Putting our service users at the heart of our work

Putting our service users at the heart of our work

When Amelia’s mum fell behind with her rent payments, her family found themselves facing eviction. As the situation became increasing challenging, they sought help from our Shelter Hub in London.

 Shelter helped us get legal advice and assisted with financial support so we could pay off debts. I started thinking, maybe I could turn this nightmare into something positive?

Amelia is now part of our growing movement of service users who use their experience of homelessness as a force for good.  Their input helps us design our services, deliver our campaigns, and raise the funds and awareness we need in our fight to end bad housing and homelessness.

We make sure that the voice of our service users is heard loud and clear. So, when they told us they wanted a forum to unite, as a movement, we started to organise our first ever involvement conference.

‘Celebrating our achievements, planning for our future’ took place on 14 March in Birmingham. We chose this Midlands location to bring together more than 70 people from all parts of the country, from volunteers to those involved in shops, hubs and even prisons. In fact, one of our peer mentors from HMP Thorncross was granted temporary release so that he could join us on the day.

Celebrating our achievements

Our focus on involving service users is certainly something to be celebrated – we have more than 1,000 people involved throughout our organisation, in a whole range of opportunities. Working closely with people with first-hand experience of homelessness means that we can genuinely practise co-production, meaning we develop services together and campaigns that relate to the issues that affect our service users the most.

Service users’ unique insights also mean that they are brilliant peer mentors, and their stories mobilise supporters and decision makers to want to join our fight. In addition, they play a key role engaging with local communities, volunteering in our charity shops or supporting with our regional fundraising efforts.

At the conference, we celebrated the achievements of our volunteers and service users, as our delegates had the opportunity to share what makes them proud to be involved with us. Fittingly, the agenda was planned together with service users, and the day was facilitated by Amelia, now an ambassador for us.

Planning our future

Every day, our service users play a role in how we work, but they also help us shape our wider strategy. As our campaigning team told them at the conference:

 We are nothing if not a sum of people, passionate about achieving change.

We had already spoken to those involved with us about our plans for our next strategy, mostly through local groups. Then, at the event, they continued the conversation with workshops to answer fundamental questions like ‘why do we exist?’ ‘what sort of an organisation do we want to be?’ and ‘what should we do more of?’. These workshops generated some animated discussions about what we mean to people, and attendees also shared their pride at being involved with us on social media.

Off to Birmingham to host #involvedwithShelter I would have never imagined this when I sat in Shelter in 2016, desperate for help. Over a year later, I put on my own event for Shelter, performed at several of their events to now hosting their involvement conference.

Our service users will continue to be involved in the next stages of our strategy planning process, and whatever direction our strategy takes, we know that they will play an essential role.