Jude Habib: Why beneficiaries should be heard at party conferences

Charities are increasingly using conferences to give a voice to the people they support, writes our blogger

Jude Habib
Jude Habib

The party conferences have now taken place and my Twitter timeline seems to be full of updates from charities that have invested time and money to travel to Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow to champion their causes to politicians. With an election due next May, it is good to be seen.

One growing trend I have noticed this year is the number of charities attending conferences accompanied by people they support. Although not a new thing, it is increasingly becoming a vital part of a conference trip. So what difference does it make to a charity to have a representative from the group or cause they represent attend? I interviewed three people about how they used the conferences to get their beneficiaries to tell their stories and engage politicians.

Rob Dyson, senior PR manager, Whizz-Kidz

"Whizz-Kidz takes its young ambassadors to party conferences because the young people are keen to meet MPs, influence decision-makers and have their say. For us, it’s priceless.

"There are seldom chances to meet so many politicians back to back – or doorstep journalists for that matter. So the conferences are full of moments of serendipity, opportunity and relationship-building. And it doesn’t have to be done expensively. Yes, you have to buy passes (and there are travel implications), but with a little ingenuity you make a real impact.

"We’ve used free tools such as SurveyMonkey’s ‘Whizz Quiz‘ on the iPad. The young people have interviewed politicians and broadcast the results on AudioBoo (now AudioBoom), and Twitter to thank and share photos with the people we meet. We let young people speak for themselves and don’t brief people to death. We encourage authentic conversations based on the issues that will make a difference to young disabled people’s lives – and follow up afterwards to build support and rapport."

Samantha Aldridge, campaigns officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

"At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we always take members of our young people’s advisory board to the three main conferences with us. We work with the young people over the summer to help them get to grips with our key policy asks, and what to expect on the day of the conference. We also involve them in fun activities to help them develop their skills so they feel confident talking about their experiences and reinforcing our campaign messages.

"At the conferences, we set up private meetings with target MPs where young people share their experience of growing up as a deaf young people and explain the challenges they faced. Hearing young people’s experiences first-hand really helps MPs understand the issues and what action needs to be taken.

"As a result of deaf young people meeting MPs at the party conferences, a number of them have committed to backing our Listen Up! campaign to improve audiology services for deaf children. They have agreed to write to the minister for health outlining how audiologists are failing deaf children and to contact their local audiology services to find out how they’re improving their services.

"From past experience, we have seen a real impact. MPs who might not have known about us or our campaigns have offered their support and backing as a result of them hearing young people’s stories. We have also built lasting relationships with a number of MPs who we can call on for support for future campaigns."

Tom Purser, community campaigns manager, National Autistic Society

"Instead of compiling a panel of speakers our fringe event, at the National Autistic Society we invite a young person with autism to interview, and be interviewed by, a minister or shadow minister. The purpose of the interview is to bring out the issues around the way policy, government and legislation affects people with autism – but, at the same time, raise awareness of the condition itself among both ministers and the audience.

"At the Conservative Party conference this year we had one of our young campaigners in conversation with Mark Harper MP, minister for disabled people. It was one of only two events that the minister did during conference and the turnout was excellent. Sam, the young campaigner, really impressed with his questioning of the minister as well as his excellent answers, detailing his experiences of growing up with autism and offering his thoughts on how the government could help support people."

So how has your charity engaged politicians this party conference season? Have you invited beneficiaries to be involved? I’d love to hear how.

Jude Habib is director of sounddelivery, a digital media training and production company

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