Surayya is a Customer Experience Officer at Look Ahead. She works directly with customers to make sure they have a voice in how they are supported.
I first discovered Look Ahead around four years ago while attending Work Path, a career guidance service for people in Tower Hamlets. I was instantly interested when they told me Look Ahead offers apprenticeships in social care, I had usually associated apprenticeships with other professions like trades, but never with care and support.
I’ve been interested in psychology, mental health, and working with young people for a long time, partly because of my own experiences. So, I went for it. I started out as an apprentice mental health support worker, and it went so well that my manager invited me to stay on afterwards.
Making a positive impact on people’s lives felt great. I had support workers of my own once, they were there for me back when I was a teenager, so becoming one myself was a chance to give something back, to make sure other people don’t feel how I’ve felt in the past.
I loved support work, but I wasn’t keen on becoming a manager or a team leader. But thankfully, there are lots of opportunities to move around at Look Ahead.
I decided to move sideways instead of up, for now. So, I applied for a secondment with Look Ahead’s Co-Production team. I went to the interview, got the job and it turned into a permanent role. One of the most valuable things for me during my time here has been working directly with the people we support, and I’m pleased to say that I still get to do this every day.
Co-production is all about working together with customers to make sure they get to have a say on how they are supported, how things are done at services, what they think is good, and where we could do better.
I love being a part of this process. I engage people in different ways, anything from meetings at head office, to cosy chats in the lounge at the service they call home, to video and phone calls – whatever makes them feel comfortable really. Best of all, I get to recruit volunteers to take part in discussions with senior management, support staff and others, about improving the quality of care.
It’s great to see the impact this can have on the people Look Ahead supports. I’m overjoyed when customers take the lead. They feel good, confident, and empowered in the process. In some cases they go on to become Expert By Experience Trainers as well, and use the knowledge they have gained during their time receiving support to teach the rest of us about what best practice means to them.
It’s also fantastic when staff come to us and say they have been able to improve their own performance by engaging with customers in this way as well.
Look Ahead has a fantastic culture too. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without this level of openness. Working with people from different backgrounds and lived experiences – both customers and staff – is awesome, it makes me feel that I can bring my own views and past lessons into my work too. We all have something to contribute, and we all get a chance to use it, and that, is beautiful.