6 Months improving services on the frontline with IF Group Bristol

IF Group Bristol Communications Day

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been with the Independent Futures Group (IF Group) in Bristol for six months this week. In many ways, very little has changed, but in others we’ve managed to move mountains. IF Group Bristol has opened my eyes to many of the hard truths facing both service providers and service users, some seem easy to solve, others less so.

By it’s very nature, IF Group has a set of unique challenges. As an independent organisation made up of voluntary former or current service users, keen to use their experience to create system change and improve services, the team is always more vulnerable than a traditional organisation to the effects of stress, anxiety and personal struggles. The beauty of this is that this means people are far more aware of others and their personal demons and a natural support structure is in-built.

Since joining the team, I’ve faced a very different challenge to those faced by people joining a new board or starting a new job in a new business. The skills the team wanted were skills I was happy to share, but learning how to manage my brief whilst at the same time, not upsetting the applecart presented several personal challenges.

Some people are scared of change, developing new skills or moving out of their comfort zone. As an organisation working to improve service provision for people with addiction, mental health, offending behaviour and homelessness issues. These complex needs by their very nature leave many people dealing with them scared of change. Yet in order to improve change, we have to promote change despite the fears within the team.

Understanding how change requires understanding, acceptance and how it will positively impact on those it affects is something that we see regularly at first hand. The IF Group Bristol not only provides benefits to service users by imparting experience, sharing that understanding and working with partners to improve their services from a user-led perspective, it also continues to support people on their own recovery road.

In the last six months, it has been a privilege to help build a website, create a social media platform and watch it grow. More exciting is seeing team members who had little idea about how to write a blog article or send a tweet now regularly tweeting and enthusiastically learning new technologies to communicate the messages that IF Group Bristol promotes.

The importance of understanding how small steps can make a big difference and how including people in the creation of a plan provides a greater chance of them successfully engaging is evident immediately. When the website went live, no other team member had written a blog article. Today we have almost 1/3 of the team volunteering articles, adding to the website and developing IT Skills that will stand them in good stead for future work.

It lends support to the argument that user-led system change can and will succeed. It allows people to regain their confidence and turn the past from something you want to hide into a source of inspiration, motivation to grow and to move on with skills and ideas that can prevent relapse or regression.

The first six months with IF Group Bristol have taught me far more about myself and the services reaching out to people that are now where I have been than anything I could teach. The team now have a fully functional communications plan, Twitter and Facebook pages and a regularly updated website. People are becoming aware of IF Group and its sterling work with front line services in Bristol and beyond.

Over the next six months, I hope to see the efforts that the team are making with their new communications skills and platform begin to create an environment that enables the operational work of the team and the Golden Key project to begin to yield successes that have been planned and worked for over recent years.