Tackling poverty together in Oldham

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By Jon Sands, Programme Officer at Greater Manchester Poverty Action

Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA) is working with Action Together and local partners to promote meaningful lived experience engagement in the Oldham Poverty Action Network.

The Oldham Poverty Action Network (OPAN) originated from a range of previous initiatives and organisations to tackle poverty in the borough. OPAN brings together perspectives and insights from key VCSE, public and private sector organisations, along with those with lived experience of poverty, to inform co-ordinated actions.

Oldham is one of six locations across Britain that have access to potential long-term funding from LocalMotion which aims to promote “joined up thinking, pooled resources and long-term collaboration and planning.” So far the network, coordinated by Action Together, has developed pilot projects across three main themes:

  • Building out from the cost-of living response
  • Hope and aspirations – creating routes out of poverty
  • Building a joined-up approach to tackle poverty alleviation and prevention.

While much of OPAN’s work in 2024 will focus on expanding projects and securing the long-term funding, the initial actions already taken have been very positive. These include:

  • Taking on an OPAN employee to work in Oldham Jobcentre Plus to help people find suitable voluntary work. Through this, people can gain experience and confidence that may help them into paid employment. Jobcentre staff are also referring people to this service and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are looking at how this may be rolled out elsewhere.
  • Taking on two OPAN employees to further develop and expand the Oldham Community Advice Network (OCAN) system. The OCAN system is almost unique to Oldham and allows registered advice organisations to refer a person to other organisations quickly, securely and in a dignified way. This means that once a person is being helped by an OCAN organisation they can be referred onto other organisations without having to repeat their story, which is a key factor that prevents people seeking support.

The network also worked to develop a recruitment process for these roles that helped people not in work to feel confident to apply, and which recognised the value of lived experience, rather than just employment experience, in these roles. This process also included support in creating CVs, completing applications, interview preparation and advice on the impact of part-time work on benefit eligibility. In addition, all documents relating to the role were written in plain language with no jargon, and no unnecessary requirements for the role were included.

Lived experience input has been crucial to the success of OPAN. In recognition of this a peer support group is in place to help lived experience members to gain skills and confidence to participate in OPAN discussions, and to influence other decision-making spaces in Oldham and beyond. This is coordinated by a dedicated person providing one-to-one support to all the lived experience members, as well as facilitating the peer support group. Initially this role was developed by the Shared Health Foundation but GMPA is proud to be providing this support until at least October 2024.

This will be a crucial year for OPAN as the initial short-term projects develop into longer term ones and Action Together will be recruiting shortly for a coordinator to do the work on this. If you would like to know more about GMPA’s role with OPAN, please contact Jon Sands on jons@gmpovertyaction.org.

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i3oz9sTackling poverty together in Oldham