Interview with Mary Reed, Make Someone Welcome (Part 1)

| Helen Sharp

The ‘Make Someone Welcome’ campaign aims to get all groups and organisations to welcome disabled people. Whether it is activity clubs such as gardening or chess ones, or a local pub or sports, everyone is invited to sign up to the campaign. In return they get the benefit of attracting new and enthusiastic members.

The braincild of the WiltsCIL

It is the brainchild of the Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living, a small, user-led charity. Their mission is to promote full social inclusion, by empowering disabled people to achieve their equal rights and expectations. They aim to get people to think beyond their care provision from social care to think about making outcomes that relate to all their life.

The campaign is led by Mary Reed and we asked her about her work. Here is what she told us:

“A couple of years ago I was tasked with looking at the peer support element of our service and it wasn’t working, nobody wanted to come to our groups. I started reading up around Asset-Based Community Development and strengths-based approaches and realised we were looking at this from the wrong end of the telescope.

There’s an example that demonstrates our epiphany and the moment when we all thought, ‘yes, this is the right way forward!’. We were working with somebody who lived in a small isolated village in the middle of Salisbury Plain. She said she quite liked doing craft and, as we had an arts group 15 miles away in a small market town, we were determined to get her to this arts group. She never said she liked doing art and we were stuck in the mindset that says ‘we have a service, and you will fit into it!’. We spent ages trying to work out the logistics of getting her there as community transport was out of the question because of the cost.

Then we had a strengths-based conversation with her.

It turns out she was a school governor and was really involved in her village. She and her teenage daughter wanted us to support in her village while we were trying to foist her into a service that didn’t fit her. So that is what we did.

It’s that kind of sense of agency you get and self esteem when you’re doing something of use to people. It has changed our thinking and we’ve been working that way ever since.

I work with Matt and Abi, who are both disabled themselves and we run co-facilitate training together. We encourage people to have relationships as opposed to services. Matt would say for him it’s about having a life and not just a service. That’s kind of the message we want to get out there and it’s very much about people having a real life that’s meaningful for them.

We came up with the hashtag #makesomeonewelcome on a Friday afternoon at the last minute, and now it’s really taken off!

It’s a simple idea and it’s a simple concept and people have really got on board with it.”

Next week we publish the rest of our interview with Mary. She talks about her influences and inspirations, the learning along the way and what she hopes the future holds. You can follow the Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living on Twitter and Facebook. And find out more about their work on their website.

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