The Leader Forum

2015 and the Leader Forum goes from strength to strength

Three years in to the project and within the Leader Forum, we continue to move forward based on the foundations and learning from the past. The project is built on a foundation of 20 years of Leader led action through the Center for Independent Living and 20 years of Leaders taking control and through the Leader forum we continue with this ethos.  Leader led action is the core of the project. Leaders across the country provide guidance and ideas to direct the project.

As we develop the project this year, we direct more of our resources to support Leaders, with a team dedicated to working with Leaders to take ownership to share peer support and to advocate for equality and social justice based on the lived experience of disability and to direct and guide us in the Center for Independent Living in relation to what areas and issues members would like us to focus action.

Each Leader Forum group work on issues at local level, raising awareness, advocating for change and building a positive image of Leaders as contributors to society, to community and to the economy.  Groups identify issues of local priority and take action to impact change. A huge part of this work has involved building relationships with other stakeholders in the community, identifying solutions and working in partnership with others to begin addressing the issues. Groups are registered and where established working with their Public Participation Networks council. Members support one another to ensure that local issues and priorities are addressed.  

Based on shared experiences that have emerged, groups have started to work together on common issues. An example of groups coming together around an issue last year was the Water Charges. Following the lead of the Limerick Leader Forum, LF groups across the country campaigned on Water Charges and made submissions to the Commission to Energy Regulation to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities would be considered and that Leaders would not experience discrimination based on their disability.

In 2014, the National Leader Forum ran its first events. These events were led by Leaders, the key speakers were Leaders, the facilitators and note takers were Leaders. We were delighted that the events were so well supported and attended and we look forward to Leaders getting involved in planning and running the National Leader Forum Events in 2015. Events ran around the themes of Employment and Transport. The recommendations from each event have been used to advocate for positive change. The Center for Independent Living worked in partnership with the Disability Stakeholders Group and the National Disability Authority to feed in to a new employment strategy for people with disabilities. It is hoped that the practical solutions suggested by members and the recommendations made will be considered in developing the strategy. 

The most popular themes suggested by members for this year have included, i) Crime, Policing & Disability Hate Crime ii Campaigning & Advocacy Skills. We look forward to a number of National Leader Forum events in the coming months and we hope that members will get involved.

In 2015, we plan to gather the experience and intelligence of members to share knowledge and inform our work around the country. Each month, we will work on a theme identified by members, consult with members on the theme and put together a report on the issue. The monthly consultation with members will both inform the actions of the organisation and provide a conduit for the voice of Leaders to policy makers.

We kicked off 2015 asking members what they would like prioritised in any campaigns in the run up to the next General Election which is expected in 2016. This was followed with an exploration of the theme of housing. As the Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011 – 2016 comes to an end next year and we have become aware that local authorities are beginning to consult around the theme of housing, we look forward to sharing our recommendations with decision makers around a new national Housing Strategy and ensuring that the real lived experience of disability in relation to housing need is factored in to planning and policy. In March, members were invited to feed in their ideas around what they would like to see in the Strategic Plan for the National Disability Authority which provides guidance to the government around disability policy. Other themes that have been suggested that we will look at in relation to the monthly feedback and reports include Education, Health, Cost of Disability, and Individual Budgets and Direct Payments. We are open to ideas from members so if you have suggestions, please feel free to let us know.      

So what motivates Leaders to stay involved three years in? Aside from peer support and a positive focus on action, members have found the forum a useful space to learn and practice new skills, to share information and ideas and to work together in a positive way. The bonds that have developed between members have been described by some as, “lifelong friends” and members have described the groups as a, “lifeline”.         

On a personal level, I am hugely grateful to the CILs for their ongoing support and to all of the Leaders who invest their time and energy in this project. Those involved have committed blood, sweat and tears to advancing equality and increasing awareness. The forum is nothing but an empty vessel without it’s members and without the support and insight we get from Leaders involved. A huge thanks to Leaders involved.

Wherever you are in the country, I urge anyone interested in learning more about the project or in getting involved in spreading the movement to contact naoisecunningham@dublincil.org