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Please don’t call us ‘difficult to engage’

VOICES hard to reach

By Sharon Sharman, Learning and Evaluation Manager, VOICES

Last year VOICES, along with Expert Citizens C.I.C. were approached by the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Adult Safeguarding Partnership Board (SSASPB) to support with the delivery of learning events planned over several months across Staffordshire.  This was following a case review; professionals were seeking a deeper understanding of why some people experiencing multiple needs had difficulties in engaging / re-engaging with services that could support them through recovery and to live more fulfilled lives. We agreed to participate and have since delivered a series of seven bespoke workshops throughout the region.

Within the workshops we were able to share insight from experiences and findings from evaluations in relation to fair and equal access; attendees could better understand systemic barriers to engagement, motivation and recovery.



Content of workshops included:

  • Barriers and challenges with GP registration (Click here to read ‘Access to Primary Care Services for people with “No Fixed Abode”‘)
  • People experiencing homelessness unable to access Social Care assessments
  • Unable to open bank account for benefit payments
  • Inability to attend support and medical appointments
  • No communication (medical and other)- postal appointments
  • Dual diagnosis – mental health services / drug and alcohol support services
  • Housing issues – past evictions, substance misuse, mental ill health, challenging behaviours, social care needs
  • Lifestyle choice vs systemic barriers


We also discussed the importance of instilling hope through motivational interviewing and asset-based conversation to build trusting and sustainable relationships with customers.  In sharing findings from VOICES evaluations (Click here to read ‘Hard Edges’) we were able to demonstrate that, when we invest time in the person to identify their goals and to understand when they are ready for change, we are able to better support them and they are more likely to sustain engagement. In helping somebody to identify how mapping their interests, skills and assets with opportunities, can create meaning for them that becomes the driver of motivation to change, we are then able to support them to lead a more fulfilled life.

When we began to deliver these workshops, Lee Dale – Community Development Coordinator at VOICES – was a volunteer Educator from Expert Citizens C.I.C.  Lee co-designed and co-delivered all sessions and was key to providing real lived experiences to attendees as he shared his own journey from homelessness to employment and his own tenancy. Delegates were able to ask Lee what worked well for him when accessing services and also what would have been better.  This real lived insight was highly valuable and positively evaluated.

Further lived experience was shared in the workshops in the form of an article written by Joy Hibbins, Founder and Director of Suicide Crisis UK.  Joy writes with reference to her own experiences when accessing support for mental ill-health*. The following extract explains the importance of recognising, as services, that we need to take more responsibility to better engage with customers rather than asking ‘Why Don’t They?


‘Please Don’t Call Us ‘Difficult to Engage’

The phrase makes it sound as though it is a failing or a difficulty within us – an inability that we have to make good use of the service being provided to us. In reality, the likelihood is that the service was not providing what we needed so we didn’t engage. That’s not a criticism of the service, but rather a recognition that we are all individuals with our own unique needs. The same service is highly unlikely to be appropriate for everyone. I wonder why statutory services don’t instead use the phrase:
“We haven’t been able to engage this person.”  This places some responsibility on the service instead of placing all the responsibility on the patient.

*Full article can be found at https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/joy-hibbins/please-dont-call-us-diffi_b_10988746.html

Hibbins, J (2016)


Participants at the most recent event, ‘Let’s work together South Staffordshire’, were presented with a certificate of achievement.

VOICES certificate

Feedback from the sessions was extremely positive – most commonly described as being “Valuable”, “Stimulating”, “Thought-provoking”, “Theoretical”, “Useful”, “Challenging”, “Interesting” and “Inspiring”.


Helens Jones, SSASPB Manager, says,

“Thank you for supporting the SSASPB through this programme of events which has evaluated really well and been attended by over 270 people. The events were held to learn lessons following reviews and also to support our Engagement Strategic Priority”.

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