In recent years, we have taken forward the issue of meaningful Tenant and Service User involvement in ARK’s work, and in the wider local community, through various initiatives.
In 2004, ARK was successful in securing funding from SCVO and Communities Scotland, which allowed us to appoint a worker for a nine-month period to promote community planning and active citizenship within the organisation. One of the main aims of community planning is to make sure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made about the public services which affect them. Our hope was that we would be supporting people to take up issues which would have relevance to any community member, rather than services offered specifically to people with learning difficulties. This was exactly what happened.
After the funding provided by SCVO and Communities Scotland ended, we continued to develop our work in this area, and sought external funding to continue the specific focus on promoting active citizenship. We were successful in securing three years of funding from the Big Lottery Fund for this.
The overarching aim of this project was to promote active citizenship amongst ARK staff and the people we support, and to better equip them to represent themselves. It also worked to support the people using our services to increase their social networks and to progress their opportunities for employment and for delivery of training. The project was successful in meeting these aims, supporting service users not only to form new social networks amongst themselves, but also to be part of their local communities through attendance at consultations and conferences, and becoming involved in local and national politics through canvassing MSPs and Councillors.
By the time the Big Lottery funded project came to an end, and in recognition of the importance that participation and citizenship has for our work and our values, ARK had already employed a Participation Officer, whose task would be to build on the good work undertaken previously. This role is now permanent, and our Tenant and Service User Participation Officer is dedicated to involving tenants and service users both in ARK’s work, and in wider community issues which may interest or affect them.