Friday, 30 October 2009

Speaking Up - over the phone!

We're delighted to announce that we're launching our brand new phone line, dedicated to providing parents with learning difficulties and/or mental health illness with direct advocacy support.

Research has shown that a disproportionately high number of parents with learning difficulties have their children removed for adoption, This is deeply distressing for both parents and children and something the law sees as a last resort. In many such cases, removals could have been avoided if the parent had had access to the right level of support.
Advocacy support is central to creating a positive experience of parenting for people with learning difficulties, and Speaking Up currently provides such services in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Our 1-to-1 advocacy support, crisis advocacy and signposting to the appropriate sources of support and information ensure that parents have their voices heard and know their rights.

The new telephone line will be open to parents in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough no matter how small or how complex their query is. Our experienced advocates can provide information to parents about their rights, local services and support groups in the area. They can also provide parents with the range of options open to them, and problem solving techniques to enable them to take control of their situation. If parents require further advocacy support, they can then make a self referral to the Speaking Up for Families service over the phone. The service is completely free, confidential and independent.

We'd also like to encourage professionals and services involved with families to use the telephone service to discuss queries and issues, and to refer parents to our advocacy service.

Pictured: Our Family Advocates Rachel, Tim and Rebecca

The line will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 10am-12pm. The number to call is 01223555888 - so if you have any queries please give us a call and have a chat with Rachel, Tim or Rebecca, our Family Advocates.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Speaking Up for Family Fun!

What a fantastic way to start the week, and shake off those Monday blues. Our Family Fusion Fun Day was great fun for the families who came along... and for all the staff who volunteered to help out for the day!

Pictured: getting creative and making a personalised t-shirt at the Family Fusion Fun Day

By lunch time the event was packed with happy families, who had come to enjoy the free day of family fun here in Cambridge. It was a fun, energetic and creative environment in which families could work together in all of the activities - between making t-shirts, creating dream photo shoots (where the children, and some parents, were transformed into astronauts, pirates, and footballers!) and chilling in the sensory zone, there really was something for everyone to enjoy.

Pictured: one young pirate about to get his dream photoshoot!
Take a look at our photo gallery to see more of what we all got up to... is it wrong to want to hold another fun day straight away?! The artwork and dream photographs from the day will be on display in a local art gallery in the near future - we'll let you know when we've confirmed the final details!

Pictured: the Sensory Zone was a great place to go and relax

Although the day was mostly geared to get everybody having a great time as a family, we also wanted to understand what barriers families with disabled children face, and what their wishes for the future are. Our brand new Next Steps Family Fusion project will be user-led and tailored to the needs of each family, and we got some really useful information from the families which we can use to shape the project and make sure that it will be a fantastic service for all the families who access it. Family Fusion will combine life skills workshops and family mentoring aimed at improving family dynamics, developing confidence - and will give 10 to 16 year olds with learning difficulties a chance to have some fun with their families!
Pictured: Next Steps staff member Ellie collecting up the dream balloons...

Pictured: The big dream balloon release!

At the end of the day, we all wrote our dreams on a slip of paper and tied it to a balloon, before going outside to release them into the (somewhat gloomy!) sky. Some of the dreams were really poignant, and it was lovely to hear such wonderful dreams and aspirations.

Pictured: two of the dream cards written by the children at the Fun Day

We're really excited to be launching such a great new project - Family Fusion will kick off in January and is being funded by the Big Lottery Fund for 3 years. If you missed out on the Family Fusion Fun Day but would like to find out more about the project or how to get involved, please contact Project Co-ordinator Estelle on or give her a call on 01223555841.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Speaking Up holds our first High Support Needs Forum!

On Monday, Speaking Up's Cambridgeshire Parliament held our first High Support Needs Forum, attended by people with high support needs from across the Cambridgeshire area.

Pictured: Jake, an attendee at the High Support Needs Forum

We discussed loads of issues, but the main points that people raised were about the lack of late night activities, lack of opportunities to meet up with other people with high support needs, and lack of Changing Places* facilities at large venues like football grounds.

Pictured: our 'Ideas Wall', showing some of the issues & solutions we discussed

People had some great ideas about how these things could be improved, and we'd love to know what you think! If big venues won't install a Changing Places toilet, would it be a good idea to install hoists in first aid rooms so that people can be changed on the benches? Could there be better communication between people with high support needs, their carers and other staff members to make it easier for them to get together with other people for nights out? Could we make better use of social networking sites to link between all disability groups & people with high support needs to keep everybody informed of what's going on?

