So, for the people that follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you will already know that I attended a high profile meeting in Nottingham on the 17th January about 3rd sector support charity funding. I had originally planned to upload an article summarizing what was discussed and what I said a few days afterwards, but, unfortunately my physical health has been really bad which has really delayed everything. However, the article is here now!
So for the people that don’t follow me on social media, l will explain that I was nominated to attend a high profile meeting in Nottingham representing Wyfi (West Yorkshire Finding Independence) which is a part of the ‘Fulfilling Lives’ project. There are so many different networks including Touchstone West Yokshire so it really gets complicated to explain so, to make it simple, I’ll say that The Big Lottery Fund gave 11 locations in the UK funding to create support services, one of them being West Yorkshire. Some others include Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool, London, Bristol, Nottingham. This is good and, exactly what the Big Lottery Fund was set up for, but unfortunately that funding was only granted for a very limited amount of time- some places got four years, some five years, some eight years, but, sadly, they are all coming to an end fairly soon. Leeds and West Yorkshire’s funding runs out next year, June 2020 so the main support service in Leeds and all of its side projects will go. This will seriously affect me and so, so many people. I believe it’s so unfair to give funding and support to the most vulnerable, disabled in society then take it away. It’s like giving someone a glimmer of hope then dashing it. This very reason is why I was so enthusiastic to go to this meeting. I wanted to put my case forward and speak to the bigwigs, the people who make such crippling decisions about the lives of our most vulnerable without normally even speaking to them!
Me and two other people from Wyfi got the train down on the 16th, stayed in a hotel and got invited to the evening meal that was organised. Everything was pre-paid for. We got a tram to the location- which was a new experience. The last tram I had been on was back in 2015 in Sheffield. The evening meal was an all you can eat meal in ‘Cosmo’ and, let me say, it was absolutely delicious. That place is amazing! It takes ‘all you can eat’ to a whole new level! On offer were dishes from every cuisine style you can imagine- curries, noodles, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, sticky ribs, chicken, rice, burgers, hotdogs, chips, soups, roast dinners, sandwiches and everything in between. Also on display were a huge selection of cakes, ice creams, hot deserts etc. I got through at least four plates worth. There were around 7 tables which sat around 10 people each and they were all almost full. I certainly aren’t used to attending such big events but people were very friendly and I soon came to discover that everyone surrounding me was of the exact same mind frame as me- believing that the whole ‘support’ system in the UK is corrupt and punitive. I briefly spoke to a man who, when he came out of prison, was literally given a sleeping bag to reside in! Great ‘crime prevention’ and ‘rehabilitation’ there. I also spoke to another woman who said she was refused mental health treatment despite her being suicidal until she had an address because she was homeless, and, I can very much believe it, given the debacle that happened last year with me being dragged to court and given a criminal conviction for simply ringing my own crisis line in Leeds. When I told people that, they weren’t shocked, everyone there knew full damn well how fucked up the system actually is.
After the meeting, me and the other two I was with headed over to a small coffee shop/bar to meet the group from Newcastle that had missed the meal and were eating elsewhere. By this time it was around 8pm and walking through the dimly lit, narrow streets of Nottingham city centre filled with neon pink signs, jazzy coffee shops and upmarket cocktail bars made me feel important, like real important, like a business woman earning millions, a singer, a famous author. I imagined for a few minutes what it would be like to live like this permanently. In this bar I met a woman with a broad Geordie accent, bright orange hair and a pair of rockports on. She was gorgeous, although when she told me she was nearly fifty, I felt embarrassed that I had tried to be a bit flirty with her. There was also an old man who had been made redundant and never found another job and a young woman, similar age to myself, who told me that when she was coming off heroin she was put into a shitty hostel full of aggressive people and not given the support she felt she really needed. More of the same.
At around 10pm I went back to my hotel room although I hardly slept. I was excited and the sound of the trams just outside of my hotel window was far too enticing for me to ignore. I spent most of the night taking photos and recording the trams come and go.
The next day, a full English breakfast was offered but with my fatigue problems, I slept through it and ended up a bit late for the meeting that started at 10am. I got there at about 10.15. The meeting was held in a huge room, with around seven tables, again about 10 chairs to each table, various kettles with tea and coffee facilities etc. Also two large projector screens. Each location spoke in great detail about the great work that they had done and the lives they had changed for the better due to the funding given- some examples include;
- One of the location’s longest rough sleepers since the 1970’s agreeing to stable flat accommodation, coming off heroin and stating volunteer work.
