Alison Semmence, CEO of the Southend Association of Voluntary Services, tells us why it is so important to involve parents in developing services – and why she loves Southend.

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND

I have worked in the voluntary sector for 19 years, firstly as Director of the Volunteer Centre in Chelmsford (1997-2008) and then in my current role as CEO of the Southend Association of Voluntary Services (SAVS), where I’ve been since 2008.

My work is very varied and I come into contact with many people who are finding life difficult including older people, those with physical health issues or mental ill-health, those coping with poverty, loss or loneliness.  I’m passionate about equality and fairness and believe no one should suffer because they are older, financially insecure or were born into difficult circumstances.

Having spent many years in the field of volunteering, I really care about the role volunteers play – they have been described as the glue that holds society together- and I believe they are.

WHAT ARE YOU FOCUSING ON IN YOUR WORK AT THE MOMENT?

SAVS has an important role to play in ensuring parents are a big part of  A Better Start Southend and are supported to participate in a meaningful way. While the team is busy engaging and training parents, I spend my time developing the Co-production Strategy which is a crucial element of the programme. I am also a member of the Partnership Board which is drawing up plans for 2017/18.

WHY IS CO-PRODUCTION SO IMPORTANT?

Co-production is about involving everyone in identifying what is needed, what the solutions are and how these are developed. It is recognising that everyone has a part to play and a contribution to make whether they are parents or professionals.

Gone are the days when professionals sit round a table and decide what is best. If we want people to change the way they do things they need to be involved in identifying what the barriers are and what will enable them to do things differently.

WHAT MOST EXCITES YOU ABOUT THE SOUTHEND APPROACH?

Southend is a great place to live and work but we do have our issues, which we need to resolve. One of our strengths is our partnership working – as Southend is so compact we have the opportunity to work closely with people from different fields and organisations, and to bring them together to achieve more.

There is a real desire from all partners to do things differently in Southend for our families and young children.  I am particularly excited about our commitment to involve parents at all levels and for parents in the community to drive the future of A Better Start in Southend. I believe the only way to make a real difference is by working together.

WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING IN SOUTHEND?

I have lived in Southend for three years now and just love being by the sea; we have miles of coastline to walk along.  My favourite walk is from Shoeburyness along the coast to Leigh on Sea; it’s about 8 miles and I’m on my knees by the end of it but it’s a lovely walk.

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WENT DOWN THE PIER?

I often walk from Leigh to the end of the pier and back.  But the last time it was in December, freezing and windy so I only made it to the first shelter, had my sandwich and came back!

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