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Celebrating Excellence in Citizenship
Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards

Ben Whelan, from Warwickshire Co-Production Service, won the Citizenship Award in the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards 2018.

Warwickshire Co-Production Service works to ensure participation, involvement and co-production in the planning, design, commissioning, delivery, review and evaluation of mental health services across Warwickshire. We advocate on behalf of the service users, and our role is to empower them by giving them a platform and a voice.

Our service is distinct from other service provision in Warwickshire. The feedback, comments and case studies we collect are used to influence improvements in services and identify any gaps. We’re linked with public health commissioners, local authorities and third sector organisations, so we’re very involved with mental health services across the area.

How we work

The service also enables those using mental health services to gain skills and confidence to help them on their recovery journey and to progress in their lives. We also offer a lot of volunteering opportunities. Most of what we do is focused around mental health, and we use people’s experiences – good and bad – to identify any issues within services and contribute to achieving improved mental health services locally.

For example, when organisations are recruiting social workers, psychiatrists or anyone who works in mental health, they always ask for someone who uses the service to sit on the interview panel. We train our volunteers to be part of the panel so they can contribute more to the recruitment process and give a different perspective, as someone who receives care rather than someone who delivers it.

It’s not just interview panels – our volunteers also take part in tenders, where they are able to influence decisions regarding procurement processes that involve mental health. What we do as a service is give people training in public speaking, taking part in interviews, the whole tender process and much more. An added advantage of the training we deliver is that we’re equipping people with skills they can use for employment. Standing up in front of panels of commissioners and healthcare providers requires a lot of confidence and conviction in what you’re saying. This is an incredibly valuable skill, both in terms of employability and going through the interview process for employed positions.

Challenging expectations

The service is open to adults who are aged 18 and over, have mental health issues and live in Warwickshire or are registered with a Warwickshire GP. We have an open-door policy with regard to referrals – people can self-refer, friends and family can refer, or any health professional can do so. We’re linked with most of the mental health services in Warwickshire, partly for referral purposes but also so we can be sure that we’re having an input into how they operate via our volunteers. We currently have 12 volunteers in our team, and support and opportunities given to our volunteers is based around the individual and what will benefit them.

Because we’re a mental health service, when people first come to us they usually don’t know what to expect. They’re often very quiet and shy and don’t want to speak – it can be really daunting to voice your opinions around professionals, so we support them by helping to build confidence.

We also work with providers and professionals to make sure that they take the people who are using services into account and are sensitive to their background and experiences. Everyone has to be on the same page for it to work. But after a while we get to the point that some people really come out of their shells and become so confident in the whole process that they don’t need our support, which is a joy to see.

Changing lives

Ben Whelan is one of those people. He had a difficult journey with being female to male transgender and didn’t feel accepted. But since he’s been volunteering for us, his confidence has really grown, to the extent that he’s now secured a paid, customer-facing role in an Asda café. This is such a huge achievement for Ben. It’s four years since he last had paid employment and he’s worked so hard to get to this point. We’re all incredibly proud of him.

We’ve seen such a massive growth in his confidence – he used to be really nervous when he came to meetings, but now he’s really comfortable standing up and speaking in front of professionals and commissioners. Working in a customer-facing role shows just how far he’s come, and we’re all delighted.

It’s a part-time role, so Ben will continue to volunteer for us, which we’re really pleased about! As well as volunteering himself, Ben recruits volunteers on behalf of Making Space. This is great for us as he’s such a shining example of what can be achieved – he’s a great ambassador. He’s touched so many lives, changed so many opinions and opened a lot of people’s eyes – people who were blind to how badly stigma can affect a person. Sharing his story and being so visible about how much he’s developed has, I believe, helped a great deal of people.

When Ben came to us, he really doubted himself and had no confidence in his own potential. The training he had and the support from staff really helped him to believe in himself and realise that he could make a massive difference to people’s lives.

The confidence boost he’s had from the feedback he gets during his public speaking has been a joy to see. He receives so many compliments, everyone has something positive to say about his contributions, and he can really see the difference he’s making. This award was evidence of just how far he’s come.

And it hasn’t just given Ben confidence, it’s incredibly encouraging for the rest of the group. Sometimes it’s difficult for the people using our service and our volunteers to visualise the impact their feedback has. To see one of their peers win an award for the work they’re doing is validation – what they’re doing really is making a difference.

Elizabeth Pfute is Team Leader at Warwickshire Co-Production Service, run by Making Space. Email: Twitter: @MakingSpaceUK

The Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards is run specifically for the voluntary care and support sector. Nominations are now open. Enter today at Sponsorship opportunities are also available.

With thanks to our supporters: National Care Forum, Learning Disability England, The Care Provider Alliance, Association of Mental Health Providers and VODG.

The Citizenship Award was sponsored by Care Choices.

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