West Cheshire Poverty Truth
It all started with a question
Could people living in poverty help shape the way our borough's leaders make decisions about the support services in place? Would it make a difference to the decisions that are being made? Would it also strengthen relationships, change attitudes and create solutions to some of the difficult questions poverty creates?
The answer to that is yes. Following on from the success of the very first Poverty Truth Commission (PTC) in Glasgow, Scotland, the first West Cheshire PTC (WCPTC) was set up in 2017, with the aim of tackling the root causes of poverty. The WCPTC was the first to be led and administered by a Local Authority, Cheshire West and Chester Council, helping to address gaps in services and inequalities across the borough.
The WCPTC aimed to give a face to the facts by creating safe spaces for community inspirers, those with lived experience of poverty, to tell their stories. It also provided opportunities for those making and influencing decisions to listen. The WCPTC framework ensured that people with lived experience are at the heart of how the borough thinks and acts in tackling poverty and inequality.The success of the first WCPTC led to the launch of a second WCPTC in 2019 that ran until March 2020.
- Creating a voice and empowering inspirers to contribute to a range of Council and partner agency work.
- Strengthened relationships between inspirers, civic leaders and partner agencies.
- Inspirers feel listened and able to influence change, by sharing their lived experience of poverty.
- Requests to present at events locally, regionally and nationally.
- Development of PTC Pledge with partner agencies.
- Strong, positive media coverage.
- Community Inspirers consistently reported a stronger sense of confidence, enabling them to have voice, secure employment, develop their learning, become more independent.
- Increased partnership working across a number of agencies.
- New models of working across the Council, the volunteer sector, businesses, and the wider community.
- A deeper model of partnership working with people who have lived experience of poverty.
- New support for front line staff to understand the story of the person in front of them (their challenges, stresses and often complex problems) and the need for compassion, empathy, and making any difference they can, no matter how small. E.g. One social housing provider has reported a 75 per cent reduction in evictions since it changed their approach to managing tenancies. The organisation moved from a reprimand approach to offering a well-being service which focuses on early intervention and supporting people to sustain tenancies.
West Cheshire Poverty Truth Commission report
The PTC wants everyone to take a person-centred approach and promote non-judgemental practice. The PTC Pledge was created to promote the honest and respectful treatment of all people, encouraging the development of positive relationships rather than transactional processes. The aim was that by signing up to this, organisations and the people within them become more self-aware, and are accountable for their behaviour. Organisations across the borough are encouraged to signed up to the pledge.
I pledge to treat you how you want to be treated.
The PTC recognise there is a wealth of services and support available across the borough however people don’t often know about them or how to navigate their way through systems, particularly when they are in crisis. The PTC worked with the Council to develop Live Well Cheshire West - an online directory of services.
The PTC also helped create a new service, led by Citizens Advice. The Community Connector service works out in the community and offers support and advice to people where and when they need it most. There are currently five Connectors across west Cheshire with a growing pool of volunteer connectors who are offered training in how to signpost or connect people to services in the local area.
The PTC helped create the Homeless Strategy 2020. The following recommendations were included:
- the need for a robust independent advocacy service, for homeless people, offering someone to walk along side and help navigate through the systems.
- Stop using temporary B&B accommodation for homeless families.
- Better provision of homes for people leaving prison
Community Inspirers shared their lived experience of being made homeless, the affect it had had on them and that of their families and the time and strength it takes to recover from it. Through true listening and collaboration, members of the Commission started to reflect on how systems and process were being put before people. As a result, one social housing provider moved from a process-driven approach to offering a person-centred, well-being service which focuses on early intervention and supporting people to sustain tenancies and they are now reporting a 75 per cent reduction in evictions.
Watch the animation
How we live
The WCPTC recognises it is essential to include the voice of children and young people in change, and that is important to do this in ways which are fun to enable them to feel valued and safe as they have their voices heard.
A group of young people from Winsford Academy and Wharton Primary School, were involved in a number of drama workshops, facilitated by the WCPTC team. They developed a fictional character and story which they played out at the WCPTC launch event at the Storyhouse in Chester.
The script was then developed with support from television producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond CBE and other industry professionals to make a short film - 'How we live'. It is a powerful film which raises awareness and understanding of the issues young people face, caused by poverty and is largely shot through the eyes of a young person to remind us all, as professionals, to have a person-centred approach and to look at the barriers surrounding that ideal non-judgemental practice.
Watch the trailer
Online workshops have been created around the film to help influence the change that we want to see within the lives of young people. These workshops are aimed at people working with families and young people and cover:
- Self-awareness – how do our attitudes and behaviours impact others?
- The impact of the language we use.
- Increasing insight into the factors that can contribute to child poverty.
- Understanding the journey and struggles young people face by walking a mile in their shoes.
- How do we react to the challenges we face and is their room in your working day to adapt and be flexible?
- How we can support families and young people to break down barriers and achieve their goals.
In addition to this, we also have a number of workshops we have already developed which are aimed at secondary school students and cover topics such as:
- Creating a fairer and better society
- Hopes and dreams (aspirations)
- Supporting our peers and friends
- Grooming awareness
As part of the workshop learners get to watch the film and the sessions run between one and a half to two hours in duration. Sessions are delivered via Microsoft Teams or Zoom and can be tailored to suit learning objectives.
To find out more complete our online enquiry form.
The next stage
Building on the learning from WCPTC one and two, it was agreed in early 2020 to mainstream this approach to inform and support all poverty work across the Council and with local partner agencies, developing a programme of work in conjunction with services that retains the existing WCPTC ethos.
To support this work, the Council has now set up a Poverty Truth Advisory Board (PTAB) with public, private, civic sector and community inspirer representatives to advise and support services across the Council and partner agencies.
Call for a poverty emergency
Work was given added impetus in July 2020 through a report to the Council’s Cabinet proposing that the Council declare a poverty emergency for the borough. This was agreed to take forward to Full Council as a recommendation.
If you have ideas for improvement, experience, insight or skills to offer or would like to become a Community Inspirer please get in touch.
- Bringing the poverty agenda to the forefront and respond to any changes/challenges that the communities of West Cheshire face.
- Listening and learning from people with lived experience of poverty.
- Influence the Council and partner organisations to recognise people with lived experience as key stakeholders.
- Securing a robust framework to ensure that change in how decisions are made is permanent.
- Building a community to help inform work.
- Reducing stigmas and assumptions attached to the use of the word poverty.
- Gathering data to evidence the impact COVID-19 is having on those already in poverty, or likely to experience it as a result.
- Using knowledge and evidence to influence those in positions of power to review how we tackle poverty within Cheshire West and beyond.
- Advising and helping to develop policy on the use of appropriate funding to support the poverty agenda, now and in the future.
- Timely and pro-active involvement in Council policy reviews.
- Building knowledge of how decision making and influencing works within Local Government and beyond.
- Exploring and developing opportunities to network within the wider community and beyond West Cheshire to make change-making more accessible to people experiencing poverty or on low incomes.