Pitctured: the High Support Needs Forum, with committee members Susanna on the far right and Simon in the centre.

Over the next month the High Support Needs Committee will be exploring these issues further, and gathering information and responses from any relevant professionals. We'd love to get the views of even more people, so if you have high support needs or work with people who do, please leave a comment here on the blog or contact

*Changing Places toilets are fully accessible for people with high support needs, as they include a hoist, a changing bench and plenty of room to allow them to use the toilet or have their incontinence pad changed. For more information, check out the blog article on our protest from earlier this year, and the Changing Places website!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Speaking Up for Family Fun in Half Term!

It's half term next week, and on Monday 26th we'll be holding a fantastic (and free!) event here in Cambridge, for children & young people with learning difficulties and their families.

Pictured: enjoying our last family event, with a VERY large dog!

Our Family Fusion Fun Day is a great opportunity to try out some new things, have some fun and - most importantly - to get creative as a family, working together to make artwork for our exhibition (which will be held later in the year), or to take home! There will be loads of different things to try - from designing your own t-shirts or trying out your dreams in a photoshoot, to chilling out in the sensory zone and having your fill of the free food...

We'd love for you to come along - please get in touch with the Project Leader Estelle, on or 01223 555841 if you'd like any more information!
Pictured: Giant Jenga was quite a draw at last year's festival!

The event will also give everybody a chance to find out more about our brand new Family Fusion project, which will provide life skills workshops and family mentoring for 10-16year olds and their families. The project will be focussed around families having fun whilst learning together, and it will be completely tailored to the needs of each individual family. It kicks off in january, so if you'd be interested in taking part please come along to our Family Fusion Fun Day or contact Project Co-ordinator Estelle on or 01223555841.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Speaking Up at the Newbury Warden Conference

Two of our Youth MPs were recently asked to deliver 4 workshops at a training conference for Neighbourhood Wardens in the Newbury area. Both Dan and Niall are volunteers on our Lincolnshire Youth Parliament - a forum for young people to act as democratically elected MPs and take the issues that affect their lives to the relevant decision-makers and professionals. Unlike all of our other Youth Parliaments, which are made up of Youth MPs with learning difficulties, our Lincolnshire Youth MPs are all young offenders or young people at risk of offending.

Pictured: Dan leading his workshop

The theme of the conference was 'Behind Closed Doors', and the main aim of the day was to dispel any of the Neighbourhood Wardens' misconceptions of what it is like to be a young person in today's society, and to allow them to gain an awareness of what young people want to gain for their future.

Dan and Niall planned the workshops to feature loads of interactive activities that they'd used during our Parliament events, including an activity called 'Frank' - where a willing volunteer is drawn around on a large piece of paper, and the Wardens write in the body what they think it's like to be a young person in society today. The Wardens' Frank was then compared to a Frank made my our Lincolnshire Youth MPs, and Dan and Niall led discussions about the different topics they'd covered.
Pictured: one willing volunteer in the process of creating Frank!

Pictured: Frank!

The boys got some fantastic feedback from both the Neighbourhood Resource and Training Centre, who organised the event, and from the Wardens in attendance. Their confidence grew throughout the day, and it was great to see the Wardens interacting with them so well - they all seemed to be having far too much fun for a training event!

Pictured: Niall leading his workshop

Dan and Niall are both very passionate about trying to change people's ideas about 'the youth of today' - and show that every young person is different.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Speaking Up visited by Andrew Duff MEP

Due to his work commitments in Europe, Andrew Duff MEP isn't in Cambridge very often, but two weeks ago he was kind enough to stop by our office to have a chat with our Promote the Vote team and learn about their exciting new website.

Pictured, clockwise from top left: Speaking Up's CEO Craig Dearden-Phillips, Promote the Vote team member Sean, Andrew Duff MEP, and team members Andrew, Neil and Ryan

According to the Department of Health, only 31% of people with learning disabilities voted in the 2005 general election, compared to 61% of the rest of the population. We developed our Promote the Vote project to address this.

Promote the Vote aims to encourage people with learning disabilities to develop an awareness of politics and its impact on their lives. Our fun and accessible workshops are delivered by a team of people with learning disabilities who are all enthusiastic about politics. The overall aim of the project is to encourage people with learning disabilities to register to vote, and have their voice heard in the next election.

