I am familiar with the concept of employing former service users, as I did this at the Street Drinkers project I managed in Sheffield where we also had service user volunteers. I was personally very pleased when I heard about GROW because I had seen first hand the positive impact it had on both service provision and service users, so I was a fan from the start.
Keen to help pilot GROW, we agreed to be a placement team for the first ever intake of trainees. We prepared the team through open debate about their concerns and fears, dispelling myths and feeding back to the GROW manager. There was also recognition that the team would provide a good environment for a trainee to learn as they were professional and collectively had an abundance of skills and knowledge to share.
Having a very open forum where staff could speak out and challenge each others’ perceptions was very fruitful. It helped more anxious team members to feel reassured, and it changed individual views.
After the first intake of trainees, word spread and other people were convinced of GROW, as their peers were able to promote its benefits and had real experience of working with trainees who were former service users. Much has been learnt along the way and changes have made the programme more effective for all concerned.
Cultural change in an organisation is never an easy task and it’s brilliant to see that the traineeships have gone mainstream – well done everyone for taking up the challenge and making it happen!
Vicky Mansell, Learning and Employment Service Manager