Case study: How United Response listened to service users

Case study: How United Response listened to service users

Case study: How United Response listened to service users

Governance | 1 Sep 2007

This is the first in a series, in association with the Governance Hub, in which we recognise and showcase some of the many success stories from the sector. The spotlight falls on Su Sayer (pictured), chief executive and James Churchill, chair of United Response

At United Response, we have long recognised that the only way to succeed in our aims supporting people with learning disabilities or mental health needs to live full and engaged lives is by ensuring that they have a real voice in determining all we do. And this isn't just about informing people's day-to-day support, but looking at what is important to people and how this affects our direction as an organisation at all levels.

What makes this challenging for United Response is that we support some of the most vulnerable people in society, many with very complex needs. Around three-quarters of the services we provide feature people with very limited traditional receptive and expressive communication. Around 40 per cent are unable to communicate verbally. This means that it is even more important that we find a way to communicate with them and ensure they have a genuine say in the organisation.

Developing our skills in how we support people was the key to involving them in the organisation's governance. We started by setting up a specialist inclusion team to work intensively with service users to develop communications profiles for each individual. We found that 47 per cent of the people we support use at least one alternative method of communication whether signs, pictures or online tools. Communicating with them in the way they chose was essential if we were to bring about a significant cultural change throughout the organisation and genuinely to listen.

We also set up UR First consisting of service users and support staff to ensure that a constant dialogue was maintained. Service users told us that they wanted to be involved in choosing staff and now 50 per cent of the people we support are involved in recruitment at all levels, including of trustees. Through the use of simple tools, such as cameras, tape recorders and accessible score sheets, service users are able to ask their own questions and decide for themselves who should be the successful candidate.

Through UR First, self-advocacy groups have sprung up across the country and some now have their own funding and constitution. Externally, people we work with have presented to Barclays PLC and the Better Regulation Taskforce Select Committee, ensuring that those organisations really think about differing communications needs. Most recently, the UR First group made a series of short films based on their real life experiences. Called Can You Hear Us?, the DVD challenges perceptions and encourages people to rethink the way they interact with people with learning disabilities.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. There are still people with particularly complex needs who find it difficult to get their voices heard, and this is something we are actively working to change. And we constantly need to look at how we involve people as their needs, and the organisation's needs, change.

Ultimately, United Response exists to serve the people we support, and the question about how best to ensure their voices are heard will continue to be a key and evolving debate at the heart of the organisation. 

Su Sayer OBE (pictured) is chief executive and James Churchill is chair of United Response


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