“WE don’t want to stay home and watch Jeremy Kyle all day!” exclaims Robert Droy.

“We want to be involved in things.”

The 40-year-old from Southampton is explaining why he got involved in setting up Consult and Challenge – a group which strives to see disabled people involved in all decisions that affect them, from ground to government level.

The group was set up around four years ago, initially with funding, but is now in the process of becoming a selfsupporting business, with its team of service users/experts being paid as consultants for issues around disability.

They meet once a month at Spectrum Centre for Independent Living in Southampton, where they are joined by representatives of Southampton ity Council and the local Clinical Commissioning Group, among others.

“We wanted to develop a constructive dialogue with Southampton City Council to make sure that the opinions of disabled people are taken into account in everything they do,” continues Robert.

Daily Echo:

Robert Droy

“We felt that there had been token consultation before.

“It’s a slow process. You’re not going to change a large organisation overnight, but in the last four years we’ve seen people moving towards listening to us and engaging with us right through the planning process – we don’t just want to fill in a questionnaire at the end.”

The group is increasingly making a name for itself as a local expert think tank that the community can use to shame and develop projects more effectively and efficiently.

As Robert explains, as well as playing an important role in giving disabled people a voice, the group is a helpful resource for decision makers who want to get the opinions of service users.

“Disabled people don’t always get what they need from the local authority and the staff don’t always know where to go to actually get the opinions of disabled people,” he explains.

“The council has a lot to do and the easier we can make it for the local authority to come to a group of disabled people to get our opinions, the easier that makes everyone’s lives.

The group employs Will Rosie as co-production facilitator. It’s his job to build relationships between the group and anyone who is going to be strategically helpful.

For him, it’s important that people recognise that this isn’t somewhere people come to have a chat and a moan. It’s becoming a business and a valuable asset to the city.

Daily Echo:

Will Rosie chairs the meeting

“This isn’t a ‘chip shop’ where people come to have a cup of tea and talk about the chips on their shoulders,” he says.

“It’s important to show that disabled people are capable, confident and want to involve themselves in the running of the city.

“The idea is we will get to a place where the input of the group actually saves the council far more than these guys get in support allowances and things like that.”

The group was initially set up with money from a Department of Health programme in 2009, but the intention is to move away from funding to being a paid consultancy group.

“If you want good quality work, you pay for it,” says Will.

“It’s not free to run this group – we have overheads, expenses, wages and we have to pay for sign language interpreters. We are going into a project with Southampton City Council to develop their website and we’re going to be paid for that. It’s getting away from the idea of funding. After all, you don’t ‘fund’ your plumber – you pay him!”

Among the projects the group has been involved in was developing a Permission to Share form which streamlines the process of deciding who clients want to have their personal information shared with and what information that should be, which is currently being trialled by Hampshire County Council.

Roy Harris has been involved in various tenants’ and carers’ groups for around 12 years and has been part of Consult and Challenge since it was launched.

Daily Echo:

Roy Harris makes his point

“Ordinary people need to get involved in the services they’re getting rather than those who are delivering them saying this is what they think you want or need,” says the 63- year-old from Bitterne.

He says that changing large organisations is a slow process but a worthwhile one.

“You have to be in it for the long haul when you’re working with the council, from my experience – you have to accept that it takes a while to change the culture. But it is changing.”

The group is diverse and each person has their own ideas about what they’d like to see authorities doing differently.

Karla Huggins wants to see sign language being used more widely, perhaps even taught in schools. Chris Andrews thinks that it’s important that the council realised that different people need to communicate in different ways.

But all the group agree that the most important thing is that they are being really listened to.

“We’ve got them talking to us,” says Roy.

“Before consultations felt like a tick-box exercise. You’ve got to believe that there will be change or it won’t happen.”

  • For more information about Consult and Challenge, visit spectrumcil.co.uk/gettinginvolved/ consultand- challenge/