Rebecca, congratulations on your new role as Interim Chief Executive Officer! Can you describe why you enjoy working at Independent Lives?

We have a great team and really good culture. When I joined Independent Lives we were working to set up support for Direct Payments to enable choice and control and these core values are still very much alive across the whole organisation today.

What have been the biggest achievements of Independent Lives over the last thirteen years?

We’ve continued to innovate and grow. It has been challenging at times but by listening to our customers we have been able to develop services and strategies that answer their needs. Back in the early days it would have been launching the payroll service and more recently the training service is using our experience of personalisation to train people working in residential care and for agencies. We’re also proud to be a Disability Confident organisation as well as a Mindful Employer and really invest in our team, with the mindfulness course we are running with our Lend a Hand care workers being a great example of this.

What do you think are the most important successes in enabling disabled people to live independently?

When given choice and control, disabled people have been able to contribute a huge amount to our communities and there has been a seismic shift in health and social care towards developing services based on people’s strengths and abilities.

There has been some really creative thinking in health and social care such as pooling budgets, and it’s heartening to see new projects such as the Dementia Friendly schemes increasing across the UK.

All of our lives have changed because of technological developments over the last thirteen years and personalised technology is a cost-effective and empowering way to support people to live independently. Nowadays, social media and smart phones are helping people to participate in their community, and apps and fingerprint door entry systems are supporting people to stay safe. There’s so much that can be used by everyone.

It's early days of course, but what is your vision for Independent Lives in the coming years?

Continuing to work towards health and social care integration, initially focussing on systems and processes being changed so that the local authority and NHS teams can work more closely together. It’s really important to our customers that they don’t have to repeat everything to different teams, depending on where the money comes from.

We are looking at how we structure our teams and how the sector can work more closely to improve this. We are working with commissioners, providers and charities in our local area so that we can provide more personalised and holistic service to our customers.

You will be working closely with our Board of Trustees which has three new members – David Hardman, Chandos Green, and Simon Wilson.  What are your immediate priorities?

Over the next few months the Board and our Leadership Team is working on the business strategy and vision for 2018-2020, as well as looking at the day-to-day running of our charity. We’ll be tapping into the skills and expertise of our new trustees and utilising the experience of our established trustees to make sure our vision for the future of Independent Lives best reflects the priorities of the disabled people we work with.

There is a fair amount of uncertainty in our sector at the moment, what challenges do you think disabled people will face in 2017?

Everyone using health and social care services or working in the sector is feeling the squeeze on social care budgets and the effect it is having on NHS services. It’s more crucial than ever that we don’t lose sight of the progress made from a time when short sighted attitudes resulted in disabled people being forced to live in residential care. Because of this we have made new resources to enable people to be better informed of their rights and the options open to them and secured funding for our new website which includes blogging to enable more voices to be heard.

And what gives you hope?

There have been hard times before and the local authorities we work with have are embracing a strengths-based approach to designing and providing services. Last year West Sussex County Council launched innovation sites across the county bringing integrated support to the community and Hampshire County Council has already committed to a strength-based, community- led approach in commissioning.

This year we are working more closely with disabled people so they can participate in their community and with our volunteers gaining work experience and helping to shape our service. We are working with user-led access groups who are already out there and actively working to improve access across West Sussex and Hampshire to form a network to work together to resolve common issues.

I am looking forward to engaging with more local, regional and national networks, championing independent living and the rights of disabled people in my new role.