The Promote the Vote team wanted a way to show even more people with learning disabilities how important it is to vote, and to give them accessible information on how to do it - so, they've been working really hard on a brand new accessible website to do just that!

Pictured: Promote the Vote team member Heather doing some filming for the new website

Andrew Duff MEP came along to meet the team and learn more about the project. The team interviewed him for a feature on their new website... like most politicians, he went on a bit, so gave us permission to edit the footage ruthlessly!

Pictured: Sean and Andrew Duff MEP shake hands after a fantastic interview!

The website will be launching on the 6th November, so watch this space...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Speaking Up for Carers in Cambridgeshire!

Speaking Up is now being funded by Cambridgeshire County Council to provide an advocacy service for unpaid adult carers of adults - family members or friends who need support because of sickness, age, or disability. We're really excited to be developing the independent, free and confidential advocacy service in collaboration with Crossroads Care Cambridgshire, as it will have a massive impact on the lives of carers in the county and ensure that they have a powerful voice.

The recognition that carers have a right to have a life outside of their caring role has been an important development in social care. Issues relating to access to respite care, ongoing support, and access to information have been highlighted as being extremely important to the health and well-being of carers - and independent advocacy support can make all the difference to them.

"There's a real need for advocacy to be available, and to be reaching as many people as possible" Carer, Cambridgeshire

If you'd like more information on our new advocacy service for carers, please feel free to get in touch with our Advocacy Service Manager, Reiz, at

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Speaking Up's Youth MPs campaign for a safer Barnsley!

MPs from our South Yorkshire Youth Parliament project have been campaigning for a personal safety card scheme to be launched in Barnsley - and are extremely pleased that the Barnsley Youth Council have awarded them funding to get the scheme launched!

The last South Yorkshire Youth Parliament day focused on 'Feeling Safe in my Community'. Stephanie, Youth MP for Doncaster Social Education Centre, presented her research on the Safer in Doncaster card (or SID card). Stephanie explained how the scheme worked:

"Carry your SID card or keyring with you at all times. If you are out alone, and need help, look for the SID card in the shop windows and match it with your card or keyring. Go inside and ask the staff to help."

The SID card was set up by Choice for all in Doncaster (CHAD), a learning disability forum, after they heard of a similar scheme elsewhere in the country. Inspired by the SID card, our South Yorkshire Youth MPs were keen to set up a similar scheme for Barnsley - and CHAD members agreed to work with them to develop a Barnsley version.

"We need this card in Barnsley because it can help people with disabilities be independent. We think the card will help us to be able to go into town on our own because at the moment we don't go into town on our own."
Ryan, MP for Barnsley College

On the 24th August, four Youth MPs gave a presentation on the SID card to Barnsley Youth Council at the Town Hall. The Youth Council awarded the MPs £1200 to pay for 700 cards, 600 keyrings and 1000 window stickers! The Barnsley Youth Councillors also offered to work with our MPs to promote the scheme and make it a success in Barnsley.

Pictured: South Yorkshire Youth MPs Ryan, Ryan, Stephanie and Jamie at the Town Hall

The 4 MPs who campaigned on the issue are delighted with their achievement and are looking forward to working with the Youth Councillors to make Barnsley a safer place.

If you'd like to know more about the scheme, or about our South Yorkshire Youth Parliament, comment on the blog or get in touch with Project Worker Lucy on

Friday, 14 August 2009

Next Steps celebrate members' achievements!

Phew! It's been a busy time for our Next Steps teams in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk over the last few weeks, with achievement ceremonies across the region! Next Steps supports adults and young people with learning difficulties to develop their confidence, work skills and life skills in order to live the life that they want, and be an active part of their local community.

Our Suffolk team kicked things off with their informal ceremony in Newmarket celebrating the fantastic achievements of their members, many of whom will be coming back in September to work with us some more. Liz and Steph have a few places left on their Bury St Edmunds course, so if you know anybody who would be interested do get in touch with Liz at!

Pictured: Next Steps Fenland members at their achievement ceremony

Not to be outdone, our Fenland team held 3 achievement ceremonies in 3 days, in March, St Ives and Huntingdon! One man told the gathered friends, families and carers how his brother David, a Next Steps member, never used to join in with anything at all, and that he couldn't believe he had organised for his whole group to go to the cinema. There was a real buzz at the events, with entertainment including members performing as Michael Jackson impersonators and hosting their own Strictly Come Dancing! It was great to see the members showcasing their talents and showing how much their confidence has grown during their time at Next Steps. Everybody had a fantastic time, and many of the members vowed to keep up in touch.

