of Novel Psychoactive Substances. I attended this on behalf of VOICES to find out more about what has been done, it’s effectiveness and what could be learned to help problems with NPS that Stoke-on-Trent is currently experiencing.   18 months ago Wrexham was gaining infamy amongst the national and international press for their ‘Spice’ problem which seemed concentrated in their town centre, most notably around the bus station. Initially the Police had tried to combat the issue by using Public Space Protection Orders resulting in fines for individuals going against the requirements of the order. They found this route to be ineffectual; most individuals did not have the money to pay the fines and instead it served to put them into deeper debt than they already were. Ultimately it had no effect on the behaviour of individuals involved and no clear results for businesses suffering the ill effects of anti-social behaviour. The Police were finding that most of their time was being taken up with this and repeatedly with the same small… Continue Reading

The benefits of checking benefits

VOICES benefits of checking benefits
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Benefits Advisor, Citizens Advice Over the last four years VOICES and Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent have worked in partnership to provide in house specialist benefits advice for our customers. Working this way provides VOICES customers with the expert advice and support that they need, when they need it, ensuring claims are up, running and correct and any queries or appeals are dealt with promptly.   Karen Dunn, specialist benefits advisor of the Citizens Advice Bureau, explains why ‘getting it right’ the first time and checking/maintaining claims is so important, as well as the interconnected nature of access to finances and other potential support needs.   The advantages of resolving welfare benefits issues for customers experiencing multiple complex needs is widely recognised however, when support workers are few on the ground understandably the focus can be on the more visible needs of the customer.  Add to this the complex system of welfare benefits (Universal Credit has not simplified things at all) and, new entitlements are missed, existing awards are not maintained, and claims are terminated or sanctioned.   For example, a customer moves into supported accommodation, they are asked if they are receiving any benefits, and quite rightly, a claim… Continue Reading

Trapped in unemployment

VOICES trapped in unemployment
By Steve Barkess, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES   Throughout the UK there are many people who reside in supported housing and may also receive a support element to this to assist their transition to live an independent and fulfilling life.  For many, this will mean finding employment, either full or part time, depending on their circumstances.  Many housing providers and associations provide intensive support to their customers to help them to develop these new skills; and over the years there have been many work-based programme’s which aim to support people back into education, training and/or employment.   For much of my career I have worked alongside projects of this kind, which are usually aimed at some of the most vulnerable people within our community, many of whom live in supported housing. So, what is supported housing?  The basis of any housing support service is to provide support to people with a variety of needs.  Within my own experiences this has focused on multiple and complex needs such as homelessness, addiction, mental ill health and those within the criminal justice system.  Not only will support be provided to access appropriate services, but often resettlement or supported housing services will work towards training and employment, which is… Continue Reading

HMP Dovegate NPS Learning

VOICES NPS dovegate
NPS is a major concern in our prison.  The Substance Misuse team at Dovegate took action and organised a learning opportunity for prisoners to attend aimed at raising awareness of the issue.  The team invited Voices and Expert Citizens C.I.C.  to contribute to the event held in June this year.   Over 50 individuals attended and listened to Expert Citizen, Lee Dale about his experiences with NPS and how you can overcome it.  Lee also shared his experiences of being a Peer Mentor, supporting people experiencing multiple needs.  Sharon Sharman, Learning and Evaluation Manager at VOICES gave a presentation to the attendees about the impact of NPS in the community.   By Expert Citizens C.I.C. and VOICES attending the event it has promoted the work that they do and has given prisoners an insight into the support available on release to the Stoke-on-Trent area.  One prisoner is particularly keen to volunteer when he is released with a longer-term goal of becoming a Peer Mentor.  Individuals who gave feedback stated that they “found the speeches and presentation really beneficial”.   We hope VOICES and Expert Citizens C.I.C.  are back soon at HMP Dovegate.   Alison Barnes Health Promotions Practitioner Care UK HMP Dovegate… Continue Reading

Transgender – Who Cares?

VOICES trans who
By Steve Barkess, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES   Following my article focusing on Transgender and Poverty myself and a member of the expert citizens CIC were invited to attend an event hosted in partnership with Healthwatch Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire University focusing on the issues faced by people who identify as transgender. The aim of the event is to create a platform of awareness raising and give people a better understanding of the needs of transgender people of all ages. The latest figures from the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) revealed that 969 under-18s in the UK have been referred from April to December 2015, including nearly 200 aged 12 or under. This compares to just 94 in 2009-2010. (Source, ‘The Independent’ February 10th 2016). The event brought variety of professionals NHS, CCG and Local Authority and individuals with lived experience or knowledge of issues that transgender people faced daily. Various subjects were covered throughout the day and there was a packed agenda of people speaking and sharing examples of steps being taken to improve access to support transgender people. To my surprise I was first on the agenda to speak and felt quite nervous about this as this is something that I… Continue Reading

Appealing a benefit decision? You need to read this…

VOICES benefit advice
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Benefits Advisor, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke   Following a recent discussion around a case involving benefit entitlement it became apparent there was some learning to be shared regarding claiming the correct benefit when a previous ESA claim has stopped. Karen Dunn, specialist benefits advisor from the CAB tells us: Getting income related Employment & Support Allowance (a legacy benefit) or Universal Credit while challenging a limited capability for work decision   If the person we are supporting has had their income related ESA claim stopped because of a ‘limited capability for work’ decision, it is often the case that we rush to help them make a new claim for ESA when this is not the best course of action. It can sometimes leave the customer with no money at all.   As part of the Welfare Reform programme, regulations concerning making a new claim for income related ESA when someone has failed the work capability assessment; failed to return the ESA50; or failed to attend/take part in the work capability assessment, came into force affecting all repeat claims made on or after 30/03/2015. Payment can now only be made in very specific circumstances.   Income Related Employment & Support Allowance repeat claim on… Continue Reading

Approaches to well-being

VOICES Helen session
By Helen Dos Santos NLPMP, Wellbeing & Resilience Life Coach   Staff at VOICES are people that are passionate about their work and care about the people they work with, but equally staff teams need to look after their own well-being. Being able to ‘switch off’ and ‘wind down’ can be difficult. Since the beginning of the project VOICES have been working alongside qualified professionals that deliver clinical supervision to the team. Helen Dos Santos provides alternative approaches to staff well-being, such as Hypnotherapy, Time Line Therapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming. Helen writes about her about her approaches and the recent sessions with the team: The staff at Voices of Stoke have amazing staff, achieving great results for their services users, but all too often working under very challenging and demanding circumstances.  This can have an impact on the general well-being of the staff, start to impact on their positive outlooks and has the potential to lower their energy levels. It’s essential to ensure a good all-round balance is achieved, and investing in mental wellbeing is just as important as looking after ourselves physically.  Taking time out to talk through issues, or practice some mindfulness and enjoy some quiet “me” time to still your thoughts is no luxury.… Continue Reading

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