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In the Hotseat with Herts Pass

Author: Tanya Moore

I’ve been under the spotlight on a number of occasions but this is the first time I’ve been invited to sit in a ‘Hotseat’ for 45 minutes and be quizzed on any topic chosen by the questioners.

This is the invitation that I received from Herts Pass. Herts Pass is a user led organisation in Stevenage that offers ‘EmployerAbility’. This is an NVQ apprenticeship scheme for young personal budget holders who are taking on responsibility for employing their own personal assistants. The scheme extends to new personal assistants so employers and staff have the chance to explore their respective roles together.

Taught modules on the course cover statutory employment responsibilities and issues as well as skills such as negotiation, decision making and communication. Fridays are ‘user led’ days and this is where the weekly Hotseat takes place.

Hotseat is clearly structured. I was invited into the room at 10.30 and questions were put to me for 45 minutes. I had already received instructions from Herts Pass requesting that I resist the temptation to prepare a presentation but instead, allow the session to go the way the apprentices take it. I was asked not to attempt to ‘rescue’ the apprentices from any silences but instead, to allow the space for reflection and the gathering of thoughts. At 11.15, I was given a break and the apprentices took time to review the session before calling me back in for the last 30 minutes.

I had been invited to the Hotseat following one of my training courses, in which I had encouraged a discussion of risk as an integral part of a life worth living. This is a theme routinely faced by this group of young disabled people who find that as well as managing their own sometimes mixed emotions, they have to deal with the risk aversion (recognised to be largely based on love and a wish to protect) of the people supporting them.

Questions tended to focus on my experiences as a Social Worker and trainer and my attitude to risk, specifically, the tension between a wish to keep people safe whilst recognising the importance of supporting people to get on with their lives.

The morning of my session, the two Personal Assistants who had been expected, had not turned up. Absence of PAs has a huge impact on the people relying on their support and management of this as an issue was a theme of the first part of the session. There were also questions about my ability to cope with change and my ability to maintain professional boundaries with the people I have supported over the years as well as questions about how much control others can take over disabled peoples’ lives. 

I was asked to describe the barriers that I faced to pursuing my career. As a healthy and able bodied individual, the irony of this question being put to me by a group of disabled youngsters who rely heavily upon their personal assistants to help them get out in the morning was not lost and this was the most difficult question to answer.

I don’t know how useful my session was in terms of clarifying employment/management issues but what was immediately obvious, was the value of the Hotseat process. I was struck by the ability of the group to discuss their experiences and their emotions in an open, assertive and very clear way. It’s easy to see how the young people have been able to use these sessions to build up their confidence in taking control of discussions and speaking up about what is important to them. Hanna, who coordinates the Hot Seat sessions as part of her role as an EmployerAbility worker for HertsPass, chaired the meeting in a calmly assertive manner. Everyone was heard. Themes were followed through. The meeting was held strictly to time by Hanna’s uncanny ability to gauge time accurately without a watch. 

This cohort will be finishing in November and the apprentices are laying out plans for their futures. One young man will be going to university, Hanna will be moving into her own flat and a third apprentice is considering his options which include college or voluntary work although his strong preference would be to find a paid job. 

The soon-to-be graduates of the Herts Pass EmployerAbility scheme can demonstrate the self-assurance and aspirations for their future that I hope to see in all young people. This group has clearly benefitted from using a service where the priorities, values and approach are driven by a management group who similarly rely upon support from others.

Innovations such as the use of Hotseat as a dynamic way to take on new information whilst getting used to being in control of discussions with professionals are typical of the work done by smaller, local user led organisations such as Herts Pass. Yet valuable ideas created and tested by groups who receive support as well as offer it are at risk of disappearing as funds and contracts are directed towards larger organisations. 

Those of us with a passion for social care have a responsibility to keep these small user led services in the spotlight of funding and support or we may all find ourselves in the Hotseat facing some rather more difficult questions.

For more information about Herts Pass, EmployerAbility or the Hotseat please contact: hanna@hertspass.com or nigel@hertspass.com


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

In the Hotseat with Herts Pass © Tanya Moore 2013.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.