Finally, the Cambridge members celebrated the inspirational achievements of 6 members who were moving on to their lives in the community, and 6 other members who will be continuing with their courses and building on their achievements further.

"I'm so proud of myself. I told you I could do it!"
Alison, Next Steps member

If you would like any more information about Next Steps, please get in touch with Senior Project Leader Graham at

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Speaking Up project needs young disabled people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough!

After a fantastic first year in Cambridgeshire, Speaking Up's integrate project is expanding into Peterborough - and is looking for young people with learning disabilities who would like to take part!

Pictured: last year's Integrate members

We're on the lookout for people with learning disabilities aged 16 - 25 who want to get involved in the project - taking part in fun social activities before running fun and informative workshops to increase awareness and understanding of issues faced by young people with learning disabilities.

Last year, young people with disabilities, together with non-disabled buddies, created a great dvd which highlighted the issues faced by young disabled people - one disabled young person on the project said:

"It's not just about planning and making [the dvd], but also it improves other's lives around us, for them not to judge us about how we are but to treat us as equals"

Pictured: Proud Integrate members Robert and Chris with their dvds!

The young people on the project then took the dvd on tour, visiting youth clubs and mainstream schools to screen their film. The film went down really well, with most young people in the audience saying that it had changed their perception of young people with learning disabilities.

"It was a very good dvd - I learnt quite a lot and it was interesting to find out about people with disabilities"

"I liked the video because it showed that disabled people can work"

(both quotes from female students aged 12 who attended a workshop)

If you, or somebody you know, are aged 16 - 25 with a learning disability who would like to get involved in the project - get in touch! Vicky works on the Integrate project, and would love to hear from you. You can contact her on or 01223 555842

Click here to check out Integrate's facebook group!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Speaking Up at Learning Disability Today exhibition in Manchester

Personal Budgets are a method of self-directed support. Rather than a care plan and support being decided upon and paid for by the council, people with learning disabilities will be given a sum of money - a Personal Budget - and will have control over the activities and support they choose to spend it on.

Personal Budgets are a massive topic at the moment, and their introduction will affect the way that Speaking Up works hugely. We don't simply want to be affected by Personal Budgets though - we want to support our service users and other people with learning disabilities to understand the complex concepts and processes that they will have to deal with when they're given one.

To help increase people's understanding of Personal Budgets, our Consultancy and Training Co-ordinator Melanie Findlater has been working with Rod, Kerry and Sarah (who all have learning difficulties) to creat a fun and accessible board game on Personal Budgets. 'My Life, My Budget' is still in development, and will feature a range of steps which introduce people with learning disabilities to Personal Budgets This includes the sorts of activities they might wish to take part in, the support they will need to do so, the relative costs of each activity & associated transport costs, and also covers the concept of making choices - something many people with learning difficulties may not yet have experienced much.
Pictured: Rod and Ames playing 'My Life, My Budget'

We went to the LD Today exhibition in Manchester to show the game to people with learning disabilities and a range of professionals in the field, and to ask them what they thought about it. With around 2,000 guests, it was a great place to be for feedback! We had a fantastic day, got some great ideas to make the game even better, and are now really looking forward to launching the game!

Pictured: Mel discussing the game with guests at LD Today

There are lots more photos of us at the event on Flickr! For more information about 'My Life, My Budget', contact Mel on

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Young People Next Steps launches is Lincolnshire!

Our Lincoln team held a fantastic event last week to celebrate the launch of their Next Steps project. Next Steps is a project which supports people to develop the confidence, work skills, and life skills they need to live an active life in their community. This is a brand new project for Lincolnshire, and they're working with a brand new client group - in all other areas Next Steps works with adults and young people with learning disabilities, but in Lincolnshire alone we'll be working with youth offenders and young people at risk of offending.

Pictured: Next Steps members Dan and Lottie with the gecko!
The day was a great success, bringing together young people already on our projects in the area, a range of professionals from relevant organisations, and young people interested in joining the project. The professionals who attended the day included people from LEAP, Birchwood Youth Centre, Lincolnshire Police and the Youth Offending Service.

