Collaboration • Knowledge • Leadership
When Anita Conlon first came across the Lived Experience Grants Program, it was an easy decision to throw her hat in the ring.
Funded by the Victorian Department of Health (DH) and administered by Mental Health Victoria, the program aims to support upskilling lived experience workers in consumer and family/carer roles at one of an approved list of organisations.
A former quality and coproduction officer at mental health and disability support organisation Wellways, Anita had transitioned into a role as Peer Trainee Coordinator in December 2021.
One of her first tasks was to identify training gaps among Wellways’ peer workers involved in the peer cadet program, then make a pitch for a Lived Experience Grant as a way to help fill those gaps.
“The Royal Commission found that Victoria's mental health system is crying out for more lived experience leadership,” she says.
“This was an opportunity for me and for the other peer workers at Wellways to gain some additional skills, particularly around mentoring and co-reflection and things like that, so that we can develop our potential as peer leaders.”
Anita conducted a simple audit among the workers, to find out what training they had already completed and what further training they felt they needed.
“The peer workers are really excited to be able to get this training that they have wanted to do for a long time,” says Anita. “A lot of them have been in their roles for some time and to be able to get this level of advanced training is a real opportunity.”
Amy Barker was looking for opportunities to grow her leadership skills. The Lived Experience Workforce Grants Program turned out to be just the thing she was looking for.
Amy had commenced at Uniting Vic.Tas — the Uniting Church’s community services organisation in Victoria and Tasmania — in 2020, as a youth facilitator in its Voices Vic Youth Program.
Then last year she expanded her portfolio to include oversight of Uniting’s cohort of peer cadets, who were recruited via a Mental Health Victoria program funded by the Department of Health (DH).
This leadership role was somewhat new terrain. She was going to be responsible not just for managing the cadets, but supporting their own growth and development throughout the program.
She decided that if she was going to do this effectively, she’d benefit from some additional training herself. That’s when she came across the Lived Experience Workforce Grants Program.
“As a lived experience worker who is fairly new to leadership, this was an opportunity to access training that is specific to my needs, and supports my practice and growth,” she says.
The grants program is part of implementing the Royal Commission recommendation that “the transformed Victorian mental health system should be designed, delivered and led by people with lived experience”.
In Amy’s case, her successful grant application gave her access to a Positive Leadership course through Swinburne University, as well as a short course in Co-design in Complex Systems provided by Dr Emma Blomkamp.
“I’m really excited to be able to do both of those trainings,” says Amy, “for my personal development as well as my professional development.”
For Amy, Uniting’s success with both the grants program and the peer cadet program have allowed her to put into action her passion for building capacity in the lived experience workforce.
“Things are constantly changing and evolving in community mental health right now,” she says. “We need lived experience workers to be at the front of that change and able to support and lead it.
“We need to have opportunities, like in any other discipline, to develop our knowledge, our skills and capabilities across different areas.
“Programs like the grants program really support that growth, not only on an individual level but also on a more collective level as a workforce.”