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March 2014 |
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Make It Happen! |
Service user conference 2014
between those of us who believe in total abstinence
and those who do not, but we learned that we can
work together far more effectively by agreeing to
distinguish between our personal needs and beliefs
and the greater journey we were collectively taking,
which was the rebuilding of our lives to the point
where we were happy and not controlled by our
Board of trustees:
Don’t use your friends – it’s the
road to hell! A good board of trustees (and BoB is
blessed with a beauty!) have skills, experience,
knowledge and contacts that you do not, enabling
the organisation to grow and develop. They are there
to guide, support and if necessary challenge you, not
be your mates. The clue is in the name ‘trustee’. Trust
in them to trust in you and work collectively for the
greater good, not personal ambition.
Partnership working:
Commissioners and service
providers are not the enemy. We can achieve more
through negotiation and partnership working than
through conflict. Ultimately, we are all working for
the same end – it helps to bear that in mind.
The people that volunteer for BoB are
the life-blood of the organisation, and we have learned
to look after them. Travel expenses and something to
eat are a given, but there is more that can be done. For
six years we have held award ceremonies in the local
town hall, inviting volunteers, their partners,
commissioners and local service professionals to see
the incredible effort our volunteers not only put into
their own recovery, but also into helping others.
Not only is training necessary if you are
to run your own services safely, it is also important
never to underestimate people’s desire to learn. We
believe in writing and delivering our own training,
both to meet the needs of our charity and ensure
that our volunteers take an active part in the process
of supporting each other and learning together. It
can be easy to access some of the professional
training in your local area, but it often does not meet
the needs of a service user organisation. When in
doubt, develop your own!
I cannot overstate the importance of
developing your own organisational ethos. Be clear
about what you believe in, why you work the way
you do, and stick to it. Examples? BoB does not pay
minimum wage, we consider it unethical. We pay
well or not at all. BoB does not advocate any specific
model of recovery, believing that all are equally valid.
We will not change this, even if it loses us funding or
contracts. BoB believes we are all equal. Anyone can
volunteer with BoB providing they are not dependent
on drugs and alcohol and not a risk to themselves or
anyone else. Everyone has a place with us if they
want one. Cherry picking is for farmers.
With a few exceptions, we are all in
recovery and we must never forget this. Peer-to-peer
supervision, which includes support around personal
issues as well as day-to-day problems, is crucial if an
organisation is to flourish and its volunteers feel
valued. With 80 to 100 volunteers problems are
bound to arise, including internal conflicts, lapses and
relapses, family problems and so on. Having a means
to address this and look after your volunteers is vital.
Everyone has a reason for volunteering.
For many it is the idea of ‘giving something back’, or
a desire to work in the drugs and alcohol field. For
others it is a chance to build a safe support network
as a part of their recovery, or simply to get out of the
house. However, it is important to give everyone a
chance to challenge themselves and move up
through the organisation. With that in mind, BoB has
a range of roles from team leader, to supervisor,
group facilitator and service manager.
Use the skills of your peers:
Many of the best ideas
that allowed BoB to grow and develop were not mine,
but came from the volunteer team. I didn’t start the
music workshop; I can only play two chords and have
no sense of timing! My role was to empower those
musicians in the team to develop their own project,
and to ensure it was safe, fun and open to all.
Everyone wants to earn a living. BoB
has four full-time and two part-time members of
staff, and all of them were recruited from the
volunteer team. If you are good enough to volunteer,
you are certainly good enough to get paid for what
you do! It is a part of our ethos to employ from within
our own volunteer team and only to advertise outside
the organisation if we cannot fill the post internally. A
word of advice though – while it’s fine to write your
own job descriptions and interview questions, it’s
best to get an independent panel to undertake the
interviews. This avoids any accusations of playing
favourites, and has the added advantage of getting an
external opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of
your own volunteer team.
Trust your instincts:
Don’t be talked out of doing
what you think is right and meets the needs of your
service user organisation. Five years ago there was a
perceived wisdom in some quarters that what we did
was not service user involvement because it did not
meet the ‘standard definition’ of said service user
involvement. Of course it didn’t… we were breaking
new ground. These days we are flag-bearers, not only
for recovery in the community, but for peer-run
organisations and partnership working between
service providers and service user groups. As one of
my personal heroes, Gandhi, said: ‘First they ignore
you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then
you win.’ I think that might be the motto for all of us
seeking to build our own organisations. It’s certainly
one of mine.
For more information see
Following on from his rousing speech at Make it Happen,
Tim Sampey
shares invaluable learning points from running
an independent service user organisation