Thames Reach
Monday 20 November 2017
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Creating champions

Identify converts and allies in the staff group to ‘champion’ the initiative. Do this early on to help build momentum.

Staff who were keen on the concept of service user employment were identified during focus groups and interviews. A keen minority of staff had an experience of working in projects where the involvement of service users as staff or volunteers was integral to the service (e.g. substance misuse sector).

There were also staff with little or no previous experience of working alongside service users but who believed in their service users’ potential and couldn’t understand why, as an organisation, we had waited so long to take this step.

I am familiar with the concept of employing former service users, as I did this at the Street Drinkers project I managed in Sheffield where we also had service user volunteers. I was personally very pleased when I heard about GROW because I had seen first hand the positive impact it had on both service provision and service users, so I was a fan from the start.

Keen to help pilot GROW, we agreed to be a placement team for the first ever intake of trainees. We prepared the team through open debate about their concerns and fears, dispelling myths and feeding back to the GROW manager. There was also recognition that the team would provide a good environment for a trainee to learn as they were professional and collectively had an abundance of skills and knowledge to share.

Having a very open forum where staff could speak out and challenge each others’ perceptions was very fruitful. It helped more anxious team members to feel reassured, and it changed individual views.

After the first intake of trainees, word spread and other people were convinced of GROW, as their peers were able to promote its benefits and had real experience of working with trainees who were former service users. Much has been learnt along the way and changes have made the programme more effective for all concerned.

Cultural change in an organisation is never an easy task and it’s brilliant to see that the traineeships have gone mainstream – well done everyone for taking up the challenge and making it happen! 

Vicky Mansell, Learning and Employment Service Manager

Finally, our first staff survey revealed that 6% of our current staff complement had a history of homelessness. As GROW developed, some of these staff disclosed their history and joined the cause.

Speaking as an ex-service user, I have taken a keen interest in the progress of the GROW programme. In particular, in my role as a team manager, I have observed the  changing culture within the staff on the arrival of a GROW trainee, the challenge of  recruitment and the importance of self-reflection as individuals and as a team.

One of the more surprising outcomes for me was the increased willingness to disclose my own experience as an ex-service user, and the confidence in doing so must have come in part from the whole-hearted support and success of the GROW programme from all levels within Thames Reach.

 Ed Doherty, Team Manager