On a wintery Tuesday in late March, Carl Cooper, the PAVO Chief Executive Officer, spoke at the Powys COVERED (Connecting Our Voices Embracing Real Engagement and Dialogue) event which celebrated the achievements and legacy of the lottery funded One Powys Connecting Voices project. PAVO managed a portfolio of six projects over five years aiming to empower citizens to have a greater influence on the design and delivery of statutory services in Powys.
Over the past five years on this blog we have observed and recorded some of the achievements of one of the portfolio projects in particular: YAPS (Young Adult Peer Support project) run by Ponthafren Association (read The YAPS project at Ponthafren Association, Young Adult Peer Support project @ PAVO AGM and YAPS Sharing the Voice).
Carl summed up some of the achievements of the OPCV project as a whole at the event:
“About 7 years ago the Big Lottery Fund in Wales had an idea. It wanted to try to support people in getting their voice heard and in influencing decisions that affected them. They then invited County Voluntary Councils such as Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations to put in a bid (it was a competitive process – not every area of Wales was successful), in relation to getting voices heard to make a difference, but also in a way that reflected the local context and local environment.
To be frank, I was surprised we were awarded the money. That’s not because I thought that what we set out to do wasn’t important, but our approach here in Powys has been very unique in that if you were to look at the projects elsewhere in Wales they have a very, very distinct focus. One was focussing exclusively on mental health. Another on learning disabilities and so on. We took a risk I think, in that at the time, together with the council and health board and other partners, we were developing the One Powys Plan. And the OPP was a diverse plan wanting to do lots of things. So we brought together a portfolio of projects to enable voices to have an influence on different aspects of the OPP. So as you will see around the room we have got people supporting carers, people that were focussing on neurological conditions, others that focussed on older people, others that focussed on the environment and sustainability, on younger people, on children and so on.
My slight nervousness was that the Big Lottery Fund might look at this and say, hmmmnn, not sure about this because it feels a bit fragmented. It doesn’t really hang together very well. Gladly they didn’t, and I think what we have been able to do over the last five years is bring that diversity of people’s voices to bear on planning and decision making here in Powys. And it’s been a delight to work with our partner organisations represented in this room and I want to thank you for working with us so readily, so effectively and in a way that I think has built relationships between ourselves but also within the wider sector and partnership arena.
So what has this project actually done? Well, in one way it’s very simple. We wanted to try to support people in getting their views, observations, comments and concerns heard by Welsh Government, by the commissioners of services, by our statutory partners in the council and health board, by emergency services such as the police and many others. And I’m pleased to say that that was done and it was done well. Nothing is perfect and it would be invidious of me to stand here and pretend that things are ever perfect. But this project has made a difference. And that is crucial.
|Barbara Perkins, OPCV Officer and Martin Nosworthy, Chair of the PAVO Board|
So when I look at some of the evidence and information from this portfolio of projects, I see some of these things we know are true of Powys, for example how the geography of Powys is a constant challenge, particularly when it comes to access to services. But over the last five years, when you look at what has actually emerged, we now have virtual wards operating in Powys that the voluntary sector, health, social services and so on come together to realise and to run. We have video links, which connect patients to GPs and special consultants, be they local or a further distance away. That’s just the first of a number of examples really. I don’t want to claim that this project was the one and only influence on those decisions, but the crucial thing is that we can evidence that this project influenced those decisions.
You, and the people you represent, not only got your voices heard but your voices were listened to and they made a difference. That is crucial. Also the way in which young carers were brought into contact with social workers. The way in which those young carers were then involved in the training of social workers. So that workforce development, as well as operational delivery, was part of how the voice was mobilised to make things different. The commissioners for older people’s and children’s services have been involved in discussion and dialogue around transport, around social isolation, loneliness, and certainly if you look at some of the initiatives that have been taking place over the last years, and that will continue under the new area plan and wellbeing plans, then again things are different.
We’ve seen lots of other things develop. Again partly influenced by this project, be it around recycling and the involvement of communities and volunteers in recycling. So called upcycling. So, you take what might one time have been discarded and you give it fresh life for new use. We have repair cafes that have emerged over Powys over the last years. Again partly as a result of this project.
|Julia Gorman and Robin Green ran the YAPS Project at Ponthafren Association|
My last example is around digital accessibility. We all know that transport is a perennial intractable problem here in Powys. But crucially we are very aware that people need to be plugged in digitally in the 21st century in order to be able to access health, social and commercial services at all times. And part of what this project has done is to help people in terms of upskilling and training and information when it comes to technology and internet services. Again another example of an accessibility barrier that has been overcome.
So, I’ve just tried to focus on literally ten or so examples of where what we’re doing today is not just saying well done and let’s go home, but well done and you’ve made a difference. Things are not the same in Powys today as they were five years ago because of what you and colleagues have done. And that’s a testimony not just to the project but to the value of participation, the effectiveness of public engagement, and to use a bit of more modern jargon, the importance of so-called co-production.
And so I’ll end my comments by saying that this work does not stop here. During the lifespan of this project we’ve had a so called Issues Log. And each of the projects has added issues to that log and so we have been able to see what issues and what comments people have been presenting with. Over the five years we’ve had thousands of issues. But six hundred of those issues were taken forward in dialogue and engagement and in conversation with local partners and with local agencies. And that will continue. Because PAVO is building a new website and this will be live very soon. And one of the things you will see on the website is an online portal which will be the updated version of our Issues Log. So, although the project is coming to an end it will still be possible for environmental groups, for carers, for children, for older people, for younger people and many others to go to the PAVO website and actually make sure that your issue is logged.
But it doesn’t stop there. We will then regularly collate and analyse that information, and make sure that it continues to influence decisions through our links with partners and strategic partnerships. So it’s not the end today. The end of the project, but things will still continue.”