In the third post in the series of evaluations undertook by independent consultant, Russell Webster, he examines the way in which the organisation values lived experience.
The series of evaluations I undertook examined interventions which Ingeus delivered as the lead organisation in the Reducing Reoffending Partnership (RRP) which operated in the East and West Midlands between 2015 and 2021.
I found a defining characteristic of Ingeus’ work across different areas of operation was the focus on valuing lived experience. This applied both to involving people on probation in designing services and in integrating peer support throughout interventions for both people in prison and in the community.
Over the last two decades, the role of people with lived experience volunteering and working across the broad social justice sector has become increasingly acknowledged and valued. There is an emerging consensus about the range of benefits of peer mentoring:
• Peer volunteers benefit from opportunities to “give back”, they can rebuild their self-confidence and realise that they have something positive to contribute to society. They learn new skills, and many can convert their experience of peer volunteering into paid employment.
• The people supported by peer volunteers are helped in their recovery by people who can share their own experiences as well as providing real-life examples of successful recovery.
• Organisations can provide service users with the added dimension of peer support, as well as benefiting from the insights and different viewpoints of peer volunteers working alongside paid staff. They can also grow their workforce by employing peer volunteers who have received in-house training and are aware of their working culture and practices.
Two years ago, I undertook a national survey with people with lived experience who were volunteering with criminal justice, drug and alcohol and homelessness organisations. The results were very mixed. Many people felt valued by the organisations they were volunteering for, received good quality training and support, and were encouraged to convert both their lived experiences and time volunteering into paid employment. However, many others felt they were regarded as ‘dogs bodies’, required to do menial jobs that workers did not want to do and were taken for granted with little consideration of how their lived experience could make a difference. In other words, while everyone praised the value of lived experience, only some organisations ‘walked the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’.
The Ingeus approach
I was delighted to find that Ingeus was truly committed to the value of lived experience and had invested substantially in training large numbers of peer mentors across both CRC areas. The organisation also formed a close partnership with St Giles to develop a large-scale workforce of serving prisoners who operated as peer advisors supporting their fellow prisoners.
The effectiveness of these different approaches utilising the skills and experiences of people who had been on probation and in prison was only possible because it was clear to participants that Ingeus was sincere in the way it valued lived experience.
It was clear that Ingeus placed service user involvement and the influence of people with lived experience at the heart of everything they did; I found people with lived experience in key positions across the different evaluations I did. This approach enabled the organisation to design (and re-design) interventions which are better suited to meet the needs of service users. The organisation’s peer mentoring programme was critical to supporting thousands of people on probation supervision. Peer mentors provide a lived example of success as well as advising, encouraging, and supporting people to turn their lives around.
Most importantly, Ingeus set out to increase the diversity of their workforce by developing a new recruitment pathway, the Ingeus Academy, which prizes lived experience and delivers a workforce with a high level of personal motivation to help others.
The Ingeus Academy is a formal supported routeway through which people on probation can gain employment and receive ongoing support as they make the transition from volunteer to employee. This route from peer mentor to paid member of staff volunteer was critical and one of the key issues highlighted in the peer mentor survey discussed above.
I found that the organisation had employed a total of ninety-two people with lived experience in a variety of roles including as community support workers, health trainers, sessional community payback supervisors and site hosts (reception staff). Many of these people have continued to progress through the organisation into a range of different roles. Currently 14% of the staff in services delivered by Ingeus’ Justice division have lived experience.