The day featured DJ workshops with local DJ tutor Eddy Menzel,  which was great fun. We also had a reptile workshop which was going to feature a gecko, tarantula and a snake... however, the tarantula was a bit mardy so stayed in his tank, and the snake had just eaten so they left him at home in case he decided that one of us could be pudding! Thankfully, the gecko was a great hit and made up for the lack of other reptiles!
The event was a great chance for young people and professionals to learn more about Next Steps from our project workers, and a lot of professionals were really keen to get us running workshops with the young people they work with who are caught up in the Criminal Justice System or have been identified as at a risk of offending.

We had a fantastic (but very tiring!) day, and are really looking forward to working with some of these young people in the next few weeks.

If you'd like to know any more about the Next Steps project in Lincolnshire, contact Project Worker Shell on or 01522 706 584.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Speaking Up stages Changing Places Demonstration!

Speaking Up's Cambridgeshire Parliament recently held a demonstration regarding the lack of Changing Places toilets in Cambridge.

Pictured: Volunteers from Speaking Up and Scope at the demonstration, with our High Support Needs Committee pictured on the right of the front row

Changing Places toilets are different from standard accessible toilets and include an adjustable changing bench and a hoist to allow people with high support needs to use the toilets with assistance, or to have their incontinence pads changed. Recent research by Mencap has found that nearly a quarter of a million disabled people in the UK are being denied access to these much needed facilities - forcing them to be changed on dirty toilet floors by their carers, or forcing them to stay at home. There are only 85 of these fully accessible toilets in the UK, and the nearest one to Cambridge is in Peterborough!

Simon, Christian and Susanna make up the Parliament's High Support Needs Committee. They identified the lack of Changing Places toilets as a massive issue for themselves and their peers, and so set about organising the demonstration.

Loads of volunteers came to help out at the demonstration outside the Guildhall in Cambridge, getting people to sign the petition and write to their MPs. We were really pleased with the response from the public - almost everybody we spoke to was really keen to get on board and get things changed!

After the demonstration, Susanna and Christian took the petitions down the the Houses of Parliament to raise the issue with MPs nationally. Ian Austin, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government addressed everyone about the importance of Changing Places, and we met many other supporters of the campaign. We also met Dame Tami Grey Thompson!

Pictured: High Support Needs Committee member Susanna with Dame Tami Grey Thompson

We also made it onto the local news, with Anglia News covering the campaign and visiting High Support Needs Committee member Simon in his home to show what a difference more of these facilities would make.

If you would like any more information on the campaign or our Parliament and High Support Needs Committee, please feel free to get in touch with Project Leader Kirsten on

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Speaking Up at the 36th Cambridge Beer Festival!

Speaking Up was extremely excited to have our Cambridge Next Steps project as the Official Charity Project of the 36th Cambridge Beer Festival! We had a fantastic week there - with a stall, tombola, face painting and a Human Buzzwire - a giant version of normal buzzwires, where the hoop you have to move down the wire is mounted to a helmet, instead of on a hand held pole! Click here to see the Buzzwire in action!

Pictured: Volunteer Paul with Gwok, a Next Steps service user, trying out the Buzzwire!

It was great fun, and we raised a total of £3,309 for Next Steps! Thank you so much to everybody who made it possible - the local businesses who kindly donated prizes for the tombola, the wonderful Beer Festival organisers and stewards who supported us for the whole week, and the many staff who volunteered their time and energy!

Pictured: Volunteer Vicky on the Next Steps stall!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Speaking Up at the Cabinet Office... and Number 10!

Neil Adams, who is a Speaking Up Youth Parliament MP and Promote the Vote Trainer, was recently lucky enough to spend a day at the Cabinet Office in London doing work experience shadowing Senior Press Officer Stephen Coomber.

By the end of a long day in London, Neil had helped to write a press release, gotten sign of for it from MP Liam Byrne, emailed the press release to a range of journalists and discussed it with them on the phone, and even managed to get a tour of Number 10 Downing Street, where he saw the Prime Minister hard at work!

Neil said "Everything about the day was fantastic - I enjoyed every single second of it. I would like to be a journalist one day" Click here to check out the press release that Neil and Stephen wrote on the day! More photos here on our Flickr page.

Speaking Up Speaks Out - a new blog!

Hello, and welcome to Speaking Up Speaks Out - our new blog! The blog is going to keep you up to date with all the goings on at Speaking Up across the country, and we hope that you'll comment and let us know what you think.