- A man due to 4 arson offences, no private, council or housing association would touch him, but with the Big lottery Fund project support, he was given floating supported accommodation and has managed to keep his tenancy.
- A man with various high level offences being helped into permanent accommodation and gaining paid employment within 18 months.
However, despite all of this, all of the locations spoke about how fearful they were about the funding ending, all of the projects coming to a close, and the people that will inevitably be left with no support despite really needing it. Funding has been asked for again, but The Big Lottery Fund hasn’t at this time agreed to anymore.
There is another meeting to held in Birmingham in April but the person that I was working with has left, so it’s doubtful that I will be nominated which I find a bit unfair as I intended to go to all of the meetings.
Despite this, one thing that was hoped to be different about these support services and I can say it definitely was with my experience of working with Wyfi, is that everything was person centred and designed by the service users such as; with most other services people get a certain set amount of time to work with a support worker/mentor then that’s it and if you miss a couple of sessions your discharged, whatever reason. Also, most services run a target system- goals they need to meet etc. Many a time I’ve sat with a service, filled out two or three sheets full of ‘targets’ and ‘goals’ but, six months later, after maybe only achieving one of them, I’ve been discharged. Many other people said that they had experienced this with mental health services, probation etc- one of my friends has told me that she was discharged from her community mental health team because she hadn’t had a suicide attempt for 12 weeks. However, with Wyfi there was no ‘targets’ and certainly no time limits. The whole model was shaped by the individual. I’ve been working with Wyfi for over a year and a half and will do until the project finishes. Sometimes my worker has visited me two or three times a week, sometimes just once a month. They have helped support me with everything from paying bills, navigating my local area, applying for jobs, going to get blood tests. Wyfi was a service that encompasses all services merged into one, which is what made it so effective. Most other services simply work on targets and working towards them in order to make the organisation look good, not actually helping the person standing before them. Many times I’ve been told about eating disorder services telling people that they couldn’t get support because ‘they weren’t underweight enough’ or ‘they weighed too much to fit the category’. Shitty, vile stuff like that. Soon all 11 locations will lose this kind of support and, when Wyfi in Leeds goes, what it really means is that the only complex needs support service in west Yorkshire goes. Wyfi was the safety net for people that had fallen through so many gaps, cracks in the system. Sometimes, for people with no or very little family, having someone to come around once or twice a week simply for a catch up, go out for a coffee is essential for someone’s mental health. However, mental health services don’t provide such a service and the other ‘befriending’ support services in Leeds are heavily vetted, meaning that people with criminal convictions and histories of violence won’t get them. Which other service will accompany somebody at 4.45pm to the hospital on a cold Friday night? Which other service will come around after a phone call because you are feeling ‘upset’. I can’t think of any other service in West Yorkshire, and soon it will be gone completely. Engage Leeds do a support service but it is heavily based around target ticking and housing. They wouldn’t just go for a coffee and catch up with someone.
There was a discussion about ‘over dependency’, with a handful of people saying that the longer a person gets support the more they will need it. I disagree with this argument because I have tried living without support and my life has been hell. I’ve endured so much trauma, abuse and horrific things in my life I will be traumatised for life. I also have hardly any one in my life- no contact with mother, no brothers or sisters, very little contact with father, so its nice to have a regular person to see and do things with. Some people said the answer is ‘to go out and meet people’. Oh yes, that old chestnut. If I had money to go out and meet people do you think I’d need the support services of Wyfi in the first place? I think not. The whole fact that I barely have enough money to feed myself each week, never mind go to different places is the reason why I was referred to the service. My life has changed totally in the past 18 months and some of it is definitely down to Wyfi. Wyfi helped people access services that they were excluded from, such as housing. They were the voice of the people who otherwise weren’t allowed a voice. I will be saddened when the project ends and extremely concerned for the welfare of all of the people that ‘don’t tick boxes’ yet have had traumatic, horrific lives and just need that extra bit of support.
I have included a link to Wyfi’s website, to the page that explains Wyfi’s support model.
And also the PDF document ‘The Evaluation of West Yorkshire Finding Independence Project 2018’