Be A Leader draws to a close and future leaders with learning disabilities have ambitious plans for Kent and Medway! In 2022, bemix launched Kent and Medway’s first ever leadership course for people with learning disabilities - ‘Be A Leader’. Be A Leader is about giving people with learning disabilities the skills and knowledge to lead and govern. The terms ‘leadership’ and ‘learning disabilities’ are almost never used in the same sentence. But there are people with learning disabilities who can and do lead, who speak up to champion the rights of their peers, a group that is, too often, unseen and unheard. There are far too few leaders with learning disabilities in Kent and Medway, more of us are needed. Be A Leader was developed to answer that call for more leaders with learning disabilities. Steve, Ann-Marie and Matt from bemix are course leaders for Be A Leader. Steve and Ann-Marie both have many years of lived experience of being a leader with learning disabilities in Kent and Medway. Steve was also a learner on ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders’ - a national leadership course that Be A Leader is based on. Matt has over 9 years' experience co-leading alongside people with learning disabilities in Kent. bemix is proud to be the lead organisation running this course, supported by Tricia Nicoll, course trainer and one of the creators of the original leadership course ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders’. Be A Leader team - Rosina, Steve, Ann, Tricia and Matt Be A Leader is what Steve has been dreaming of and working towards for many years, and now, that vision has come to life. The academic year is almost complete and students will be celebrating their accomplishments with a graduation ceremony in July! “Boards are where all the big decisions are made... If you have strong leaders, they can attend meetings and say ‘this is not right, I want my voice heard, I want other peoples’ voices heard’. So that’s why I am here, to be a strong leader.” - Steve In June 2022, we promoted the course across Kent and Medway, asking people to submit an application. We asked people to apply for a place on Be A Leader as a pair of co-learners - one person with learning disabilities, and one person without learning disabilities. Co-learners share a passion to change things for the better. Co-learners worked together as equals during the course and will continue their work together to change things for the better, beyond Be A Leader. We shared information about the course with local networks, the press and through online communications channels. We organised webinars to share information and help answer questions about the course. Be A Leader course trainers held an online interview with leader and expert by experience Scott Watkin BEM, Head of Engagement at SeeAbility. Scott shared his experience of being a leader, to inspire people with leadership ambitions to apply for the course. During the webinar we asked Scott ‘What would you say to someone who is thinking of becoming a leader?’ Scott said: “Don’t hesitate. Just go for it. Be natural, be yourself, talk straight. Don’t be afraid to speak up and say it as it is. We all get into trouble for saying the wrong thing at times, but we all learn from those mistakes… Don’t think that being a leader means you’re going to take over the world, because you’re not. It’s about working together and working with everybody to be enabled to do that. I don’t know one leader that works on their own and does everything on their own. All leaders must work together and be united together as well in the sole mission to make sure that we get equality right for people with learning disabilities.” “Be open. Be honest. Gain the trust of people… Be true to your own values.” - Scott Watkin The course started in September 2022 and the Be A Leader graduation day will be held in July 2023. Learners on the course have covered modules in: history; law, policy and politics; education, health and social care; leadership; governance and media and communications. Students have worked together, individually and completed projects throughout the course. We heard from a number of guest speakers and campaigners, including Gary Bourlet, Scott Watkin, Ciara Lawrence and George Matuska. Speakers also included leaders in health, education and government, including MP Rosie Duffield. Speakers shared their experiences, learnings and guidance and learners had the opportunity to ask questions about things that matter to them, and others. Gary Bourlet, co-founder of Learning Disability England and founder of the first ever People First movement in the UK. Gary joined us at Be A Leader a number of times throughout the year and said: “I really enjoyed being part of the Bemix 'Be a leader' course and listening to other inspiring leaders doing their own presentations. I hope that mine inspired the learners to become role models for other people with learning disabilities and autistic people. This course plays a vital role in helping shape the next generation of leaders. It would be fantastic to see this course carried out regionally around England. I hope that course learners will use