Health & Social care within rural Scotland is a major talking point, with access to these vital services being particularly challenging. Local authority cost cutting measures, lack of qualified staff, lack of facilities and other resources just some of the barriers. It’s time to share with you a very worthy winner from our Health & Wellbeing category at the Rural Innovators Awards.
The winning project was Cowal-based “Inspired by Autism”. This social enterprise project was setup 3 years ago by Duncan MacGillivray as a blog and social media page. Being shortlisted for the Rural Innovators Award was a huge achievement in itself for Duncan, but winning it has gave the project a boost and the recognition of the work that they do.
The project was started due to the difficulties that people living with autism in Cowal were experiencing accessing both statutory support but also informal peer support, something which Inspired by Autism aimed to address and resolve as well as raise awareness and acceptance of autism, through giving presentations to a wide variety of audiences and being able to share experiences of life with autism.
As time has passed, Inspired by Autism now provide support, advice and advocacy to people living with autism in the local area, which is done on an individual and independent basis where the aim is simply to improve life for those affected by autism, by enabling the best outcomes for everyone. Inspired by Autism also offers a monthly informal drop in (on last Wednesday of each month) for people to access the service and support.
Not only has Inspired by Autism allowed those living with autism come together in an informal network to provide not only practical but emotional support, it has managed to engage with upwards of 30 local Cowal families/people on a variety of levels. This engagement merges with representation and support of care reviews, informal meetings, tribunals and appeals and as a result has managed to provide steady improvements for people living with autism. They have even challenged local service cuts and new policies, ensuring the voices of people with autism, and their families/friends etc, are heard.
Progress? Most definitely it would seem, but with progress comes obstacles. Duncan from Inspired by Autism tells me that being accepted by the local authority (Argyll & Bute) was one of the biggest challenges, along with getting word out about. Getting word out was aided inititally with support of Vital Spark, a social enterprise mentoring and support service, along with also received a grant from Unltd to keep the project going, and allowing Inspired by Autism to grow. These were overcome by not just leafleting and networking, but joining forums like the Health & Care Forum, the Autism Strategy. Isolation and lack of advice is common to many in the area, targeting these problems and finding solutions to them.
Looking ahead, Duncan has some fabulous plans to widen awareness work by targeting other public services such as health services, police etc. There are also plans for an informal network of autism advocates to be setup. Even after my own time with Scottish Rural Action is done, I will be keeping an eye on how these plans come to fruition in the future. Dunoon is only round the corner from myself, and I would be keen to see the project expand, and to do even more than the initial plans for the future.
“Consider carefully the particular issues in your area and the impact of the location. Do not be limited to “conventional” approaches to be problems. Be determined and work hard – make it your passion!” – Duncan MacGillivray (Inpsired by Autism).
Next time around I will be looking at the winners in our Housing category, which I hope to be able to share with you all in early May.