Mandy Winstanley, Involvement Champion with Every Step of the Way (Birmingham Changing Futures Together) and member of the National Expert Citizen Group reflects on how she has used her own experience to promote system change.

My story

I was raised in the care system during the 70s and 80s having being born to a 15 year old mother who was using substances. The impact of this led to many childhood traumas and I started using substances myself at 9 years old, using periodically until I got clean at the age of 47. My life as a drug user was hard work and I used to adopt various ideas of family life. As a mum to six children, I would become the Walton’s for years, sometimes Mary Poppins! I had no idea of how to be me.

Two of my children were removed from my care in 2016, my youngest being only three and a half years old at the time. This was the point where I knew I had to change – I ended up relocating to a different county and choose to settle in Birmingham. I had never lived in a city before and was unsure whether I could cope with the hustle and bustle, but it proved to be the best decision I made. I received no guidance from Local Authorities so had to navigate my recovery myself which as an older woman was difficult. I stumbled across a treatment centre called Changes UK and from that point, my life was given purpose and a base for recovery was built. My children were returned to me in 2019.

My involvement with Changing Futures Together, Birmingham

I am now an involvement champion with Every Step of the Way, part of Birmingham Changing Futures Together (one of the 12 Fulfilling Lives programmes). My purpose is to share my lived experience with organisations to help with system change and promote a person centred approach when working with people experiencing multiple disadvantage. This can entail talking to commissioners, MPs, decision makers and high level management. It is a privilege to be listened to and to be heard.

Within my role, I am actively involved with the National Experts Citizen Group (NECG). This group involves representatives from all the Fulfilling Lives programmes and provides a space for us to come together and share our ideas, hopes for system change and participate within research, legislation change and other parliamentary work. Most recently, the NECG has been involved with Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs which is soon to be published and will be used within parliament and we are currently involved with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reducing reoffending team – this is a turning point for the NECG. The MoJ are interested in the NECG’s lived experiences within the justice system and have been actively involved in our discussions, as well as asking questions which we perceive are person centred. They are listening, we are being heard and they are acknowledging that the system needs to be changed.

After three years of being part of the Fulfilling Lives programme and the NECG, I am now witnessing change of systems and potential adjustments of statutory services for the most vulnerable. The work we do is invaluable, the people involved are passionate and above all else, we are the ones who can support change which is overall cost effective.