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Service Users Reaching Forward - National Network update

National Survivor User Network

Locally some questions have been raised about the way in which the National Survivor User Network will work. These are reproduced below followed by the information originally carried on this site.

 Network co-ordinator Chandra Fowler writes:

I'll do my best to answer these questions briefly. These questions are slowly being answered in the documents we are making available online (see our temporary website at to be replaced by a far more comprehensive website in the coming weeks) and as time goes on will be more fully answered as more documents appear. I'm sure you understand we get a great deal of very similar questions and producing full answers to these questions as we receive them is less efficient use of our time than producing documents that clearly and transparently state how we are moving forward.

We also need to be able to use our resources to make a real impact. As a board member of UKAN I am sure you are also aware of our current efforts to ensure the long-term survival of UKAN. We have recently written a proposal for UKAN for a large collaborative piece of work that hopefully will forge a way forward for them. I will therefore be succinct in answering your questions. To be totally honest I have yet to hear any argument why groups should not join NSUN that is actually founded in fact. I have heard some misconceptions which continue to mystify me as they are often far removed from the actual facts. I realise that we probably could put more information in the public domain - however we are still at a very early stage - we haven't even been officially launched yet! These things take time.

How the NSUN will operate terms of accountability and representation.
NSUN is steered by a management committee of service users who are selected by an independent panel also consisting entirely of service users. There is complete transparency is these selection procedures (within the limits needed to safeguard the privacy of applicants). We will also be selecting again soon as we wish to more than double the size of the management committee to further increase the regional and other diversity of the committee. We are striving to be as transparent as possible in all the decisions we make and be guided in our decision making by publicly available policies and procedures (there is a lot of busy writing of these documents going on and gradually drafts for public scrutiny will be appearing). Obviously getting all these structures in place is a priority for us and more and more of this information will be appearing over the coming weeks. In making this information available we are welcoming feedback from service users. However consulting on every decision at every step would detract from our primary focus which is working in partnership with others to build capacity within the whole movement.

How the NSUN’s current close relationship with Together will evolve, and how NSUN might attain free-standing independence.

NSUN's relationship with Together is limited to financial and legal arrangements. It is not particularly close. Together has no influence on the strategic development of NSUN and we are located separately from Together. On a daily basis our relationship with Together is not noticeable apart from around financial administration - and apart from this no closer than our relationship with some other organisations). Together are taking the financial risk of hosting NSUN and invest time in the financial administration without being paid for these services. Eventually these financial and legal ties will be broken and NSUN will become completely independent of Together. Before becoming independent we need to demonstrate that we are able to exercise the required financial and legal responsibility - we can't do this as a new organisation which has only just started on its first full financial year. Part of our financial responsibility also requires us to have some small reserves. As we currently only have restricted funding this is not yet possible. We do have plans though to draw in unrestricted money and this will pave the way for this step. Decisions about time-scale are up to the Management Committee, and rightly so, as they will bear the financial and legal responsibility and as unpaid volunteers put themselves in the position of being personally liable. All this is clearly stated in our strategy which can be downloaded from our website.

Pitfalls that you can foresee for the NSUN.

We are conducting risk assessment procedures which have identified a large number of risks. Personally I am most concerned about:

Small staff team size – vulnerability for illness, lack of skills/competency etc

Remaining focused on our priorities as laid down in the strategy- so that we maximise our impact

Misinformation about what we are and what we do, especially misunderstandings about our relationships with non-user led organisations

Long term financial sustainability

The complexities of conflict management and partnership brokering

How you envisage the (large) grant received by NSUN being used to best benefit all users in all localities.

How we spend this grant is to a large extent laid down by our funders. The strategy document has been developed with our current funding in thought and is congruent with their requirements. I think it points a clear way forward for NSUN for the next year or two. Our main focus is building capacity in other organisations and groups. A lot is going to happen over the next few months.

At those meetings or fora attended (or due to be attended) by NSUN at which (rightly or wrongly) it is perceived to be speaking for users nationally, how the NSUN presents itself.

We have been consistently clear that we have absolutely no intention to become the voice of the user movement. Our focus is on support for other groups and capacity building. I have at no stage spoken for service users nationally - neither has anyone else at NSUN (at least not in their capacity as NSUN staff or trustee).

The mechanisms by which the NSUN gathers or corrals user views, and ensures their accuracy.

We will sometimes gather users views in the context of research or to steer our work. As we are not representing the service user movement this will probably not be a large focus of our work. We will welcome feedback about the decisions we make. Our general direction is rooted though in our mission and aims. These are not up for discussion. If we were pertaining to represent the user movement this would have to be a much larger focus of our work. As a support and capacity building organisation we need to be transparent about how we set our priorities for this work and be ready to be criticised for how we do this. We have welcomed criticism and other comments about our strategy. I am sure it can be improved and that some of the clearest and most innovative suggestions could come from the wider movement.

The checks and balances that NSUN has in place to guarantee that NSUN does not duplicate, encroach upon, or overshadow the work done by existing/established user groups.

We are determined to do as much as possible in partnership. Where others can do the work we should support that. I am determined to keep NSUN as a small organisation that supports others to grow stronger. How we help build other organisations is the part of the measure of our success. Later this year we will be developing monitoring systems for our work. A large part of this has to be on what we do to support others.

How the NSUN avoids being London-centric and/or cliquey.

