The People’s Conference by the Lothian Voices collective advocacy group. The Lothian Voices group is made up of people with lived experience of mental health issues who live in the NHS Lothian area.
They created the first People’s Conference as a response to the NHS Lothian Mental Health Strategy in 2011: “A Sense of Belonging”. People with lived experience wanted to create a protected space where they could respond to this strategy from the perspective of people who accessed services.
Throughout the seven years that the conference has been running, a steering group of people with lived experience of mental health issues have together organised and facilitated the annual event.
The aim of the project was to establish and maintain a space for people with their own lived experience of mental health issues to set the agenda. People wanted to provide commentary in a safe and valued space and to then provide real feedback to decision makers.
The introduction of Health and Social Care Integration was a challenging time for the People’s Conference as it changed the forums that they were able to be heard at. However, the group have found new ways of highlighting the People’s Conference by refocussing on the importance that comes from a collective voice. The group have expanded their activities to include getting involved in national events. They take the messages that come out of the conference into new arenas such as the Cross Party Parliamentary Group of the Scottish Parliament.
The 2020 People’s Conference was probably the group’s biggest challenge so far! During the lockdown the group were determined to ensure that the conference went ahead and was as accessible, relevant and as fresh as ever, so we moved online!
Following the 2020 People’s Conference, the group was inspired to create its own opportunity to feedback to professionals working in mental health services. They ran a webinar where professionals and people with lived experience of mental health issues were invited to join in open discussions about the findings from the conference and what the next steps for services should be.
The event took an innovative approach with no pre-planned questions or answers. This approach was well received by professionals. The group is hopeful that this success will forge new co-operation in future.
The concept of the People’s Conference has gone from strength to strength, with many different people working on it over the years.