“I got involved with Great Places shortly after I moved into one of their properties in Greater Manchester in 2015.
“I was born with congenital cataracts and I have been registered Severely Sight Impaired (Blind) since then. After attending schools for the blind and Bolton South VI Form College, I went to the University of Birmingham to study Social Policy. I chose that degree course because I have a keen interest in current affairs, I wanted to work within the public sector and also to help other people.
“Since leaving University I have worked for Bolton Council, East Manchester Housing, Bolton at Home, the University of Bolton, Security Solutions, and Jarvis International Hotel to name a few. Despite these offering some high profile experience in research, writing, quality assurance and administrative roles, the majority of them were unpaid work placements. Unfortunately, it is challenging finding paid employment when you are Severely Sight Impaired.
“I initially got involved with Great Places because they offer help to customers who are trying to find employment. I had asked if it would be possible to do a work placement with them but unfortunately this was not possible at the time, however, it was suggested that doing some voluntary work with the Scrutiny Panel would give me something recent to put on my CV. This also gave me the opportunity to get involved as a customer with my housing provider and I have been an active member of the Insight Scrutiny Panel ever since.
“We are a dedicated group of customer volunteers who are committed to helping Great Places improve the services that they provide. We understand how important our role is to help improve the customer experience and it feels good to be part of something bigger than ourselves, while also trying to make a positive difference in peoples' lives. Over the two years I have been involved, we have investigated areas such as Planned Investment Works (new kitchens and bathrooms), the repairs service and energy efficiency. One of the reasons I (and the rest of the Insight Scrutiny Group) are so passionate and committed is because we know that Great Places take the scrutiny function seriously and they listen to what we have to say.
“I suggested two of the more recent reviews we have done — the response to the Grenfell fire disaster and data security; since nothing is more important than customers' safety, whether that is our physical safety or how secure our personal data is.
“Being involved with the Scrutiny Panel has also been beneficial for me because the investigations we do demonstrate transferable skills and understanding of complex issues that potential employers would find useful. My time here has helped me develop skills in communication; whether that is talking and listening to other volunteers from different backgrounds with their own unique skills and experiences, asking questions to Great Places representatives who present evidence to us or when we present our findings and recommendations to the Great Places Board. With each of our reviews, we analyse complex issues to determine, from an evidence-based standpoint, how Great Places can improve the services offered to customers.
“The importance of meeting a diverse, yet like-minded group of volunteers can't be understated either since social isolation is an important issue for visually impaired people. It has also helped improve my self-confidence, for example, last summer I did a speech in front of 100-150 people at the Community Stars Awards to explain what we did and to promote the Insight Scrutiny Group to potential new members.
“I am hoping to start a work placement with a local council soon but I plan to keep my existing Scrutiny Panel commitments as long as I can. Obviously, my ultimate aim is to gain paid employment and when I do, it will be difficult to say goodbye to people (both volunteers and Great Places staff) I have grown to respect and admire over the last couple of years because my time with the Scrutiny Panel means a lot to me. Life is all about change, growth and continual improvement, which is as true to Great Places as it is to the individuals who continue to make it the success it is today.”
If you would like to share your story like John or get involved at Great Places, email us at Involvement.firstname.lastname@example.org.