14th July issue

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Harness the energy

User groups are rightly passionate about what they do

By the time I got in touch with Dave Stork to interview him about the progress Gloucester’s Service User’s Support Team (SUST) had been making, he was quite wound up. Why hadn’t I got in touch sooner, while they were doing their outdoor challenge course? Why hadn’t I been down there for their service user conference last month? To me, in a busier than usual fog of activity here, the reasons were obvious. To Dave down in Gloucester, it was a sign that we weren’t interested and that initiatives that had taken so much time, energy, planning and effort were insignificant to us. I hadn’t communicated what what was going on to delay me from arranging the story earlier; Dave naturally thought I wasn’t bothered.

I mention this only to demonstrate how easily different perspectives play their part in influencing the dynamic of user involvement. Dave’s first experience of trying to contact me convinced him that DDN isn’t interested in service user involvement; I hope I managed to convince him that quite the opposite is true. But it made me think how easily the relationship between a hard working service user group rep and those who hold the local purse strings for service user involvement could fail to gel through simple misunderstanding. Service user groups have to be passionate about what they do – after all they’re in the business of campaigning for better treatment and standards while trying to support their members, whatever stage they’re at. With different pressures on those who are answerable to budgets it would be easy to disconnect because of differing priorities – but it could be a wasted opportunity not to appreciate hard work in different guises on each side, and harness the positive energy.

 I’m glad Dave persisted with his suggestion for an article. Not only was it enjoyable talking to him, but it gave me a fresh burst of energy in thinking about the second service user conference we’re organising with the Alliance for next January. I hope energetic groups like SUST will want to take part.

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