Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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The long walk...

May 20 2009
SPAAG walkers will go from Inverness to Bournemouth on a mission to uncover service users‘ problems Two former rough sleepers from the organisation SPAAG (Street People's Action and Awareness Group) are walking from Inverness to Bournemouth on a fact-finding mission. Their 'One Big Walk', which will take them to 16 cities over six weeks, was designed by SPAAG founder Barry Etheridge as a way to uncover recurring problems service users have in getting what they want. Etheridge and his partner James House will visit hostels and day centres throughout the journey, speaking to both staff and the users to collect information on what works and what doesn't. On their return to Bournemouth, Etheridge plans to turn what they have gathered into a report, which he hopes will challenge and inform the sector. "One of the main reasons for walking all this distance is to look at the issues on a national scale, not just on a local one," said Etheridge. "We want to highlight what we think needs to be put together to improve the system." After living on the streets for three years, Etheridge and two others set up Bournemouth-based SPAAG, after noticing that people weren't getting the most from the services provided. "People would come and ask me for help. I thought, 'why are they coming to another person on the streets instead of going to the service?' There is a level of mistrust that has created barriers. I want to break down the myth of 'us' and 'them'." SPAAG acts as a voice for people who, for whatever reason, find dealing with services difficult. SPAAG also works with local authorities and Bournemouth Council. For now Etheridge is looking beyond Bournemouth. In Inverness, he proposed his idea of user groups. "One guy got really excited about it, because he thought nothing like that could be done." Etheridge believes that more service-user groups like his are the key to develop interaction between the providers and consumers of the services, and to improve the situation for everyone. But he is hoping to find out even more about what people want on the road. "There are a lot of people out there who don't know what they can get, or are too nervous to ask," said Etheridge. "Too many people feel intimidated by the system, and don't say what they want. We are giving them the chance to express themselves and feel that they are being listened to. "We aren't pushing people into giving us information if they don't want to, but if people want to tell us something, we'll be there," he added. When they eventually get into London on 31st August, they will be visiting the Simon Community, to see how Londoners feel about service provision in the capital. "We're really looking forward to having them with us," said director of the Simon Community, Tim Nicholls. "We're interested to hear about their findings from the rest of the UK, and share ideas with them. Hopefully they'll have the chance to talk to lots of people." If you would like more information about the walk, or to voice your concerns on services, you can call Barry Etheridge on 07816 040317.