How to use your lived experience to help in the planning and delivery of 
health and wellbeing services in Powys

Late last year the Health & Wellbeing team at PAVO launched Shared Power – An Introduction, an animated video, as a training tool for individuals who want to use their experiences of health services to help shape future services. The film delves into the different types of power, and how they interact with each other, when service user and carer representatives attend partnership board meetings in Powys.

The film is also aimed at those working in services so that they can avoid some of the barriers to co-production. Co-production means service users and carers work together with health professionals to design future services that work better for everyone. We received some excellent feedback about the film at the time.

Then, just a few weeks ago, came the perfect opportunity to show the film again – at the latest Shared Power face to face training session at our Ddole Road offices in Llandrindod Wells. Delivered by Owen Griffkin (Mental Health Participation Officer) with support from Sue Newham (Health & Wellbeing Engagement Officer), the training aimed to build the confidence, knowledge and skills of participants. Some of those attending were already volunteering as citizen or individual reps, and the training aimed to help them participate effectively in the planning and reviewing of services with public bodies.

Citizen reps volunteer their time, energy and passion to make a difference for others and to the services we receive, and are helping influence change at local, regional and national levels. Some of the participants are citizen reps on the Powys Mental Health Planning & Development Board and the Talk to Me 2 (Suicide & Self-Harm Prevention Forum), whilst others regularly sit on the Powys Regional Partnership Board.

Learning opportunities on the day included:
How to influence positive changes in health and wellbeing services in Powys.

Understanding the theories underpinning service user and carer involvement in planning services.

Gaining practical experience of how partnership boards work with service users and carers in meetings.

Recognising barriers to participation and how to overcome them.

Finding out about current opportunities and how to apply for them.

The opportunity to learn from current service user and carer representatives who sit on Health and Wellbeing Boards about their experiences.

Learning assertiveness techniques and how to prepare for meetings.

How to share personal experiences and avoid ‘trigger points’.

Here are some highlights from the day’s training.

Co-production demystified 

As a citizen rep, you are an equal partner with other professionals in the room. You are an expert by experience. But how do you gain the experience of other people and take their stories to a partnership board?

Owen updated the group about the work of the current mental health representatives, who regularly go out into the community at Meet the Rep events to listen to people’s voices about mental health services.

One of our experienced reps, John, spoke about how important it is to find out what is happening in the rest of Wales and about being aware of current mental health legislation. “Preparation is key! Ask yourself what are some of the key messages you want people to hear.”

John also described some of the resources available to people who want to engage in a co-productive way. The Co-production Network for Wales is a good starting point for finding out more.

And volunteering as a rep is a two-way street! We regularly hear that taking on the role “does improve confidence and help with personal recovery.”

Meetings – with remarkable people

Even introducing yourself at a meeting can be hard when in a room full of strangers, especially when most of them are there in a professional capacity. “A few years ago asking who I am would have been a really distressing question as I thought I was a nobody!”

Participants were introduced to Imposter Syndrome – it might feel daunting to be at a partnership board meeting, but as a rep you probably deserve to be there more than anyone else. “You are the most valuable person here,” someone was told at one meeting.

Everyone in the room is equal. Those working as heads of service for the NHS, or other statutory bodies, may be constrained in their work roles as to exactly what changes they can bring about and when – but they are people too. They may have a mother with dementia, a nephew who needs care, a friend struggling to access services…

As someone pointed out, “Town councils, health boards and councils are slow moving, which can be discouraging, but once they get going in the right direction they are hard to stop!”

Assertiveness is key – and learning the difference between being passive, aggressive and assertive an important skill. As a rep you need to think about being:
Proactive about what you want to say.

Confident and engaged.

Self aware and aware of others.

Sure your needs are met and that you are heard.

Hotspots, triggers & flashpoints

Participants spoke about their own triggers. These included being talked over, being told that there was not enough money, “mansplaining” and not being listened to.

One said, “I used to get in a tizz when people didn’t listen and I would storm out crying, but nothing good came from that!”

“You need a strong assertive Chair so that the meeting does not go off track and any problems can be shut down.”

“There will always be quiet people – it’s about managing a meeting to let all voices be heard.”

Dealing with difficult conversations

There was some very interesting group debate amongst the participants about what to do around some specific tricky scenarios which Owen had set up.

“Health staff are there for you. It’s about having the confidence and assertiveness to say, ‘I respect your views but I don’t agree with them.’”

“Ground rules are important to set the tone for the meeting.”

If there is a lack of respect someone suggested saying: “I have respect for your professionalism, so please have respect for my lived experience.”

The mock meeting

To round off the training session, Sue chaired a mock meeting designed to put into practice all the learning from earlier in the day. It turned out to be an extremely interesting and valuable exercise.

All those attending agreed that they had benefitted hugely from Shared Power training, both from the learning and also the opportunity to network with others with a similar role.

And finally…

Would you be interested in joining these citizen reps to take grass-root views and opinions to local board meetings where service providers can find out what is working and what needs to change? For further information about becoming a citizen rep, in the field of mental health or health and social care, just get in touch with us by emailing or ringing 01597 822191.

The next Shared Power training session will take place on 13 September 2023. 
Do get in touch with Owen if you would like to sign up.

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