Giving a voice to people with lived experience of complex needs

Published: by Guest blog

A woman in a striped shirt sitting at a table in front of a laptop, smiling

Roxy, Shelter’s Service User Involvement and Co-Production lead for the Lancashire area, on the challenges of starting in her role during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and what she enjoys most about her job.

My job as Service User Involvement and Co-Production lead for the Lancashire Through The Gate Resettlement Service – which offers support with housing, finance, benefits and debt, both in custody and in the community – is to get people who have used our services to have a say in how we do things.

I started work in April this year, a week or two into the COVID-19 lockdown, so you can imagine how strange this was – going to work at a desk at home! My line manager and I went into the office on my first day (socially distancing, wiping down everything we touched and constantly washing hand – even making each other a coffee took some thinking about). I collected the equipment I needed. Since then I’ve only ‘met’ with my manager and the rest of my colleagues via video links and phone calls, so it has been a very different experience.

I have set up a weekly group meeting with people who have used the service, and we catch up online every week to talk about the services they received and what they think would work better, as they are the ones who know what people want and need from us. For example, a past service user who is part of our weekly meetings used his experience in printing to co-produce a starter pack. When you move into a property, Shelter sends out a ‘starter pack’ which has lots of useful information to help clients settle into their accommodation, such as on how to contact services to fit a fire alarm. The service user helped with developing leaflets and also helped shorten the copy as feedback was that it was too long.

I pass their ideas and suggestions on to management to help them make decisions for the future. When the ideas have been discussed, the team lets the Service User Involvement group know what actions have been taken, and if any changes to the service have been made. They also let them know if something hasn’t been taken on board and give reasons why.

This work is so important as it will benefit future service users, and also I want to support those who work with us to improve their skills and chances in life. I will be encouraging these service users and other people with lived experience of homelessness and offending behaviour to become involved with Shelter in staff recruitment and making decisions. I will also encourage them to think about the different volunteering opportunities which Shelter offers, which can be a great way of people learning new skills and knowledge and something great to put on their CV.

Another interesting part of my role is ringing clients who have recently had support from the team to get feedback and ask about the service they have received. I speak to people who often have chaotic lifestyles and have real problems in their lives, and, in general, it is lovely because many say how great the Shelter staff have been and how they have really helped them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen more engagement from some service users. We think this may be due to having more phone calls with clients, which enables more trust and relationships to be built. Clients may also feel more comfortable being open whilst talking on the phone rather than face to face in a probation office. 

I am enjoying my job, learning loads (especially in IT and remote working), building a better CV and helping others to do the same – what more can I ask for? 

Find out more about Shelter’s approach to co-production, or how we marked Recovery Month with a series of walks.