Spending time with people who have complex mental and physical health needs, I found that everyone I met had skills, aspirations and the desire to contribute to the communities in which they live. If they can’t always achieve what they hope or contribute as they wish, then it is because society disables them, says Victoria Boelman.
Earlier this year I found myself trekking across central London looking for somewhere to buy a basketball – unusual enough in my daily life. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was actually out shopping with the last son of God, here on a mission.
David and I spent the day window-shopping, visiting the gym where he works out daily and the theatre where he was about to start work, and chatting about anything and everything. His unconventional beliefs are just one small part of the absolutely charming man that he is.
I subsequently spent many days that summer with people who have either a severe mental health problem or a complex learning difficulty. I met family, friends and pets, made papier maché heads and yummy cakes, and was given privileged insight into what matters most. Without exception, every day was a pleasure and I felt humbled by the warmth and openness with which I was welcomed.
The way in which I was treated stands in stark contrast to what the people I met, and thousands of others in similar situations, often face on a daily basis – all too often stigmatised, marginalised and excluded from the opportunities to afforded to the majority; sadly still seen by some as the last outcasts of society. I hope I don’t need to rehash here why this is such an outrage.
Everyone I met has skills, assets, passions and potential; they have aspirations for themselves and something to contribute to the communities and society in which they live. If, at the moment, they are not able to always achieve what they hope or contribute as they wish, then it is because society disables them. It is incumbent upon us to find ways to enable rather than limit, to work with people who have complex needs, giving them a voice and say in the decisions that affect them and the services they use. The time has come for the positive rhetoric around coproduction to be turned into greater action. In tough economic times we spoke to many stakeholders who are looking at new ways of working or testing innovative solutions.
One way of facilitating this is through Time Credits, and my visits this summer were part of a research project to shine a light on the lives of people with complex needs and understand the potential for change. I hope that through the stories we tell in our report, commissioners, policy makers and providers will be inspired to redouble their efforts and help transform the services and lives of people with complex needs.