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A bostin’ trip to Brum!

In February, the Expert Service User Reference Group (ESURG) made the short trip north to Britain’s second city Birmingham for the latest meeting of the Fulfilling Lives National Experts Citizens Group (NECG). The NECG brings together expert groups from across all 12 Fulfilling Lives areas and gives us a chance to share information, advice and best practice, and to provide support to one another.

Dean Jackman, Diane Sempare and Maria Whitefield represented both ESURG and service users in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham at the event. We stayed overnight in Birmingham which gave us a great opportunity to meet, and get to know, members from other groups in the evening. It also gave us the opportunity to meet the national Chair, Dorian from Bristol’s ‘If’ group. I think we’re in good hands.

In the morning Dave, our Peer Development Manager, assured us that, as he had grown up in the city he could walk us to the venue in about 10 minutes. Upon arriving at the venue 30 minutes later following a tour of the Digbeth area which took in many back alleys and side streets (some more than once) we arrived at Fazeley Studios. The venue was a beautiful space converted from an industrial building dating back 150 years to a time when Birmingham was known as the Workshop of the World.

Birmingham’s Experts by Experience had not disappointed, a fantastic venue was supplemented by a fantastic agenda focusing on how we communicate both internally and externally. Birmingham’s Experts by Experience talked about how they were raising interest in what they do through their social media project Muglamania which has seen people post photos of project mugs in a variety of different places to publicise Changing Futures, the Birmingham Fulfilling Lives project. A simple but effective way to get the message out there.

We also got to vote for a new Vice-chair for the group. Nominations were made and we had a high calibre of candidates to choose from, any one of whom I’m certain would have given great service. As it was the group voted for Matt from the Bristol project who we are sure will prove to be fantastic in the role. Congratulations Matt!

As one of our number is a wheelchair user the trip was also a reminder of the amount of forward planning that needs to be done for arrangements many of us would take for granted. Ensuring rail station staff are prepared and suitable space reserved, that the hotel has allocated an appropriate room with appropriate facilities and that the meeting venue can accommodate a wheelchair user all need careful thought and preparation.

So what now? Well Chair and Vice-Chair Dorian and Matt have already sent us a draft Mission Statement for the NECG inviting us to comment. The NECG meets next in Bristol in May and we’re already looking forward to seeing everyone and playing our part in making the NECG stronger.