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Stoke-on-Trent Community of Practice: A Journey of Prison Release

VOICES communities of practice
By Sharon Sharman, Learning and Evaluation Manager, VOICES   On 8th July 2020 @SoTCoP held the first online discussion of a series of sessions looking at the theme of Prison Release.  Anna Mather, Service Coordinator from VOICES, delivered a presentation to the community based on a customer’s real lived experience of his prison release plan.  Participants of the CoP were drawn from voluntary and statutory sector organisations involved in coordinating prison release.  The presentation:   demonstrated that, through using public transport routes it was not possible for the customer to have attended any of the organised appointments – the customer was of no fixed abode; two of the appointments were to discuss housing options. included the cost and timings of the journey if the individual had used taxi service(s) – costs are so high this would be a very unlikely option. showed that, being collected and supported by a VOICES Service Coordinator it was possible for the individual to have attended four of the six organised appointments.     Discussion followed; it was felt by the community that, if the person left prison with this plan with no Service Coordinator or other support, and was expected to access public transport, the plan would ‘set them up… Continue Reading

PIP & Work Capability Assessment: Good practice, guidance and templates

VOICES pip forms
By Lisa Kearns, Welfare Benefits Caseworker – Leading and Learning, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent   Whilst working with a Service Coordinator to support a customer with their claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), we realised that the main bulk of evidence for many customers, comes from the experiences and knowledge of the Service Coordinator alone.  This could be because the customer has been struggling to access support from the NHS or Social Care for example.   As the Service Coordinator spends a significant amount of time with the customer they will often be the person best able to identify the help and support needed and provide an accurate representation of this. Initially we asked the Service Coordinator to prepare a supporting letter explaining the customer’s needs whilst relating them to the relevant descriptors which are addressed at the face to face assessment for PIP.  The Service Coordinator felt unable to do this without a template or examples. We provided an old copy of a template used by Citizens Advice.  However it was written in a very technical style and the Service Coordinator struggled to understand the jargon used and to then apply it to someone with multiple and complex needs. We recognised that a… Continue Reading

‘Positive Partnership Practice in a Pandemic’

VOICES positive partnership
By John Ryan, WBLL Adviser – VOICES, SNSCAB   Introduction Working in partnership with the local Drug and Alcohol service WBLL (welfare benefits leading and learning) assists the service to provide benefits support to service users through upskilling the recovery workers and building confidence in dealing with benefits issues that were previously addressed by external agencies. WBLL provide in-situ training sessions as part of the agencies continuous personal development program (CPD) and The WBLL advisor is chosen for having experience in the recovery environment as well as knowledge and access to specialist benefits expertise as a CAB advisor. Working remotely WBLL project operates from multiple venues and was set up with remote access to virtual desktops via project owned laptops with reliable connectivity and internet capable mobile phones, as a result of the current Covid-19 restrictions on face to face contact the transition to remote working has been an extension of existing procedures.   What’s working well/challenges overcome Prior to Covid-19 lockdown, Recovery co-ordinator Peter had already formed a working relationship with WBLL and when Sarah told him she had ‘some benefit forms’ he could see how she might be helped. Due to the lockdown and unable to schedule a face to face meeting he consulted WBLL by… Continue Reading

Listening and Learning in Lockdown: a learning and evaluation update from VOICES

VOICES learning and evaluation
By Sharon Sharman, Learning and Evaluation Manager, VOICES   Since 2015 the VOICES citywide learning programme has provided a huge number of regular learning opportunities that are FREE to access for services across Stoke-on-Trent who are working to support people experiencing multiple needs.   An external evaluator has recently conducted an evaluation of the learning programme which is soon to be published; this will be distributed to contacts and be available through the VOICES website.  Within this independent report there is a focus on learning activities throughout 2019.  We were blown away to realise that, during this period, we had delivered to more than 2000 attendees from more than 30 organisations.     As part of the evaluation a range of services were contacted by the evaluator to participate in telephone interviews that have contributed to the findings;  we would like to say thanks to those involved as well as to all the individuals who have engaged with opportunities since the start of our project who provide feedback at each event.  Your views are crucial to the development of the learning programme and we aim to include ideas for events based on needs identified from across the city. The impact of Covid 19 resulted in the learning… Continue Reading

Hypothetical Question… What would you do?

