Mike is a member of the management committee of our Leadership and Involvement Grants scheme. He explains how the grants promote meaningful service user leadership.

“Together’s Involvement and Leadership Grant Scheme has existed for three years now and I have been a Committee member since it began. The scheme awards grants to initiatives that promote service user involvement and leadership, and is open to all Together service users and staff. The aim is to encourage people using our services to put their involvement ideas into practice, and to inspire staff to involve the people they support in really meaningful ways.

Involvement starts by seeing everyone as an individual with their own experiences and strengths. People should of course be in control of their own support, but Together believes they should also be involved in the design and delivery of services, and in decisions about how the organisation is run. I strongly believe that no one is too ill to be involved.

I was first introduced to Together when I was living in a cocoon due to my own mental health problems. I started getting involved with different projects, which led to me opening up to other people for the first time in a long while, and eventually I became an active volunteer. Everything at the service I used was done according to what service users wanted – it was never the staff deciding for us. I really felt I was shaping the support myself and others were receiving.

Involvement starts by seeing everyone as an individual

When Together committed to implementing the 4PI standard for involvement this year across all its services and departments, we made sure this applied to the grants scheme too. 4PI provides a really useful framework for assessing how well an initiative will bring about meaningful involvement.

The grant scheme is such a good way of spurring people into action and making involvement really happen. It’s so easy to sit in meetings discussing how involvement should be encouraged and then go away with no real concrete actions. With the grants scheme, we see both service users and staff initiate ideas for involvement that quickly translate into results.

Committee members think long and hard about which projects should be awarded grants. People really put a lot of effort into their applications and it can be quite overwhelming reading the various testimonies and ideas. Quite a small sum of money can be make or break for some groups, so it’s a big responsibility. We really study each application to get to the bottom of what they want to do and what the impact will be. We have had some interesting discussions about what involvement should look like. It can take infinite forms so it’s important to continually think about what makes it meaningful and have most impact.

I strongly believe that no one is too ill to be involved

One project applied for funds to buy some sewing machines for an activities initiative. The feedback from people who were eventually involved was staggering: they said it had created a sense of community, promoted creativity and confidence, and helped them to take greater control of their wellbeing. What may on paper look like a small grant for some physical equipment can actually translate into a huge impact on a community. Initiatives sometimes just need a nudge to get started and then really take off with a momentum of their own. People discover talents they never knew they had.

It’s always hard letting people know they haven’t been successful. We give lots of feedback and encourage people to try again wherever we can. Though not everyone can get a grant, the scheme gets people to put ideas down on paper and encourages them to act on plans they may have had in their head for some time. It is also proof that Together considers involvement a top priority, which is a really positive message. We get to see a lot of good work happening across Together that might otherwise go unnoticed.

In the three years it has been running, the scheme has brought a lot of people together and encouraged leadership in people who may never have seen themselves as leaders. It has given Together’s staff opportunities to see what people using our services can achieve with a little support. Besides the money, it has led to the creation of more ideas, more confidence, more social interaction and a better understanding of why involvement is so crucial to wellbeing”.