40 years of supporting people

Few organisations aim to make themselves less necessary. But working with people with learning disabilities and autism, that is most certainly Dimensions’ goal.

Steve Scown
Dimensions CEO, Steve Scown, blogs.

We support people to be more and more independent, and less and less reliant on us, so it feels slightly odd to be ‘celebrating’ our 40th birthday.

Life is – all of our lives are – unpredictable. Forty years ago, I had no idea that a life in social care awaited me. But many of the people Dimensions now supports were already living in hospitals. Some lived in children’s wards and a life of institutional care lay ahead.

Back then very, very few people would have believed they could live in their own home, be part of their local community, have a job and be in a loving relationship.

Well, times change and thank goodness they do.

National policy emerged to close hospitals – prompted in part by scandals and national reports. Since then, change has come thick and fast. The agenda has been shaped by many pieces of legislation, some of which have been shaped by practice and some – in my view – too rarely by research.

Winterbourne View, in 2011, brought back memories of watching Silent Minority (If you haven’t seen it, Google it) and reading those reports of long ago. Have we seen the last ever such scandal? As an eternal optimist I’d love to think we had – but I think we must always be on our guard and be aware of just how bad services can be.

Personalisation – the adoption of choice and control as key principles in the life of people with learning disabilities – emerged and, by 2004, Dimensions was striving to become a person -centred organisation. Through adopting person-centred thinking tools and embedding them into all of our business processes as well as how we support people we have moved much closer to that ambitious goal.

Certainly, the people I helped move out of long stay hospitals 20 years ago have made, and continue to make, fantastic progress. Many are living with less support and are now exercising choice about when they get support, to do what and with whom. Some are contributing to their local communities through voluntary jobs, and contributing to wider society by voting in elections.

None of this would have been thought possible by any but the most visionary four decades ago.

We want Dimensions to be considered to be a great organisation. With ambition as one of our core values; why wouldn’t we?

Our consistent aim is to think about and try to develop better and affordable ways to support more people with more complex needs, ensuring they have choice and control over their lives, whilst aiming to reduce the amount of support they need.

There are many uncertainties facing us. We recognise the risk that commissioners, faced with inadequate funding and increasing demand, may look to old solutions not new ones.

We are facing that uncertain future with anticipation and optimism as we know there will be different and better ways of supporting people – it’s just that we haven’t yet worked out what they are.

If we all do likewise, then we won’t be racing to the bottom; we’ll be working towards the sort of future that the people we support want. And, in doing so, assuming we’re still necessary in ten years’ time of course, we’ll have something great to celebrate for our 50th anniversary.

Dimensions News and media blog: 17/9/15