VOICES hypothetical question
By Elena Casilli, Service Coordinator, VOICES   Anyone who works with customers who are in prison thinks about prison release day with trepidation … have they got an address to go to? hoping their customer isn’t released on a Friday, do they have a bank account? a mobile phone? are they still registered with a GP?… more questions than answers but some of these issues are resolved prior to release…well the easier ones are.  It goes without saying the amount of phone calls, emails, referrals, and prison visits prior to release to make sure all that could be done, has been done. On the day of prison release, we all know its going to be a long day with back to back mandatory and non-mandatory appointments. How does a person prioritise their needs over mandatory appointments that could have their license recalled and returned to prison? With my time at VOICES I have supported many customers on their day of release.  Some more successful than others but I always think the same thing, how can they attend all their appointments without my support?  By that I mean chauffeuring them from one appointment to the next which may include:   Meet with their Probation Officer and… Continue Reading

Unprecedented Times: COVID-19 blog

VOICES unprecedented times
By Geoff Davies, Specialist Housing Advisor, Stoke North and Staffordshire Citizens Advice Bureau   Like most people during lockdown, I’ve had my ups and downs.  In February 2020 BL (Before Lockdown) I had just celebrated my 50th birthday with family and friends and was looking forward to a Summer of sport and holidays in Croatia and possibly the US.  But, to quote Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley”. I love a routine and to keep busy, I love having a sense of purpose.  I love my independence and having things to look forward to. I love being around people, and lockdown has robbed me of much of this. For the week or so it was ok, it was a novelty.  I weeded the garden, cleaned my cupboards and de-cluttered.  But I hate gardening and detest cleaning and so as the days stretched into weeks the novelty soon wore off. After a couple of weeks however, I began to struggle.  I was in limbo because, although I had not been furloughed, there was only a trickle of work coming through.  Rationally, I understood and agreed with the lockdown, but emotionally my inner child was rebelling against the restrictions.  In… Continue Reading

Homeless Health Outreach: COVID-19 blog

VOICES homeless health
Advanced Nurse Practitioner Jane Morton gives us her thoughts and experiences of continuing to provide crucial healthcare to the most vulnerable during the Coronavirus pandemic. Expert Citizens Life Stories · Advanded Nurse Practitioner – Jane Morton: COVID-19 blog… Continue Reading

Universal Credit: Stopping the ‘Stop Notice’

VOICES stopping the stop
By John Ryan, Welfare Benefits Case Worker, Stoke North and Staffordshire   A feature of Universal Credit claims is the ‘Stop Notice’, this is a DWP computer generated response to the submission of a UC claim and it stops all existing legacy benefits currently in pay (1), initially there’s no human intervention or verification of an individual’s true identity and only basic conditions need to be met (2), at this point the fabled 5 week wait for payment begins….and if it’s actually a genuine claim off you go to your verification interview. But what if you are the victim of fraud? What if someone makes a claim using your details without your knowledge? As the stop notice is an internal process  the claimant will be unaware of this notice until an expected payment (for e.g. ESA) fails to hit their bank account or the local housing office inform them of rent arrears due to no Housing Benefit paid to cover the rent. Universal Credit is known as a ‘lobster pot’ – once in there is no way out, claimants have been faced with making a legitimate claim for UC in these circumstances, having been told there is no way back to their previous situation,… Continue Reading

Multiple Exclusion Homelessness – A Safeguarding Toolkit for Practitioners

VOICES prototype toolkit
Working in collaboration with Keele University, Kings College London and CASCAIDr the VOICES team have recently produced a Safeguarding Toolkit for adults experiencing homelessness and exclusion – It can be used as an aid to fact finding by any practitioner working across homelessness or with adults experiencing other deep forms of exclusion where they have care and support need and are at risk.   The toolkit is not the final version yet, however we’re releasing it as a working prototype for testing.   The Safeguarding toolkit can be viewed and downloaded here. Please feel free to download, print and use the document subject to the disclaimer. All we ask in return is that you send us some constructive feedback to assist us in the final stages of development. Currently, the document is for use as a hard copy annotated by hand. However, our intention is that the final version will be completed by electronic means or on-line.   You can send us your feedback via email to: enquiries@voicesofstoke.org.uk   We are grateful to the many contributors that have already helped us to shape this prototype. Edits have been made as a result of previous feedback but we have not necessarily implemented all the suggestions due to current space or… Continue Reading

COVID-19 – ‘Meaningful use of time’ during lockdown

VOICES meaningful use of time
By Elena Casilli, Service Coordinator, VOICES   As a service coordinator we don’t just focus on “coordinating services”, however this is the bulk of what our role entails. There is however, another aspect of our role, which I think is the best part. The importance it plays in people’s lives is acknowledging that people are not defined by their multiple and complex needs.  My colleagues will be shouting “I know what she’s on about” because I’m always talking about it… Meaningful use of time (MUT).   For me MUT is the whole kit and caboodle and I truly believe that it is powerful in shifting a person’s self-opinion and the opinion of others.  It is a small  part of what makes us us… people with quirks, different interests, likes and dislikes, hobbies, what we consider to be leisure could  be another person’s idea of hell, but  everyone has something they love to do or would like to give a go.  The key is to keep on going, exploring and trying things out until something is found, something that clicks for that person and then you see a different side to someone. Currently with the cloud of Covid 19 over our community, how do we support customers… Continue Reading

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