Supporting people to get involved and have their say

With this website we want to be able to show that politics is not a separate thing that only some people are interested in, but rather that politics affects everybody.

Engaging with this process should be central to involving a person in the decision-making that affects their everyday life.

We hope to show that supporting someone to have a say about what is important to them is something that we could, and should, be doing all year round.

 

The first thing to do is to support someone to find out who their representatives are, and to make a list of these with their contact details. This is very important information which people should have alongside other key contacts, such as GPs or advocates. You can find out more about this in the Voting section of this website.

Community

People now recognise the importance of involving and including people in their local communities. It is not enough to simply live in a community. In fact, a key part of the role of supporting others is about ensuring that they have a presence, and real connections to others, in their local community.

As you will see, many of the activities suggested in the Campaigning section are great ways of involving and including people in communities. For example, a lot of the activities that people could be involved in are those of joining or setting up groups in the local community.

For some people this could be joining a self-advocacy group or for others a local action group.

Joining a group

One of the first things you need to do when supporting someone is to find out about their interests, aspirations or concerns. It is unusual for a person to have a unique interest or concern. There is an extremely good chance that within the local or wider community there are other people with the same interests. These people may already have set up a group.

If the person you support does not have much experience with joining groups then you may need to take the lead in creating opportunities for them to try this out.

Research

A bit of research like reading local papers, visiting libraries and local community centres, or searching online can reveal information about what local groups already exist and how new members can join. You may be surprised just how many local and wider community groups there are, and the range of topics, concerns and interests they represent.

Do not forget to ask around among family, friends and colleagues, as there is usually someone who knows something or can point you in the right direction.

The person you support may want to join the local branch of a political party, or become a member of a charity and be part of a larger lobbying group. Remember, though, that politics is not just about these more obvious groups.

Politicised activity

The person you support may want to be part of a local group of ramblers who, as well as rambling, simply want to make sure footpaths are maintained and kept open. This is still about campaigning and having a say in the decision-making process.

Likewise, someone may want to join a group that is interested in local history. This is not a political activity as such, but may well involve things like lobbying the council for better access to local historical buildings or council records.

It is hard to think of an activity that does not have a political element.

Participating in a group

When thinking about supporting someone to join a group, it is sometimes easy to assume that a new member would have to be someone who could use speech, or be confident about communicating in a group or with strangers. We can often rule people out of certain activities because of assumptions we make about them. However, it is not usually a requirement of joining a group that you need to be a vocal or confident participant. A person wanting to join a group may simply need some support to communicate with the other members.

Participating in a group could be about simply being part of it, observing what is happening, and letting your presence be noticed and acknowledged. This can in itself be useful, influential and rewarding, both for the person participating and the rest of the group.

You could support someone to join a group online. There are groups, or forums, about most interests and they are usually quite straightforward to join.

Setting up a group

If there are no existing groups that match the person you support’s interests or concerns, you could support them to set up a group.

For example, perhaps the person you support is worried about traffic speeding down the road they live on. You could help that person to make a leaflet about these concerns and post it through all the doors on the street inviting people to join or support an action group.

You could support that person to organise a meeting at a local hall or community centre and invite along local residents. You could ask council officials and police officers with responsibility for road safety to come along and talk at your meeting about these concerns.

You could support someone to set up a website, or forum, about their interests or concerns. You could also support someone to set up a page on existing social networking site like Facebook.

Campaigning

Using the same example of the person concerned about speeding traffic, there are lots of other ways you could help someone to campaign about this issue. You could support that person to start a petition about the traffic and ask local people to sign it. You could support that person to write a letter to their local politicians or MP about the issue and ask others to sign it or send their own letters.

You could support that person to write to local papers or try and interest local radio and television stations in their story and campaign.

Political parties, elections and voting

The most obvious activities to look at when talking about getting involved with politics are joining or supporting a political party, and campaigning or voting in elections.

You can help someone to find out what people in political parties are saying by looking at a political party’s website, reading the papers, listening to the radio, or watching the news and political television programmes.

You may also find it useful to subscribe to United Response’s free accessible news magazine, Easy News. The magazine is created by people with learning disabilities and provides politically neutral easy read translations of all the top news stories. You can find out more and subscribe at www.unitedresponse.org.uk/easy-news.

Whatever form of information you choose, it is important to avoid bias and to avoid limiting the information that you give to people. For example, if you are supporting someone to watch a party political broadcast, you should give them the opportunity to see other broadcasts, or at least explain that other parties will have broadcasts and find out when they are on, giving people an opportunity to view them if they want to.

You could ask all the main political parties for a copy of their manifesto or other literature explaining what they think. As there are hundreds of political parties, it is OK to focus on the main ones, although important to explain that there are many more. If someone is interested, you could help them find out more about these.

When there is an election due, you can contact the council for a list of all the candidates standing in the election in that area. You could then support someone to find and look at literature from all of these candidates.

You could help someone to decide who they want to vote for by drawing up a list of the things that matter most to that person. You could then look at all the information you have received before an election to see what each of the candidates or political parties say about these things. This might help someone come to a decision; however, each individual must always make up her or his own mind about who they want to vote for.

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