Posted 25.08.2021

People First (Self Advocacy) is a national self-advocacy organisation run by and for people with learning difficulties. Their Management Committee members are people with learning difficulties from different parts of the country and they have support to do their work. Their members are people with learning difficulties, self-advocacy groups, partner organisations, and friends and supporters of the organisation.


What difference has the pandemic made to the communities you serve?

The funding helped us to pay for the support we needed to get online during the pandemic. We bought devices and data packages for people. We were able to organise training to run our own online meetings.

We set up the COVID-19 Support and Action Group, led and facilitated by people with learning difficulties. We provided a safe online space for people to share concerns, information, and ideas. It was also an opportunity to discuss the coronavirus guidance; which many people found confusing.

You can listen to People First Director, Andrew Lee, talk about the group in the video below. 


This mutual (peer) support helped people who would have otherwise been socially isolated. It also resulted in members of the group taking collective action to get their views and concerns heard.

We wrote statements and were able to run some campaigns: 

  • Our Statement in Support of the Statement Covid-19 and the rights of Disabled People.

  • Assessment and Treatment Unit Position Statement


  • COVID-19 Support and Action Group Research Statement


  • COVID-19 Support and Action Group Black Lives Matter Statement


  • The Accessible Information campaign, which we launched in June 2020. We gathered over 300 signatories from individuals and organisations by September 2020.


We were able to get involved in and contribute to other campaigns too, such as the National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) and work with family carers on a joint project called Joint Voices.

We also started to use social media more and increased our Twitter following from to 259 in April 2020 to over 1042.

2. What impact did you see on your services as a result?

We redirected our energies to support members, who we knew were isolated and without support. We concentrated on our existing members rather than the recruitment of new members.

We were also able to increase our capacity to provide one-to-one support and do some focused work with some of our member organisations. 

The funds helped us to review our digital systems and update them so we could work remotely. We were able to recruit a Team PA to help us update our systems and manage a new way of working.

3. What has the NET funding enabled you to do for those people you help?

Communicating online with staff team and members meant they were less isolated and had the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people.

We also made sure the voices of people with learning difficulties were heard and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our community was not ignored.

We were able to keep up to date with policy development and changes and communicate them to our members. People told us that this was a lifeline.

We also ran our own online event ‘Oi – Out in Front’. We will have a video and report available soon.


4. What challenges/opportunities do you see ahead?

The emergency COVID-19 funding available over the last 12 months made it possible for us to increase support for our members and adapt to different ways of working in a short period of time.

It made us realise that many of our internal and digital systems were not up to date. There is an opportunity for people who have been digitally excluded to get the right support to increase their confidence and digital skills and be digitally included.

We hope funders are able to continue to have accessible and short turn around funding pots for smaller organisations.


5. The future of DPO’s - Why DPOs are important and why we need to invest in them and protect them in the future?

We are the experts in our own lives and it is important that we are able to do things for ourselves. Having a collective voice and shared understanding of the issues we face is empowering.

We need funders that provide accessible grant opportunities and understand why we exist, what we do, and how we do it. Without them DPOs are at risk of disappearing.

Many of our self advocacy member organisations have disappeared. We are reviewing our membership and have found more that have closed or are at risk of closure.

Read more about People First