The core group for the conference for care experienced people, now known as “CareExpConf”, met last Tuesday. It was the last meeting of 2018 and a brief respite before we engage in the increasingly hectic preparations for the conference being held next April at the beautiful, and so aptly named, Liverpool Hope University.
The core group has been meeting monthly for the last few months as we sought to convert the conference for care experienced people from a dream to a reality. No mean feat – but we have the team to do it. Our core group is an exciting mix of care experienced people of all ages and committed friends including writers, artists, social workers, academics, psychologists, (and a psychotherapist,) charity CEO’s and a retired Director of Children’s Services. A brilliant mix of talent, creativity, imagination and experience.
The core group faced some daunting challenges earlier this year. Could we meet the massive expectations of the conference? Could we successfully engage our care experienced community to ensure the conference belonged to them and reflected their wishes, views and aspirations? Could we raise enough money to pay for the event? Could we find ways to ensure that those care experienced people who do not go to conferences, who do not speak because they believe nobody listens, and who might find such gatherings difficult, will feel and be able to attend? Those questions have been at the front of our discussions each month.
CareExpConf is a forum for care experienced people to come together as a supportive community to share their experiences and wisdom with each other in a safe supportive environment, and to go even further by making their own suggestions for reform and change. A massive task on its own - but the conference has greater expectations. Alongside the debate and exchanging of ideas, there will be an exhibition of art, music, poetry, sculpture, drama and so much more by talented care experienced artists, celebrating the silent diverse creative genius of this previously invisible group.
Alongside that, academic colleagues from several universities will be seeking to carry out action research alongside the event and afterwards, to ensure the learning and consultation continues. The conference is not a single event, it is the beginning of a process.
Meeting these aims is no easy task for the core group.
We will be offering a number of themed workshops focusing on issues identified by care experienced people themselves in a survey carried out by our psychologists. The core team has spent a great deal of time looking at the programme of workshop discussions for the day. Each workshop will be independently facilitated and include scribes and support staff to support the delegates. It is so important that the ideas and observations made by delegates in workshops in their discussions are properly reflected back to the wider group for further discussion and included in the final conference report.
Alongside the shared tasks of making the conference happen successfully, our core team includes a number of smaller dedicated teams looking at specific areas of importance
Our ‘pastoral team’ includes skilled psychologists and have dedicated themselves to ensuring we have support systems in place to look after and support all our delegates on what could be a challenging day for some.
Our ‘fundraising team’ includes experienced fundraisers and has spent many worried hours seeking financial support, online and from generous benefactors, to make sure that we can fund the event. All the core group are donating their time at no cost and meeting their own expenses so that every penny raised is spent on the conference.
Our ‘artistic team’, including successful care experienced artists and writers, are putting together a magnificent display of creative art that will celebrate the imaginative brilliance of the family. The range, diversity and impact of the exhibits I’ve seen so far are breathtaking.
Less obviously, team members have worked away quietly to ensure that delegates have sufficient information, guidance and ‘welcome packs’ and that they feel welcome, properly informed and part of the day.
All of these areas and many more are discussed in depth at our core group meetings, including our last meeting of 2018 last Tuesday. At the beginning of this year, hosting the conference looked almost unachievable. We still have daunting challenges to overcome, but we have come so far, and the infrastructure for the day is now pretty much in place.
One thing is becoming obvious. The demand to participate in the conference nationally is likely to exceed the supply. I suspect the conference at Liverpool Hope University on 26th April next year will prove to be a springboard for change, and might lead to others elsewhere around the UK such that care experienced people everywhere have an opportunity to participate.
Next year will be challenging and test our team to its limits, but we will succeed, I am sure. That is because of the massive support we have behind us, including over 100 skilled volunteers who have offered their support to the event on the day.
All that remains is to wish everyone a wonderful joyous, healthy and loving Christmas and a great New Year. We will speak again in 2019.