There is no national organisation for self-advocacy in England, but there should be, says Gary Bourlet

To have a People First of England or not to have a People First of England? That is the question. It is a difficult one to answer. Scotland and Wales both have national organisations, so why has it been difficult to start something like this in England?

There have been quite a lot of people interested in this who have told me that a national self-advocacy organisation an excellent idea and is badly needed and they would like to see a People First England happen.

There are even allies that want to help in any way they can. I think the Campaign for a Fair Society, the Centre for Welfare Reform and other groups would give all the help possible to try and construct a truly independent voice to represent people in England. Also I think we could get advice from People First Scotland and Wales, which continue to do great work.

Someone suggested putting the message onto other networks of like-minded people. Others have asked to be kept in touch in how it is going. Others are interested in taking part. This sounds like a positive way forwards. 

The self-advocacy movement in England needs a united front and it would be good to develop better ways of working together to support people with learning disabilities in leading campaigns against inequality. I am very open to discussion and ideas and would be delighted to help form this group. Together we are strong, divided we fall!

We can also learn from each other's experiences – good and bad – as it’s from our experiences that we grow, especially the nasty ones; once one heals the pain that is when we gain a lot of strength and insight.

We can network; exchange best practice and integrate in ways that suit the person’s/organisation’s needs.                                                             

The benefits of having a People First England are:

  • To bring together groups across the country to speak as one national voice. People First England would be seen as an umbrella to all self-advocacy organisations, not just those called People First
  • To help existing groups to keep going
  • For those groups that have folded, to re-launch them
  • Not to rely on funding from local authorities, but to be self-sufficient and generate our own income
  • Easy access to self-advocacy support wherever anybody lives in England
  • Offering capacity building support and advice to self-advocacy organisations
  • To continue to have self-advocacy groups run by and for people who have a learning disability.

A People First England could also help to campaign for:

 

  • There to be a range of self-advocacy organisations so people can choose what’s best for them
  • Help to provide training and support for everyone who wants to speak up
  • Council staff in England to be trained to know about and understand self-advocacy. That training should be done by people who have a learning disability
  • Ensuring self-advocacy groups are more secure, in that they know whether they will get funding in plenty of time and can plan for the future
  • Money to be available so that self-advocacy groups can plan and develop independent support with some level of security and consistency
  • Supporting people who are struggling to make their self-advocacy group happen
  • Fighting against funding cuts.

We need to put together a vision of what People First England should be like. Here is what I think the important questions are:

  • What are People First England’s goals?
  • What should its mission be? What’s its purpose?
  • What do self-advocates and self-advocacy groups get out of it?
  • What is the role of supporters in People First England?
  • What kind of project would self-advocates and self-advocacy groups would be involved in?
  • Would People First England have a board of directors or a parliament structure?
  • Would other disabilities be included as well as learning disabilities?
  • How would membership work?

I would be very interested to hear what other people think. Contact me on bourlet240@btinternet.com

About the author

Gary Bourlet is a founder of the People First movement in the UK.

 

This article first appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Learning Disability Today.