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Our User Involvement Service

Older People Help Themselves - As published in the Department of Health's Volunteering Fund Newsletter 'Stories of the Year2011'

Westminster Council was commissioning a new organisation to manage older people's centres, (known as community hubs). They asked Advocacy Plus to find service users to assist with their interviews. Advocacy Plus's User Involvement Volunteer Team was able to help.

They selected four of their older volunteers to represent the mixed communities of Westminster who attend the older people's hubs. The volunteers know what older people want and need from their hubs and could make sure the new hub managers would give the best service to everyone.

During the briefing with the Council, when the volunteers looked at the terms and conditions of the contract, all hell broke loose. The contract specified that 90% of people attending the hub must live in the ward where the hub was situated. Anyone living outside the ward (except 10%) would be turned away.

The volunteers were outraged and spoke out in protest! They argued that in reality older people from all over Westminster attend the hubs. These people  rely on the hubs for activities, information, making friends, and for a vital sense of belonging. To restrict their attendance was not only unrealistic but cruel. People would be disqualified because they lived on the wrong side of the street; and another thing ‘how would the Council police older people's attendance?' ‘This is not workable' the volunteers said.

The argument raged. Furat Gatee, the User Involvement Worker, was convinced the volunteers were going to walk out in protest. But in the words of one of the volunteers ‘they decided to stay and fight'. After the interviews, the Council agreed to consider the views of the volunteers in relation to the terms of the contract. Unexpectedly, the strong feelings of volunteers seemed to help the Council choose the best organisation to run the hubs.

The volunteers achieved a positive outcome for all older people in Westminster - they had won! The Council decided to relax the terms of the contract and no matter where older residents of Westminster lived, they should be welcomed into the hubs.

Through the work of Advocacy Plus' User Involvement Volunteer Team, older people were able to help themselves, to shape their own services and to ensure their hubs are accessible to all.