Four self-advocates* with learning disabilities from Salford, are riding high following their attendance at the 2018 North West Regional Forum Conference in Blackpool at the end of February.
This 3-day annual advocacy conference is exclusively for people with learning disabilities and is now in its 15th year.
The conference is organised by the North West Training and Development Team and Pathways Associates, both not for profit organisations who aim to facilitate the full inclusion of disabled people in community life.
Entitled “What about love? What about trust? What about us?” this year’s conference focussed on relationships.
Sean Dempsey (41) Mark Ashton (50), Graham Bent (50) and Keith Johnson (55) were invited to attend this year’s conference in their capacity as chairs or representatives of various regional and local groups for people with learning disabilities.
Each year individuals are elected to a number of regional forum committees by their peers. The committees influence North West decisions and decisions taken by the Greater Manchester Transforming Care Partnership.
It was Graham’s first time at conference, as he became a member of the regional forum this year. Keith is also a member of the regional forum . Mark is a member of the regional forum, the NW Being Safe and the NW Campaigns group.
Sean is particularly active in the region. He has been a member of the regional forum for 15 years. He is co-chair of the NW Confirm and Challenge group and a member of the NW Campaigns group, the NW Being Safe group and the NW Living Well group.
All four are members of Salford Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Citizens Panel and Listening to People group, of which Sean is the chair.
The conference offered many creative ways for delegates to engage with each other including presentations, workshops, tablework sessions and making music, film and drama, with some helping to compose a song about the conference to share with those who were not able to attend.
Issues discussed included good and bad relationships, supported loving, human rights, health and first aid, depression, social isolation and advocacy.
All four Salfordians participated fully in the conference, taking part in presentations and contributing to discussions.
They raised issues and put forward their views, ideas and strategies both on behalf of the regional groups they represent and on behalf of people with learning disabilities in Salford.
On the final day a panel of four leading decision makers on learning disability, including the NHS England North lead, provided an update on the Transforming Care agenda and current Government initiatives. Sean took the opportunity to ask them some challenging questions, seeking answers on behalf of his peers.
Outside of the conference atmosphere, delegates had the opportunity to relax and socialise with zumba, line dancing, a quiz and a special Gala dinner with disco and karaoke.
Officers from Salford CCG supported the Salford delegation to have full participation in the conference.
Lindsey Brook, Engagement and Development Officer, and Bill Skeer, Support Worker, helped them to prepare materials in advance and drove them to the conference. While there, they provided all their care needs, including emotional support. They made sure they were able to understand what was being discussed and helped them to think through what they wanted to say.
Lindsey said:” I have been going to this conference for the last ten years and it is always an extremely positive event. The self-advocates get a lot out of it. Not only is it an opportunity for them to get together with their peers, make new contacts, and get up-to-date information to share with people back in Salford, but being elected to committees builds their confidence and self esteem. They feel they are being taken seriously as human beings and it energises them, which is fantastic to see”.
Sean said: “This conference is important for people with learning difficulties to have their voices heard. We get a lot out of it and we meet health and social care bosses, including NHS England. When I asked my challenging question, the audience of about 200 people were cheering and said ‘Go Sean’. It is my passion to be able to speak up for people with learning disabilities.”
Mark said: “At conference I was excited and proud to be voted on to the Being Safe and the National Campaigns groups. It is an honour to be voted onto groups by your peers. My local MP is the shadow minister for health and social care so as a member of the National campaigns group I will be able to contact her.
Notes to Editors
* A self- advocate is a person with a disability who speaks up for themselves. It means that although a person with a disability may call upon the support of others, they are able to ask for what they need and want and tell people about their thoughts and feelings, speak up for their rights and are able to make choices and decisions that affect their life.
People with severe learning disabilities make up 1% of the Salford population. There are currently 647 people in Salford with a learning disability known to Social Care Services.
Greater Manchester Transforming Care Partnership is made up of all the clinical commissioning groups and local authorities in Greater Manchester and NHS England’s specialised commissioners. They work with people with a learning disability, autism, or both, and their families and carers, to agree and deliver local plans for community services that make a positive difference to people’s lives.