Surrey conference celebrates how ‘experts by experience’ are transforming local services

A fully-booked audience gathered recently to hear how people are using their experiences of mental ill health, homelessness and drugs and alcohol to shape services in Surrey and north east Hampshire.
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The Lived Experience Conference – the first of its kind to be held in Surrey – was attended by more than 120 people. They listened to speakers sharing powerful stories about the challenges they had overcome and their experience of local support services.

Attendees also heard how they were using those experiences to help others as ‘lived experience’ practitioners working in NHS Trusts, local councils and third sector organisations.

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The conference was organised by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Surrey County Council’s Changing Futures Programme and held at Dorking Halls, Surrey. Both organisations employ Lived Experience volunteers and staff.

A fully-booked audience gathered recently to hear how people are using their experiences of mental ill health, homelessness and drugs and alcohol to shape services in Surrey and north east Hampshire. Picture contributedA fully-booked audience gathered recently to hear how people are using their experiences of mental ill health, homelessness and drugs and alcohol to shape services in Surrey and north east Hampshire. Picture contributed
A fully-booked audience gathered recently to hear how people are using their experiences of mental ill health, homelessness and drugs and alcohol to shape services in Surrey and north east Hampshire. Picture contributed

Other organisations involved in last week’s event included: Richmond Fellowship, Mary Frances Trust, Guildford Action and the Independent Mental Health Network.

Lived Experience development lead at Surrey and Borders Partnership, Colette Lane said: “I started my career as a teacher before my own mental health issues meant I could no longer continue in that role. I first joined the Trust ten years ago as a volunteer, using my own insights to provide feedback and support others.

“Since then, ‘lived experience’ has become a key strategic focus for the Trust, and we now employ over 70 people in our lived experience workforce, who help promote hope, provide inspiration, and showcase recovery in action. This lived experience conference is a way of hearing their voice, while thanking them for that incredible insight and input.”

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Jamie Poole, Lived Experience project manager for Changing Futures explained that his own lived experience has helped to shape the person he is today.

He said: “With over 18 years of recovery and gaining experience working in drug and alcohol services, mental health, criminal justice and housing, I’ve been able to use my lived and learned experience to help others.

“Lived experience and learned experience are both needed and should be valued equally. At Changing Futures we are passionate about the lived experience community voice and the value it holds.

“When involving people with lived experience in genuine co-production it must be authentic and not just tokenistic if we want to see positive change in the longer term for vulnerable residents in Surrey and there is still a long way to go with overcoming prejudice and stigma, particularly for those with lived experience.

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“However, the value lived and living experience brings to the conversation when designing and commissioning community services cannot be underestimate.”

Lived experience staff and volunteers, sometimes referred to as ‘experts by experience’, support organisations in a variety of ways: they provide insight into what it’s like to receive care and share their experience of recovery to help shape services. At Surrey and Borders Partnership, they also often work alongside clinicians to offer a holistic aspect to services.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Mel Ball, director of Lived Experience at Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. She spoke about her personal and professional journey from someone with lived experience of using services to her current role.

Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is the leading provider of mental health, learning disability, neurodevelopmental and drug and alcohol services across Surrey and north east Hampshire.

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Surrey’s local Changing Futures Programme ‘Bridge the Gap’ is a specialist trauma-informed outreach service. It is delivered by ten local charities to Surrey’s most vulnerable clients who are experiencing combinations of addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, domestic abuse and contact with the criminal justice system.

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