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Learning Disabilities Innovation Fund provides opportunities for people with learning disabilities

About the project

With funding from the Welsh Government’s Integrated Care Fund Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services (PAVS) co-produced the Learning Disabilities Innovation Fund (LDIF) with support from the Dream Team and Pembrokeshire People First (PPF).

PPF is an independent charity, run by and for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Dream Team are a group of people with learning disabilities, who represent people with learning disabilities in West Wales, and encourage meaningful engagement with decision makers.

Nothing about us, without us.

Dream Team's motto

The Learning Disabilities Innovation Fund (LDIF) was established in 2021, providing an opportunity for people with learning disabilities to come up with ideas for new activities and services and access funding to test them out in practice. LDIF offered an opportunity for third sector organisations and statutory bodies to apply for funding to run a truly co-produced project with and for people with learning disabilities across Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The key priorities for the Fund were:

  • All projects must be co-devised, produced and delivered by people with learning disabilities
  • All projects need to be innovative
  • All projects need to specifically take forward the aims of the LD Charter

Dream Team members, who all have learning disabilities, formed the assessment and decision-making panel, supported by PPF. The Dream Team will also lead on the evaluation of the projects that are funded.

What has co-production meant to the project?

Co-production was at the heart of the fund.

Working in a co-productive manner takes time: time to discuss ways of working; time to reach mutually workable solutions; time to test methods like the Easy Read application process and time to prepare the panel – people with learning disabilities recruited from the Dream Team.

Organisations applying to the fund also had to spend more time than usual too – to explain projects in Easy Read, to involve beneficiaries and to accompany their form with a short video. They were then invited to present to the panel members who scored the applications from agreed criteria.

What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?

Energy: all participants were willing to put in extra time and effort to do things differently.

Belief:

  • In encouraging people to give their best – knowing that everyone has skills, knowledge or experience to contribute.
  • In strategic funders, who were willing to try a very different approach to distributing grants.

Trust: working with partners who you know will do a good job, having developed trust on other projects.

Involving and listening: to people with learning disabilities at every stage, ensuring they felt included and valued; building their resilience, and emotional and mental health and wellbeing.

Flexibility: willing to accept other ways of working which might not always be the quickest but can have long-term benefits, such as valuing panel members’ opinions.

What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?

Habit: Some applicant organisations were used to a ‘top-down’ approach – their applications were ‘about’ the people they worked with rather than being originated by them.

COVID: The pandemic meant that the entire assessment process was done online, and this held up some projects.

What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?

Meaning: the process helped us all to really think about the Learning Disabilities Charter and what it means to people of all abilities.

Trust: trust between organisations was further developed, and people with learning disabilities feel valued.

Respect:

  • For panel members’ (people with learning disabilities) views when they asked searching questions, for example about outcomes
  • For facilitators, who took their time and worked with patience and care.

Clarity: the use of Easy Read throughout the whole process, and the ability to cut through jargon and ask ‘what is this project really about?’

Learning: an opportunity to do things differently – which takes more time and resources, e.g. the Easy Read Application and panel format.

Understanding: better understanding of certain conditions, like the range of autism or what some conditions bring, e.g. technical expertise.

What have been the main outcomes of the project?

Outcomes are still emerging, as the funded projects are still being delivered, but the panel members from the Dream Team have developed skills; they feel respected, valued and included; and they have a meaningful voice.

This is reflected in initial feedback from the Pembrokeshire Mencap iPad project:

I don’t have to wait for someone to read to me anymore – I only touch the iPad and a voice reads it to me.

Pembrokeshire Mencap iPad project participant

I can’t write, so I like being able to say my answers and put the recording in my book.

Pembrokeshire Mencap iPad project participant

This is proving to be a really inclusive way of teaching and learning and we are hoping that before too long people will be able to make a short film of their day-to-day activities that we can upload to our social media page.

We have also received positive feedback from the Tenby Project:

The first two weeks have gone really well and we have a Facebook page @tenbyproject, a Tenby website, and we were on the front page of The Tenby Observer. Workshop programme is booked up to March. There has been a lovely atmosphere, and people from Hafal (a charity supporting people in Wales with mental health issues) have come over to join us in the afternoons for the talk, so that has been great for everyone involved!

Tenby project participant

How has the project worked to engage all sections of the community?

The Fund was aimed at co-designing and developing projects for people with learning disabilities. However, many of the funded projects involve the wider community in their delivery.

What advice would the project give to others?

Time: understand that a process like this takes time, both in the planning and delivery stages. But appreciate that this is a key element of its success.

Buy-in: from the highest levels – token involvement is pointless.

Belief: believe in the ability of everyone to contribute to the process.

Related project resources

A short film made by one of the funded projects – Tenby project:

Co-production example: Learning Disabilities Innovation Fund – Tenby project

Any other information

The co-production method was enjoyable and life-enhancing for all involved because it was participative. People with learning difficulties said they felt they really were involved in decision making and helping to shape projects.

This was a new way of working for practitioners. It was not always easy: additional time and patience were required to better understand a panel member’s views, but project feedback suggests it was well worth it.

All involved better understand each other’s perspectives – why clarity is important for the participants; also why transparency is important for the funders, to ensure that public money is being well spent.

Added value: the methodology can be shared; it has already created interest when reported to the Wales Funders Forum and Wales Council for Voluntary Action. A toolkit about the process is being developed, to encourage other funders to adopt the same approach.