"Client Involvement is about enabling clients to have a real influence on shaping the service they are receiving"

Co-Production and Student Union Officer

Most people want to give back because Southdown has made a difference to their lives. I see people develop the confidence to talk about what they do and don’t want from their service, and the understanding that what they say is valued and valid.

Society grows and evolves through people’s experiences.

My love and passion for involvement stems from those frightening days of asylums in our history. It was those patients who were brave and stood up and said how things were for them in psychiatric wards that were the ones who challenged our understanding of mental health. These experiences were the beginning roots of Client Involvement.

I am the Co-Production / Student Union Officer and a Recovery Bank Worker. I’ve been at Southdown for about eight years.

The main purpose of my role is Client Involvement. Client Involvement is about enabling clients to have a real influence on shaping the service they are receiving.

They can do this at many different levels. From the more micro-involvements such as where and what time a client would like to meet their support worker to feeding back on the service they receive, to inputting into the shaping of their service, to co-production where they are designing and delivering a service. It’s about delivering their idea.

People who use our services are the experts by experience – they have lived experience. They have the knowledge to help shape services.

Someone with lived experience who has used our services has an insight that our staff may not have. It’s a particular perspective that can’t be known unless you’ve lived it.

Often we might presume that we know how something might work or how it should be. But what has always blown me away when working with clients one-to-one or in a focus group, is how they can suggest something that seems so obvious that we haven’t thought of.

I’m currently contracted to work 24 hours – with half my time at Brighton and Hove Recovery College and the other half at Preston Park Recovery Centre.

Previously, I was only based at Preston Park Recovery Centre for a day which meant it was difficult to really get to know our clients, their stories, and tell them how Client Involvement can work. Now I can meet clients across different days. I can have a conversation with them, develop a professional relationship with them, and find out how they are.

We need medical expertise, but at the core of services needs to be the person themselves. We’ve changed and adapted to where we are today – a beautiful place at Preston Park Recovery Centre where clients can talk, have a coffee, and sit in the garden. It’s a recovery process the client is part of – not just a meeting in a clinical setting.

The centre has an open and engaging atmosphere and we have many clients who offer to get involved and volunteer. At the Recovery College and Preston Park Recovery Centre, by nature, people are involved and want to be involved. It’s so integral. There’s no added cost – it naturally grows and flourishes.

Clients and students want to collaborate and feel they can. I get phone calls and texts and conversations about ideas. A lot of my work recently has involved working with clients with these ideas and help making them come alive.

All feedback is involvement. Even if it’s just one sentence, it still contributes to that bigger picture about what does or doesn’t work. Even in my lifetime I’ve witnessed and seen how people who get involved have changed services. I’m such a big believer in the difference that involvement makes.

I know what involvement has done for me.

I’d always had high anxiety and depression but about 15 years ago, I experienced the most horrific mental health crisis. One minute I was okay, and then the next minute I was talking to myself in the street, unable to wash and dress. I’d lost so much that was me and my life.

As I started to recover, I felt the impact of being asked my opinion in organisations like MIND, Sussex Partnership Trust, and universities. Historically, people have been used to things being done to them. Their confidence has been stripped, and they don’t think what they’ve got to say is worthwhile. To be asked, “What do you think?” is a new experience.

My involvement with Southdown began when I was referred to an Employment Specialist as I was just starting to get my life back together. I’d wanted to get back into education as it was my dream to go to university.

I was asked if I would go to a conference in Crawley with the head of Southdown’s Mental Health Recovery Services and talk about my experiences. Following that, my Employment Specialist made me aware of a position that was vacant. I got it, and then that role developed. Later, I was invited to talk to new staff at Southdown about my own experience and journey story at training courses.

Client Involvement runs through the Recovery College and Preston Park Recovery Centre at every point. And it’s just beautiful to see – not just in how the services work, but the environment and atmosphere, and the number of students and clients who want to engage with the services.

It’s great to see clients shaping their own one-to-one support and influencing a change in the service. Being a member of the Client Forum and the Recovery Services Steering Group which includes both staff and clients of both centres is great. Changes in the service get developed through the involvement of clients at every decision.

Most people want to give back because Southdown has made a difference to their lives. I see people develop the confidence to talk about what they do and don’t want from their service, and the understanding that what they say is valued and valid.

There’s a whole weight of gold in lived experience. Students really value the lived experience of their peer trainers. They recognise that they have something very valuable to contribute. It’s a clear symbol that the peer trainer has moved along their recovery journey.

The student sees someone who has overcome challenges and is now teaching. It not only inspires the students in the classroom but also breaks down the power dynamic. It’s a positive, powerful message – that we’re equal citizens.

From my own lived experience of a mental health crisis, I know it can strip everything off you. And so being in a classroom where you can hear practical, positive things about how you can be, it means you can walk out of a course with a sense of purpose and confidence. It makes a massive difference to people’s lives.

With Client Involvement, you always have to think outside the box, try new things, and be open to the fact that something might not work. We can learn from mistakes.

Small changes can make a huge difference to enabling people to live an independent life. They have just as great an impact as big changes. Just as powerful.

I genuinely think that people who get involved can change things. I do believe that one person can make a difference.

 

At Southdown the people that use our services are at the heart of everything we do. We believe that their views, knowledge and experience should have a real influence on reviewing and shaping our services to ensure they meet people's needs. We increase the opportunities for our clients to help shape how we deliver our services through Client Involvement activities.