Pembrokeshire People First – ‘Our aim is to one day become redundant’
Through our work we get to meet and talk to driven, passionate and inspiring people working in communities across the country. Recently, we caught up with Karen Chandler, Chief Officer of Pembrokeshire People First.
Tell us about the organisation?
Pembrokeshire People First is an independent charity, run by and for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism. Every two years, members set the organisation’s remit, providing a ‘manifesto’ and action plan. The focus is on developing skills, resilience and independence through advocacy – often supporting people at a point of crisis or transition – or helping people engage with services.
We also provide training, both for other organisations and for members focussing on life skills. We also run a whole range of groups and campaign to bring important learning disability and autism issues to local politicians and statutory bodies like the Health and Wellbeing Board, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the local Council.
What difference does it make for people?
What’s so special about us is that projects and programmes are member-led, and not defined by the statutory sector or anyone else! We are passionate about meaningful engagement. One way in which we do this is through our Management Committee which is made up of a majority of members with learning disabilities or autism and we have really high expectations of our members but I’ve never been disappointed!
Our aim is to one day become redundant. We work towards a future where the needs of our members are met by political agendas, people with learning disabilities and autism will be skilled and empowered to engage with statutory services and those services will be set up to deal with their needs.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
One of the biggest challenges for us is funding. The environment has been transformed by huge reductions in statutory funding and changes to commissioning. Often tenders are restrictive, poorly funded and can pose a threat to independent voice, particularly with regard to advocacy which needs to be rigorously independent.
Our advocacy works because we are free to engage with advocacy partners on their terms, for the amount of time that they need, and for the often multiple issues that they present throughout the advocacy partnership. Whilst we are of course rigorous in our recording and evaluation, we are not led by targets or time limits – we are led by our partners. So a great deal of time is spent in an endless cycle of getting money in and keeping people employed.
What would make a difference to you?
What really helps is long term, unrestricted funding. Getting core funding means funders really trust us to do what we do best! Core funding helps us to maintain our independent voice and stay true to our mission.
How are you responding to changes in the funding environment?
We’ve taken some time and space to think about how to adapt to the funding environment – and core funding really helps with this – and are currently developing opportunities for earned income generation through training contracts with statutory organisations, consultation and easy read services.
Do you feel supported in your role? What would make life easier?
I feel supported by staff, volunteers, and most of all by our members! We really are a collaborative, cooperative organisation. But there’s no question that time and space – more of it – would make my role easier, and enable me to take time for real strategic development. There’s a lot of firefighting – but I guess that’s part of both the Third sector in general, and an organisation where members have real ownership in particular.