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...