On Saturday we held our fourth Family Information Fair for Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OxFSN – www.oxfsn.org.uk ). We are a very small organisation and only became a registered charity last year (not great timing given the current financial climate!) We are what is currently termed a “user led” charity, meaning that 75% of our trustees are family carers. We have a small bunch of fab Trustees with a huge amount of experience and a massive commitment and just two project workers, myself (part-time) and Jan (another parent).
I came home Saturday evening exhausted… but buzzing!
Organising this event is a lot of hard work which starts around June/July time. It causes me days, weeks, even months of stress and for the final two weeks I wake in the night in a cold sweat having had a recurring nightmare, which either depicts no stall holders or no visitors turning up! I frequently during this time wonder if it’s all worth it.
Yesterday I spent the day recovering (laying down in a dark room)…Today I look back and reflect on all the things we did wrong, all the things I should have done and didn’t and all the things we’ll try to do differently next time. I ask myself…Why didn’t more families come along? (even though there were a lot compared to lots of other events of this kind) and what can we do to make sure more hear about it? (Because I know lots don’t) How can we get more schools and colleges engaging and ensure they send out the info? And how can we convince more families it is well worth a visit?
I worry that some families found the amount of information available overwhelming. I’m wondering whether it would be better to do smaller events on specific topics rather than bombard them with too much, I’m wishing I organised the workshops better and… I’m still fretting that I forgot to tell new stall holders there was nowhere to buy food.
But most of all I’m now smiling at all those images of families busily going from stall to stall, chatting to the stall holders and other parents and filling their bags full of flyers, books and other goodies… bags full of much needed information to take home and read.
I’m reeling from the amazing feedback and lovely comments people left about how much they got from the day. Families and professionals alike commented on the “buzz” and the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. And, I have to confess that some of the comments from parents when they left reduced me to tears…in a good way!
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the professionals, services, groups, projects (all 58 stall holders) and our lovely volunteers who gave up their Saturday afternoon to make sure families got this once a year opportunity in the county to find all this information under one roof. We also had a fantastic group of workshop facilitators and entertainers who were amazingly accommodating and just got on with sharing their knowledge with anyone who turned up.
It fills me with huge optimism that there really is a strong commitment to improve the lives of families of children and adults with learning disabilities. The first time we did this kind of event we were warned that doing it on a weekend would mean that professionals would be less likely to attend, but each year over a hundred of them pitch up, share their knowledge, enthusiasm and passion and show us all why they do the jobs they do. I loved watching them all eagerly swapping contact details and networking with projects and organisations they hadn’t come across before so they could share with families and other colleagues. I loved the fact that families and professionals came from neighbouring counties and talked about doing something similar in their area too.
Whilst I’m generally an impatient kind of person who wants to change the world NOW! At times like this I need to remind myself that events like this do make a difference. If one person left on Saturday better informed than they were before they came then it was well worth it.
Most of all days like this show me just what is possible when professionals from the voluntary, public, private sector and families work together.
Because, only by working together can we all be a real force for change!
Photos courtesy of Richard Lamplough http://www.wonteverbe.co.uk/
This event would not have been possible without funding from Oxfordshire County Council, Dimensions UK, LINK (Oxfordshire), Style Acre, Life Path Trust, United Response & HFT. Our huge thanks for their sponsorship and support.