what they have heard and go on to become confident, qualified self-advocates. I would also love to see them become international ambassadors for people with learning disabilities and autistic people, working with our self advocacy friends worldwide. I believe they are capable of achieving great things in their own right. I would always recommend working closely with other self-advocates and supporters - this is how I have reached where I am today.” Be A Leader learner Kiera said: "Was a wonderful opportunity to meet someone who has had such a huge impact on giving people with disabilities more independence! Felt so inspired to be a part of the talk. Also felt proud that he felt employment for those with disabilities is the next thing to fight for and I’m already in that fight." Ahead of completing the course, we asked people to share their experience of being part of Kent and Medway’s first ever leadership course for people with learning disabilities: "I’m enjoying it very much. Matt has helped me with advocacy in schools – going into schools to help children with learning disabilities. It’s my passion as I’ve been there myself and I want to make a difference." "I’ve learned new things. It’s not always easy hearing about bad things that have happened but we can make a difference." "There’s a lot of processing, listening to the session. The course is very knowledgeable, really helpful and interesting." "There’s a lot of talking! I’m enjoying it and I have made friends here." "It’s been very informative and eye opening and I enjoy it." "It’s quite an eyeopener of what we can do and can achieve." We asked course trainers Steve, Ann-Marie, Tricia and Matt, to share their thoughts: What have been your highlights of the course so far? Steve: We have had really good quality speakers talking about different topics and experiences. Ann-Marie: Seeing how far people have come on the course and the confidence that have grown in people also all the guest speakers and what inspiration they have brought to the group. Tricia: My highlight has been seeing people get the confidence to really start speaking up and questioning how people with learning disabilities are treated and how services and support work. We have also had some fantastic speakers, and I’ve been really pleased to see local leaders from health and social care support us and show a real interest in the course. What are your hopes for course learners and their ambitions of leadership? Steve: That they realise how powerful they can become. Ann-Marie: To go on and show the next generation how to be a good leader also keep showing their confidence in front speaking. Tricia: I really hope that people are able to use the course in two ways - to be able to see the things that they can change in their own lives and have the confidence and connections to make those changes, AND to be a real force for change so that other people’s lives improve, because services and support improves. At bemix we believe that everyone should be seen, be heard and belong (as per our Vision and Values). People with learning disabilities do not always have the same opportunities to be fully involved in our society. We want to change that. Self-advocacy, co-production and leadership from people with learning disabilities, are vital to that change. Co-production means understanding the value in the experience and skills people can contribute. People with lived experience should be seen and heard in leadership roles, where they can make powerful contributions towards changing things for the better, for everyone. It means that people can influence how opportunities and services are delivered, what happens, who is part of it, why it happens, the risks involved and when changes should be made. We have a vision to change how people with learning disabilities are perceived. Shifting the emphasis from what people can’t do, or are slower at doing, to recognising them as powerful contributors and achievers. People who make our lives richer when given the chance to thrive. Be A Leader has been about giving people with learning disabilities the skills, knowledge and confidence to lead and govern. Course students have ambitious plans to influence, change and shape what happens in Kent, Medway and beyond, so that we may move toward a more fair and inclusive society. Our Be A Leader graduation ceremony will take place in July at The Gulbenkian on the University of Kent campus in Canterbury, just a short walk from our course venue at Canterbury Innovation Centre. Students will celebrate accomplishments with friends, family and colleagues, as well as course speakers, supporters and leaders from local services. The event will be an opportunity for learners to each present a final project on their vision for the future, their plan for making it happen and actions they have already taken. Look out for news on our final days at Be A Leader and our graduation celebration event! Be A Leader is supported by Inclusion North, East Kent Mencap, LDC Care, Kent County Council and Medway Council. With thanks to The Gulbenkian for their generous support and complimentary use of their venue for our upcoming graduation ceremony.