Services without frontiers

Learning from peers across Europe has helped to enhance services at home, writes the team at Phoenix Futures

Phoenix Futures has been involved over the past year with a European Commission ‘mobility’ project under their Leonardo de Vinci scheme, working with ECEtt (European Companionship in Education training by travel). ECEtt helps organisations to work with partners across Europe, exchange best practice and increase staff expertise by enabling them to share skills, knowledge, networking and partnerships.

This year Phoenix Futures sent 15 staff members from a range of services and roles, in groups of three, to centres across Europe – in Belgium, Greece, Poland and Spain. Staff were sent for two weeks and gained invaluable experience through witnessing projects and services similar to their own, and Phoenix Futures also facilitated visits from trainees from these countries to our own projects in the UK.

‘Working with ECEtt has enriched our organisation’s practice in so many ways,’ said learning and development manager at Phoenix Futures, Fran Gray. ‘Not only have the 15 members of staff benefited through their travel experiences and shared best practice but it has created an awareness and acute interest throughout Phoenix Futures of our EU partners’ work in similar services and shared the common theme of improving service users’ lives. The staff returned with elevated motivation which has been infectious, interesting and enlightening.’ 

The ECEtt placement created a sense of unity among European colleagues and ‘enables us to see just what amazing work is taking place across so many fascinating services’, added Nicola Owens, programme manager at Phoenix Futures Wirral Residential Service.

Recovery navigator at Phoenix Futures Trafford Recovery Service, Helen Cleugh, travelled to Poland alongside two other staff members and had the opportunity to live as a member of a therapeutic community – an experience that will ‘stay with me forever’, she said. 

Senior practitioner at Phoenix Futures HMP North Sea Camp, Lucy Morris, meanwhile, travelled to Spain with two colleagues. ‘My biggest learning point was the way that Proyecto Hombre embraced not only the service user but their family, and how they provide support and treatment to the family to educate them in how to support their loved ones in the best possible way,’ she said. Since her return she has designed a leaflet for service users and their families about the family support available and how to access it.

After travelling to De Kiem in Belgium, Jennifer Robertson was able to enhance her own service in Scotland. ‘We have begun to implement certain practical features from De Kiem in the Scottish residential,’ she said. ‘Residents now have their own office and computer to complete certain administrative duties – trust, responsibility and respect are essential elements of any therapeutic community and this is a good way of offering this to residents. We are implementing budgeting groups in line with good practice at De Kiem and residents now spend more time in departments to expand the principle of work as therapy.’

Families are at the heart of what Phoenix Futures does and one programme that has been implemented since the ECEtt project began is FLAMES, which was developed by Nicola Owens in the Wirral and has now been rolled out to all Phoenix Futures residentials. The key elements of FLAMES (Families and Loved ones Accessing Mutual and Emotional Support) are not only providing families with greater awareness, knowledge and understanding of what treatment and recovery entails but giving individuals a mutual sense of support via shared experiences, unity strength and empowerment. 

Some of the main objectives of FLAMES are to provide a sense of understanding around treatment and recovery – where sometimes ignorance has caused conflict and dysfunctional relationships – and to support families, loved ones and residents by offering a sense belonging in an environment that aspires to achieve long-term change. It also aims to have a direct impact on achieving a greater level of social capital for each of our residents thus impacting on community dynamics, peer relationships, family relationships and commitment to their own recovery.

To mark the achievements of the 15 trainees who travelled to Europe, Phoenix Futures held an ECEtt event in Sheffield last month, during which we were also lucky enough to hear from representatives from Spain and Belgium. ‘ECEtt Networks are a wonderful opportunity for workers in social occupations to train and to learn so much from their peers,’ said assistant director at the Trempoline service in Belgium, Fabienne Vanbersy. ‘The event was a real success – the trainees from Phoenix Futures were brilliant in their presentation of their traineeships. The sum of knowledge they had learned and shared during their journey was impressive as well as the implementations at their workplace after their return.’ 

‘The Phoenix Futures ECEtt event proved very worthwhile in the respect that we were able to share our experiences and discuss areas of good practice,’ said drug worker at HMP Wymott, Mick Fowler. ‘There was much in the way of positive feedback which emphasised the success behind the ECEtt experience.’ 

So what has Phoenix Futures gained from the experience? This project has enabled workers and staff teams working in the field of addictions to deal with professional challenges – staff could meet experienced peers facing similar challenges in their own working environment and see how they managed to achieve their professional targets. The act of travelling to meet other workers enriches both parties, leads to the development of one’s own competences and gives a broader understanding of alternative practices that have proved to be successful in improving people’s lives and situations.

Phoenix Futures strives to continually deepen and strengthen its specialist skills and abilities by sharing and developing practices that are recognised and validated across Europe, by ECEtt partners who share a common goal of improving and developing staff by training through travel. This ultimately benefits service users, their families and the communities beyond.

Staff implement at least one best practice initiative gained from their trip in their own services on their return – some initiatives have been rolled out locally, some nationally. The dissemination of practices filters through services, teams, managers and service users and is widely advertised throughout the organisation to maximise practice sharing and uniformity.

Good practice from all European trainees is stored on the ECEtt database after validation, for ongoing reference, networking and sharing, and the training and follow-up support is ongoing for trainees via the online platform, where they have access to validated examples of best practice and new initiatives.

‘As a chief executive I have the privilege of visiting services and it is fantastic to give staff from so many different services the opportunity to do the same,’ said Phoenix Futures chief executive Karen Biggs. ‘The feedback from them demonstrates how effective this is as a learning tool. It has developed them as individuals and they have used that learning to develop their services and their approach.’

This article was written by the organisational team – Vicky Holdsworth, Fran Gray, Bob Campbell; and the ECEtt trainees – Nicola Owens, Helen Cleugh, Lucy Morris, Jennifer Robertson and Mick Fowler, at Phoenix Futures