No person is an island

Back in March, when I had only been in post for less than a week, it was suggested that I attend a session on the All Together Better course as a one-off so I could learn about social care (I haven’t worked in this area before), and also run a subsequent story about the experience.

Five months down the line, I can report that I ended up attending all of the sessions and became part of the cohort that has recommended some great ideas for improvements to support people with learning disabilities and autism in Somerset.  The people that attended found it so inspirational that there is now a second course starting in December – so if you are interested, get your application in now (details at the bottom).

Unlike most of the people who applied to be on the course, I had no preconceptions of what it was going to be like, or indeed, what the lie of the land was in Somerset, being so new to this area of social care. What was apparent right from the start is that like most areas of the UK, support could be much better for people living with learning disabilities and autism – in all areas of their lives – and it’s only by us all working together that we can change the current situation.

The ethos of All Together Better is to create a network of champions who think that life for people who need extra support could be better, and who want to improve the way things are now – but don’t always know where to start. The influential policy and networking charity, In Control, have been running these courses for years and have a strong commitment to change the status quo all over the UK.  So far they have empowered more than 2000 people.

Delegates were made up of people with learning disabilities, families who have relatives with learning disabilities and/or autism, commissioners from the local authority and health services, colleagues from service providers, including Discovery and micro providers, other professionals, and people who are closely connected to those who need support or are being supported.

Over the intensive, two-day sessions each month we covered: understanding why things are the way they are now;  what person-centred planning involves; the latest thinking around health issues including postural care; being in control of support, and finally, the group deciding on priorities and then creating action plans for the coming year. So what was it like?

  • It was hard work.
  • It was an emotional journey at times.
  • We didn’t see eye-to-eye on some things.
  • It was enlightening.
  • We made friends.
  • We were inspired.

Five months saw huge changes. Those who started out with very contrasting opinions learnt to understand each other and, by the end, even agreed on some elements. We all agreed that things needed to change, fast! Some of the ideas that are being taken forward include an app that will make more of Somerset accessible to people with learning disabilities and to create a separate agency that facilitates all aspects of person-centred planning to ensure it happens for everyone we support in Somerset.

In the famous line in one of John Donne’s poems: “No Man is an Island”; we proved that to be the case!