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Not just for Christmas…

VOICES not just for Christmas
By Dean Spruce, Communication & Media Coordinator, VOICES   The month is January, it’s cold, there’s snow on the ground, the Christmas holidays already seem like a distant memory and people have returned to work and to their regular routines. For some people however, the Christmas period doesn’t promise a welcome break, nor time spent with family or turkey dinners.  For those that find themselves outside, by which I mean sleeping rough, it represents the most difficult of all challenges – staying alive.  There is little time to worry about gifts or any of the other distractions that most of us are more than willing to engage in, when you have nowhere to go, no money and potentially only the clothes on your back to keep you warm.  For these people the Christmas period is most definitely not over.  The weather is getting worse as we head into 2019, the cold snaps temporarily delayed by the unusual lasting warmth of the previous summer have now firmly set in, and the risk to human life is high. Poverty in the UK is on the rise, recent figures published by Crisis revealed levels of rough sleeping – including sleeping on public transport and in tents – had doubled in… Continue Reading

Hanley week of action

VOICES a week of action
By Steve Willis, Service Coordinator, VOICES   During December PC James Howard of Hanley Police led plans to set up a week of action to help the homeless at Christmas. The aim was to provide a location for people experiencing homelessness to access a warm safe space where they could have a hot drink, food and engage with support services. A mobile Police station was set up on a carpark at the top of Lichfield street, just opposite Hanley Bus station.   Representatives of VOICES, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Housing Options, Brighter Futures Rough sleeper team and the Macari Centre frequented the location through the week alongside PC Howard. There were a lot of donations made for the van by the Brighter Futures Rough Sleeper’s Team, Hanley Bus Station, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Stoke Community Drug and Alcohol Service, The Royal Voluntary Service, The Police, Number Eleven and the Macari Centre. These donations included food, clothes, handwarmers, foil blankets and shoe boxes gift wrapped containing useful items. Over 25 people attended through the week (we lost track of the exact number due to times when the van was very busy and literally overflowing). Throughout the week 8 people were accommodated and more were accommodated soon after as a… Continue Reading

Learning Programme Update

VOICES learning programme
By Sharon Sharman, Learning & Evaluation Manager, VOICES The VOICES citywide partnership learning programme continues to engage professionals and services from across Stoke-on-Trent.  In 2018 we achieved delivery of: Working with Expert Citizens C.I.C. we also codesigned and co delivered bespoke workshops with specialist teams:  these included engaging with Consultants, Nursing Teams, Administration and Occupational Therapy Teams within the Accident and Emergency Department at Royal Stoke Hospital and, more recently, the Stoke and Staffordshire Adult Safeguarding Board.   All our learning events offer delegates the opportunity to provide feedback, including ideas for future events.  People who attended last years’ events requested further opportunities to better understand mental ill health and ‘trending drugs’ as well as preventing death by drugs.  We have responded to these requests by commissioning high quality courses that meet these requirements.   New courses can be viewed on the VOICES website at http://www.voicesofstoke.org.uk/learning/   If you have requested your details to be added to our learning contact list, you will receive automatic notifications of new opportunities.  If you are not currently on our list, you can request to be included by contacting me directly at Sharon.sharman@voicesofstoke.org.uk    … Continue Reading

Alcohol use or brain injury?

VOICES case study 6
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of customer   Mark* has a long history of substance misuse, homelessness, mental health and offending. He suffered a cardiac arrest and was in a coma for several months through misusing Mamba. Sadly, the long-term damage from the cardiac arrest was Hypoxic Brain Trauma due to lack of oxygen to the brain. Mark remained in hospital in the Mental Health Unit for rehabilitation due to struggles with his speech and mobility. From here he was discharged to a local hostel as social care deemed him to not have acute housing needs. At this point, Mark still had limited mobility as well as poor mental health in relation to the brain injury.   A local hostel referred Mark to VOICES due to struggling with his care needs and difficulties in managing his behaviour. They had referred him to Social Care but again had not succeeded. When VOICES assessed Mark, it became clear that he had care and support needs and therefore qualified for Social Care input. His Service Coordinator again referred the case to Social Care and with much hesitation, they agreed to come to the hostel to assess.   During the assessment, the Social Worker focused mainly on… Continue Reading

Smiling Depression

VOICES case study 5
Names have been changed to protect identity.   Smiling Depression is a term for someone living with depression on the inside, while appearing perfectly happy or content on the outside. Unfortunately, this was all too true for Dave.   In late 2018 I was met with a beaming smile, strong handshake and a what seemed like a happy go lucky personality. The 1-hour conversation that followed consisted of me trying to gain his trust and then a powerful statement from him, “I need help”. Dave was residing in temporary accommodation and had been for a few months. In this time, he had built up good relationships with other residents and referred to a few of them as good friends and family, it was clear that he was very well thought of. My immediate thought was one of concern, as most of these ‘good friends’ were dealing with their own problems and poor mental health. During my next chat with Dave he managed to open up to me and went on to discuss his real family, plus reasons why he did not see many of them. It became apparent that behind the smile, Dave was struggling quite badly with his mental health and he did not want… Continue Reading

Personal Independence Payment Assessments: Mental Health and ‘Good Reason’

VOICES pip good reason
A common issue arising from our work with VOICES is getting benefits reinstated or a claim re-opened, where a customer has not been able to take part in the face to face assessment process for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).  It can also apply to assessments for Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit limited capability for work/work related activity.   It has been said that the current assessment system inherently discriminates against people with mental health illness.  It is often the very symptoms of the person’s mental health that cause them such levels of distress that either they cannot attend the assessment at all, the assessment is stopped by the assessor or, the person walks out.  In our experience the situation concludes with a case manager at the DWP issuing a negative decision usually along the lines of, “we couldn’t complete the consultation because you didn’t fully take part and we don’t think you’ve given us a good reason for this” or, “your claim to benefit has been disallowed for failing to complete an assessment.”  Such decisions appear to reach the conclusion that non-attendance is due to a conscious choice rather than to any physical or mental health condition preventing their attendance… Continue Reading

Employment Opportunity: Community Development Coordinator

join the team
Job Title: Community Development Coordinator (VOICES) Contract: Permanent post Salary: £19,780.92 Hours: 37 hours per week, Monday – Friday, usually 9am to 5pm, although some flexibility may be required. Closing date: Monday 28th January 2019 Interview date: Wednesday 6th February 2019   This is a unique job opportunity to work as part of a vibrant and supportive team and we are now recruiting for a Community Development Coordinator. This is an excellent opportunity to add to your existing skillset and to be part of a unique programme with a national profile. You will have the opportunity to take part in a comprehensive learning programme and work alongside people with lived experience of multiple needs. You may even have lived experience of multiple needs yourself, if you do your application would be very welcome. For an informal chat about the role please give us a ring on 01782 450 760 and ask to speak to the Head of Service Delivery, Bruno Ornelas.   Downloads: Full job description Application form   If you are shortlisted for interview, you may be required to do a short presentation. Details will then be sent to successful applicants prior to the interview date. These posts are funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund until 2022. Brighter Futures is an… Continue Reading

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

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