Leonard Cheshire applied to the Elevate Mentoring and Grants programme as they recognised the opportunity to strengthen and enhance the skills of their NI Community Team. The team has 10 members who work across the region delivering skills development, capacity building and advocacy support for people with disabilities. Traditionally their engagement with people with disabilities in the design and delivery of programmes and projects is minimal and they felt the Elevate programme could help them address this.
Sarah McLaughlin from Mid & East Antrim Agewell Partnership (MEAAP) organisation supported Leonard Chesire through the mentoring process and helped them really think about inequality with people they support living with disabilities. The Elevate programme allowed them to work with an expert organisation, Rejig NI, and undertake a design thinking process which had the goal of changing thinking, skillsets and practice so that the team, and the people they support, understand inequality and how best to take action.
The mentoring aspect of the Elevate programme gave the organisation a great opportunity to learn from other more experienced organisations as well as MEAAP, the mentor. The difference the Elevate mentoring made was enabling them to focus on embedding community development practices into their day-to-day programme delivery, reflecting on current practices.
They benefitted from making connections - one with another organisation that has expertise in learning disability and horticulture which was of particular interest to Leonard Cheshire. Participating on the programme widened their network of connections and allowed them to link with more experienced organisations and discuss partnership opportunities.
The Leonard Chesire team were introduced to the Community Development Reflective Practice Tool at the mentoring session and those who attended shared the learning with the rest of the team at a follow up meeting. Completing the tool over two sessions and the conversation that took place whilst they worked their way through it proved to be ‘lightbulb moment’ for everyone on the team. Prior to completing the assessment, the team felt they were practising community development simply by delivering services in the community.
The process of self-assessment allowed them the space to critically reflect on their practice and they came to realise that their delivery of community services did not equate to community development. They acknowledged the need to make significant changes, specifically in relation to hearing the voices of disabled people and giving them power to guide and direct Leonard Chesire’s support of them.
Despite some difficult conversations, completing the reflective tool was one of the most positive aspects of the Elevate programme for the team. This introduced them to the concept of critical reflection and after some initial defensiveness, they embraced it and saw the value to their practice and, more importantly, the difference it could make to the support they offered to people with disabilities.
In regard to the Community Development & Health Inequalities training, the areas of community development, social determinants and health inequalities were completely new to the Leonard Cheshire Community Team. After the training, the team had a good grounding around inequality, impact of the social determinants of health and the principles of community development. Whilst the team supports people with disabilities who are most likely to experience inequality, before the training they had no concept of how living conditions, poverty, education or family and social connection could have an impact on quality of life and health outcomes.
The Elevate training provided really good quality, evidence-based information on these key concepts, along with practical examples of their application. The training also provided an opportunity for team members to both challenge and be challenged on their working practices. In a follow up meeting after the training, they discussed issues that the team became aware of as a result of participating in the training. These included the detrimental impact of social isolation on the people they support, the effects of having to give up their job because of their disability or suffering abuse because of it.
The Leonard Chesire team are better able to understand the application of these concepts and principles in their everyday practice and are beginning to critically evaluate their work in that context. For example, they identified that their practice was almost entirely service delivery focused, with little to no opportunity for people with disabilities to influence or shape what they do. Their Community Access Project Officer immediately saw opportunities to change that with in their area of work and did so.
“Elevate is a really unique programme. It combines excellent quality training with support from expert organisations and an opportunity to put your learning into practice with the resource provided by the small grant. We would highly recommend it to any team or organisation that wants to better understand how the social determinants of health affect people’s lives and why community development can be a great tool to engage and take collective action! “
Joanne Morgan, Community Engagement Manager (NI), Leonard Chesire