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Listening Partnerships: Our Past, Present and Future

a group of young people in red jumpers which say 'listening partnership', some with visible disabilities, are standing by a wall in castle park in Bristol. The sun is shining and everyone looks happy

We are the Listening Partnership (LP), WECIL’s participation group that gives  Disabled young people a voice on important topics that matter to us. Led by young people, for young people, we challenge the barriers that we as Disabled young people face in daily life. By running a series of campaigns throughout the year and consulting on important decisions across the West of England, we are helping to make positive change and shape a better future for all. Read on to hear about how we started, what we’ve been up to recently and our plans moving forward. And if you like the sound of it, why not come and join us?

a group of young people, some with visible disabilities, are standing next to a big gate near parliament in London. Some look happy, some look serious!

Our History

The Listening Partnership was started by WECIL more than 20 years ago, and has been making an incredible impact on the lives of Disabled young people, the local community and the wider Disability Rights Movement ever since. Disabled young peoples voices are not represented enough in society, particularly in key areas such as transport, housing and education. The Listening Partnership was set up in response to this, to challenge stigmas and enable choice and control for every Disabled young person. Whilst the group and its members have evolved over the years, our mission as a voice group has stayed the same; we are ensuring that young Disabled voices are listened to in all aspects of society.

The work we do has fed into WECIL’s wider mission as a user-led, Disabled People’s Organisation, supporting Disabled people to live the life they choose, and is an essential part of WECIL’s user-led model. We have also been working in partnership with other voice organisations across WECIL and the wider participatory sector, including Know Your Rights, to collectively elevate the voices of Disabled people and make as big an impact as we can.

Some of our past campaigns have included removing the stigma around mental health and bullying. We have also consulted for We The Curious to trial and create exhibition material around climate change, and for Bristol airport about their new sensory wing. Other organisations that we have worked with include Harbourside festival, George Clothing at ASDA, Barnardos and we also frequently consult and discuss with Bristol City Council about our collective experience, which informs the way they run their services, such as Short Breaks. We also organise trips and projects like the Duke of Edinburgh award, to improve the accessibility of the programme and allow Disabled young people to experience opportunities where there are normally barriers.

As well as helping improve regional and national services, LP has always been a brilliant opportunity for individuals to develop their own skills and knowledge. Some of our past members have commented that ‘LP has made me feel welcome and helped me with my anxiety. Thank you for supporting me in the sessions and with everyday things.’ Parents too have noted that we facilitate ‘amazing supported sessions that promote Disability independence.’ Members have grown in confidence and independence as a result of being part of LP, and feel empowered to make a difference.

Two people are sat at a white desk, both are on laptops. The individual at the front of the picture is wearing a red jumper with the WECIL logo on. There is a cork wall to the right of the image with lots of hand drawn pictures of people pinned to it.

Present Day

Currently, we meet three times a month on Mondays from 6.45-8.45pm in the Chill Out Space at The Station in central Bristol. There is a group of 15 of us at present and the group is open to anyone aged 13-25 that identifies as Disabled and lives in Bristol. We meet to discuss our lived experience, challenges and campaigns in areas that affect us. There are snacks and drinks provided at the sessions, and taxis available for those that need it. We are facilitated by WECIL staff, but we lead the topics and discussions for the group.

Our recent campaigns include WECIL Rocks, which raises awareness about what the sunflower lanyard is. We discussed our experiences of being challenged during Covid-19 in shops and people believing that the lanyard is about mask-exemption. We wanted to raise awareness about its true meaning as a global symbol for Invisible Impairments, and asked young people to paint rocks with the sunflower lanyard pattern and hide them in their local area. This was a great, community focused campaign which encouraged the public to interact with the rocks, share photos and hide it somewhere new, whilst we used social posts to educate people on what the sunflower lanyards are, their importance and challenge the stigma around invisible Disabilities. We have also been campaigning for the availability of accessible toilets, both by educating professionals and working with local authorities to open up more spaces. We are represented by one of our members at the Bristol City Youth Council, and are able to voice our opinions at a regional and national level.

The benefits of being part of LP goes far beyond the sessions themselves, as members socialise, support and make friends with one another. Some members have then become apprentices at WECIL or session workers, and their involvement in LP helps with personal development and career progression. We help each other learn about our rights and develop the knowledge and skills to become Disability advocates and activists in wider society.

This month we are also attending the Youth Voice Matters Children and Young People’s SEND Conference delivered by the Council for Disabled Children. The conference is designed and delivered by young people for young people and a great opportunity for us to build our skills and participate in decision making at a local, national and strategic level.

Two young people are sat in a room, one of them is in a wheel chair, the other has a red jumper with 'Listen Partnership' printed on it. They are reading a sheet of paper and both look happy.

Plans for the Future

The future of Listening Partnerships is shaped by you! Recently, a lot of our older members have just left the group – our longest LP member started at aged 13 and was with us for 12 years. This means we are going through a process of change and new beginnings – so now is a brilliant opportunity for new members to join us and develop the group into what we want it to be.

If you’re nervous about joining, don’t worry. We are a welcoming and friendly group that support each other to build our resilience and understanding, develop our voices and opinions, and increase confidence in a supportive environment. At the moment, we are made up of a lot of SEND young people, but would like to increase our members with physical impairments to ensure we are representing all types of Disability. So if this is you, we’d love to hear from you!

Over the next 6 months, we have some exciting plans. We’re going to focus on transport and improving the Disability bus pass, and would also like to explore mental health, Disability sports, healthy eating for young Disabled people and Makaton or Sign Language training. We will continue to develop our confidence as well as script writing and presenting skills to achieve our goals.

Our funding allows us to continue to deliver the impactful work that we do, to not only support individuals to develop their voice, gain confidence and meet new people, but educate and inform the wider community to improve services. We help young people to be proud of their Disability, understand their rights and support independent living.

To find out more and get involved, please fill in this form and we will be in touch.

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