Message from Frances Hasler – Healthwatch Camden Director

Healthwatch Camden recently moved to new offices at the Greenwood Centre , an ambitious mixed-use building in the centre of the borough. 

Its main purpose is serving disabled people in Camden and it was created with a lot of input from disabled people. One of the main tenants is Camden Centre for Independent Living (CIL). Healthwatch Camden is part of the consortium of local organisations which helped to set up the CIL, supporting the lead body, Camden Disability Action.

I was honoured to be asked to give the closing speech at the opening event for the new building. I spoke about the journey we have been on to create this physical space, the journey we are embarking on to create a shared community within the space, and the inspiration that keeps us going.

The idea has been around for more than 20 years, and has been actively planned for ten years. Planning has involved hopes, dreams, some disagreements, some disappointments and a lot of optimism and hard work. All the time we have been guided by the values of independent living.

Independent living is not a service, it is a state of mind. The ideas that led to the setting up of centres for independent living came from disabled people and some families of disabled people who wanted better, who wanted equality, inclusion, choice in their lives, freedom to move home, freedom to stay out.

They figured out that one way to achieve some of their goals was to get control over the resources that were being used to support them. In particular they wanted to live outside of residential care.

The essence of independent living is disabled people finding out what will help them to have choice, to be included, have ambitions – have a life – and supporting each other to get the right things in place, whether that is personal assistance to help you go to work or an accessible home to help you bring up your children, or whatever. The building is not where independent living happens. It is where the ideas of independent living grow and spread and make change in the world.

Now we are here, getting to know each other and working out how to make it work.

I’m pleased that Healthwatch Camden is part of the Greenwood centre community of organisations. Healthwatch Camden exists to make sure that people who use health or social care services – including disabled people – have a strong voice in services, what they say makes a difference.   

The Centre for Independent Living at the Greenwood centre is run by disabled people, for disabled people and offers service users new opportunities to do things their way, making choices and having equal access to resources in the community. This is in line with our vision to make sure that local people have a voice in the provision of health and social care services.

We don’t know everything about how it will work yet, we are creating it together. It is a very exciting journey to be on. It illustrates the whole gamut of engagement: consultation about the idea; involvement in planning groups; participation in designing what would happen in the building; and now there will be co-production of the working life of the space.

For a local Healthwatch it is a great case study of the reality of co-design. It has not all been plain sailing – the impact of austerity meant that some ideas had to be scaled back, and not every aspect of access has been got right first time. We’ll be helping to identify learning from the process.

Have you visited the Greenwood centre? Comment below to share your thoughts