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‘A chance to have my own voice’: the care users redesigning support

People in Essex with learning disabilities and autism are working with health and care staff on new methods of support

Louise Sayer is a disruptor. The 28-year-old from Essex is among 24 learning disabled or autistic people who have been working with local health and care staff to design new methods of support. Council managers have been so impressed with Sayer that they recently offered her a permanent job as a co-production support officer.

During the collaborative project between April and July, Sayer helped Essex county council create a health and care “one-stop shop” at a community venue in her Saffron Walden neighbourhood. This encourages learning disabled or autistic people to get help and information without visiting council offices. At a single session, 20 people got advice from professionals including social workers, voluntary sector care providers and employment advisers. The sessions now run monthly.

Sayer also helped launch an “easy read” (accessible) magazine featuring local events. “It’s a great way for people with autism and learning disabilities to find out about local news, events and jobs and services that might help them,” she says. The magazine was designed and printed by learning disabled people and there are plans for a regular publication produced by a permanent editorial team. These projects aim to boost support, opportunities and community connections.

The project in Essex was part of the 100 day challenge, a programme run by innovation charity Nesta that looks for alternatives to traditional top-down health and care support. Launched five years ago, the challenge encourages frontline health and care professionals to imagine new ideas, influenced by people who use services. Essex county council is the latest to follow the method and features in a new Nesta report.

The work involved communities in Saffron Walden, Canvey Island and Colchester. Among the new projects influenced by learning disabled people in Colchester, nine young people with learning disabilities ran book club sessions that are now being rolled out to three schools and a leisure centre. The launch of an inclusive cricket match in Canvey Island – an idea from a learning disabled sports fan – sparked weekly events at a leisure centre and plans for inclusive matches at a cricket club.

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