Drink and Drugs News DDN March 2019 | Page 10

KEEP ON MOVING: ThE 12Th DDN cONfErENcE Session 2 TALKING IT THROUGH The morning’s second session, ‘The Big Conversation’, focused on the shape of service user involvement and how it should look in the future T he aim of the day’s second session was to take a detailed look at service user involvement – why it’s needed and where it’s going, as well as whether a national service user network could be created that would be representative, relevant to today’s needs, and able to bring renewed purpose and direction. ‘We’re quite a big organisation, we go the length and breadth of the country – we’ve had a certain amount of success but it’s quite challenging,’ said national service user lead for CGL, Mark Pryke. ‘Service users in different parts of the country will meet different challenges because of different local authority policies and so on. One hat does not fit all – you need to see the need and the person, and then start thinking about what you’re going to do.’ Misinterpretation, misinformation, and people not getting the right message could create more problems than ‘you set off with’, he told the conference. His organisation was in the process of having an open dialogue with service user reps, with more than 80 coming to regional events to share their views. ‘We’ve had whole days based around participation and we asked people to be honest about how they felt. We’re getting non-loaded information, and all of that information will influence our future plans. As an organisation we’re not perfect – we’re too big to be perfect – but if we’re working in the right direction, with the right people, at the right time, we can get a lot done.’ There was a ‘massive need’ for services to start connecting, he told the conference. ‘Let’s get a network and take it from there.’ In the early days of Build on Belief (BoB), meetings used to be ‘a riot’, said its CEO Tim Sampey. ‘It was a proper tear-up, but what came out of that was organisations 10 | drinkanddrugsnews | March 2019 like B3 and BoB. So in one respect it was very successful, but in another it was a disaster because it was dogmatic and we couldn’t talk to each other.’ This meant opportunities had been wasted, he stated. ‘I’m so tired of death – I know so many people who’ve died that I can’t remember all their names and faces, and I do think we need a national service user voice. But if we’re going to do this, can we agree to disagree before we start talking? Because we need everybody – abstinence, harm reduction, the LGBT community, the BAME community. If we can’t get everybody on board then it’s a waste of time.’ T he voice of the service user wasn’t just important, it was vital, said director of Dear Albert, Jon Roberts. ‘No matter where we sit on the spectrum, the common thread is that service user involvement is an absolutely vital component of treatment, of recovery, of harm reduction. For many, involvement is recovery and we need to see treatment providers offering more opportunities for that. Recovery, moving on and having a more meaningful life means that person being able to use that organisation as a climbing frame.’ While he’d been somewhat sceptical in the past about a national service user voice, maybe ‘the time is right’, he said. Service users in Wandsworth sat on interview panels and attended strategic meetings, said service user involvement coordinator for Wandsworth Council, Rosy Flexer. However, she did have some concerns that involvement had ‘been hijacked a bit by the recovery agenda. Sometimes service users are meant to feel privileged to attend strategic meetings, rather than feel it’s their right.’ The word ‘consultation’, meanwhile, could often mean ‘telling service users what’s happening then going away and doing it anyway’. ‘In order for us to function well together we need to copy what a lot of gay men living with HIV/Aids did with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP)’ said delegate Andrea Efthimiou-Mordaunt. ‘They had caucuses, so if we had a national user network we could have a BAME caucus, a lesbian and gay caucus, a radical feminist caucus, a trans caucus – whatever it was that people needed.’ Once core issues had been agreed on, ‘we could come back to a general assembly to push things forward’, she said. However, if it was common knowledge that the majority of people dying were those outside services, did that mean service user groups were ‘not truly representing the views of drug users living in communities,’ asked delegate Stephen Molloy. ‘Do service user groups hold services to account? We’re seeing the www.drinkanddrugsnews.com