We are neither now. The management committee was recruited independently. I don't believe any of the current management committee live in London. We are looking to expand the management committee soon. The independent recruitment panel will be given guidelines (agreed but not publicly available yet - but soon) that set a limit on the number of Management Committee members from ant SHA region.

The potential benefits for existing user groups and networks, were they to ally with the NSUN, with some concrete examples/instances.

There are too many possibilities to name. An information folder about this will be appearing shortly. In the meantime our strategy should give some idea of the possibilities. By joining us groups will have access to a wealth of information, we will actively facilitate partnerships between groups and guided by our strategy we will build capacity by helping new groups to be established and supporting groups that need it in order to survive and grow.

Examples of the methods by which NSUN intends to be inclusive and ensure that all groups might benefit and be integrally involved with its work.

Some of this is in our strategy. The rest will appear in other documents which will become publicly available soon. We cannot guarantee that all groups will benefit. We estimate that there are about 1000 in England. We have a commitment to focus on groups that are less seldom heard and whose voice needs strengthening. Other groups will also benefit but our focus has to be guided by our strategy otherwise we are likely to become overwhelmed by the demands made of us. I expect that a lot of the really important work will involve us in only bringing groups together to work in partnership. In this way we can be a catalyst for change. Its more about us being involved in supporting the work of others than groups being integrally involved in our work.

I hope this gives some idea of how I (personally) see us moving forward. I think NSUN gives a unique opportunity to pool the strengths within the movement. Our success will be measured in seeing a stronger movement overall and seeing us as a resource for supporting that. Why wouldn't any group want to be part of that?

Best regards


Chandra Fowler
National Survivor User Network
27 - 29 Vauxhall Grove

My thanks have to go to members of the County Durham and Darlington Adult Mental Health Forum, members of SURF and the County Durham Adult Mental Health Service User and Carer Involvement Team for their encouraging myself to apply to join the management committee of the new National Service User/Survivor network.  I was apparently 1 of 9 out of 28 candidates to be chosen to form the committee. 


Committee members were chosen by a group led by consultant Lisa Haywood who until Christmas 2006 was also vice chair of national Mind.  Though leading the group, having been part of the steering group which developed this network of networks Lisa only advised the panel and was not a decision maker.  No member of the selection panel had been a member of the steering group and of the 9 chosen management committee members only 4 were previously on the steering group. 


This leaves places for a further 3 people all of whom will come from a BME background.  It had been decided that the management committee should be representative of the ethnic and regional mix of the country and already 8 members are from the white population. 


The point of emphasising all of this is to show that the management structure of the organisation covers a broad spectrum of service users from large organisations such as Together, the Mental Health Foundation down to individuals and small local groups such as SURF.

It is not intended that the committee or its staff take on the role of representing service users; if that happens we have failed. The organisation exists to pass on opportunities to service users to be involved in consultations and research. 


We hope to develop a database of groups and their particular areas of expertise to ensure the work goes to the most appropriate people: in addition we hope to develop the capacity of these groups to be involved in this work.  Capacity building can take many forms but is likely to include training, helping develop bids by small groups so as they can develop their own capacity and advice on structuring organisation to make them more sustainable.


Having received grants of £500,000 from Comic Relief and £250,000 from the Tudor Trust to help establish the network over 5 years my first real piece of work with four other members of the management committee (Anne Beales head of the service user directorate at Together, Tina Coldham is a member of National Advisory Panel, Mindlink and does a lot of work with Health Social Care Advisory Service and Rob Henderson, Vice Chair of Mental Health Matters) was to interview for the post of network co-ordinator.  We eventually after very serious discussion, as we had a number of high quality applications to consider, choose a guy called Chandra Fowler who has a deep background in aiding service user involvement.


The post will work alongside an administrator/finance person and an IT/website person. They will obviously have a considerable hill to climb to get the network up and running especially, as we must ensure the involvement of as wide a range of people as possible making specific efforts to reach groups sometimes not as comprehensively included as we feel they need to be.


Given the problems of getting this organisation off the ground and despite active support from organisations and individuals on the steering group it is difficult to say at this point when service users will be able to see any activity on the ground.  I promise to pass on information as I get it and as always I would like to hear back from you about what you feel about this development, and our (SURF’s) involvement.


Below I have tried to provide some information and a short history of my involvement to give you a flavour of what the network stands for, what it intends to do and just as importantly what it doesn’t intend to do. 

In March 2006 I attended an event in Birmingham hosted by the Mental Health Foundation & Together. The purpose of the event was to gauge whether there was support from service users & service user groups for the foundation of a national service user network. Despite some dissenters in the audience the overall feeling was that this was something with widespread support.

A steering group was then formed to take the idea forward; by the end of 2006 this group had established some core principles and had obtained funding to begin the process of setting up the network and its support structures.

At this point it was decided to move control to a management committee made up of service users. As SURF had been supportive of the idea from the start I decided to apply and was successful. This will be the first time I have been involved with a national organization at this level so I am looking forward to the challenge.

The core activities of the network will be:

1. Facilitate active links between service user groups and individuals

2. Capacity building for service user groups

3. Broker and facilitate access to service users for the purposes of consultation, attendance on committees etc.

4. Training

The networks core values are stated as being:

1. We will be focussing our resources on raising the voices of those not well served by existing mechanisms

2. Openness and transparency

3. To support service user organisations – not to replace or supersede them

4. Equality and respect

5. Valuing diversity

6. To be of value to the user movement

Membership will be open to all service user/survivor groups and individuals committed to its aims.