In Co-production week 2020, Stevie, our Senior Development worker in Glasgow talks about the dangers of labelling people and what co-production can achieve. #CoProWeek

It doesn’t seem like 5 years ago that I was tasked with a role that allowed me to meet some of the most intelligent, genuine and driven people I have ever met. Before any of you think I’m talking about you here, I mean all of those with direct experience of services whom I have had the genuine pleasure of meeting whilst engaging in co-production work.  

Having been involved in the sector in various capacities, both professionally and personally, for a long time one of the things that never ceased to amaze me – was labels.

Hearing terms like “vulnerable person”, “difficult” and “difficult to reach” or even “multiple and complex” is how the sector found itself describing those it was here to help, often as a barrier to providing the help they needed. The epitome of this was being labelled “not tenancy ready”.

In one stroke of someone’s pen we stuck a label on someone’s name, often for a lifetime.  We used words as excuses for not providing the correct support, or worse. No one ever considered for a minute that maybe it wasn’t them, maybe it was us, maybe the support they were offered just wasn’t what they needed – or wanted.

People spent a lifetime being pointed at and told what they couldn’t get instead of being invited to be a part of something they could get, and more importantly they wanted.  

My Granda used to say to me “you’re a rebel without a cause”. Well, with the Peers, I may just have found that cause.

Glasgow Participation Project

Going out in 2015, as part of the active research work which led to Time for Change, it struck me when speaking to people how these labels just became them. How they became so used to it and spoke about it like it was them who failed.

Me: “Why have you never had your own home”? Them: “because they said I wasn’t ready”.

Me: “Why didn’t that work for you”? – Them: “they said I didn’t fit the criteria”.  

Me: “Why didn’t the support continue” – Them: “they said I wasn’t ready”.

There was a lot of “I wasn’t” and “I didn’t” in these conversations. When did it become okay to shift the blame? When did it become necessary to make people conform to what we wanted them to do?

That’s why it’s important to ask what they want, what does better look like for you?

One other comment when doing early questionnaires, one that led to our Core Group was “what is it for, will I get to see the results”? Consultation work isn’t new, not unique, like anything else – it’s what we do with the information that’s important. What is important is that people feel “part of” what is being done for them – or we just risk doing it “to them”.

Core Group

Asking if they would like to come every 2 weeks, or every month, to be “part of” what we were doing, a resounding “yes”.  

So, roll on the Core Group. A group designed to ensure that people had a platform to come on the journey with us. From consultation right through to implementation and review. Working alongside services, media, campaigns and policy. We should always ensure people feel part of, how else are they going to shake the labels we gave them. Success is about feeling important, having a purpose – about building relationships and more important, about trust. How could they trust us if we just left them all back at the starting line? That is not co-producing.

These relationships exist to this day. Not just with me but with each other, with our staff and also with Shelter Scotland as a whole. We should not lose sight of, or the value in, that.

Time for Change

Even the name came from the Core Group. They group had had enough. Had enough of the system. Enough of being stuck in it. As Arnold commented that day, “Stevie it’s time for change, keep it simple stupid”. We couldn’t go with the full suggestion, but time for change it was indeed. I’ve yet to ask him if he meant me in the latter part of his comment.

I could go on about the long meetings, the laughs, the ups and downs but we done it all together, as a group. I was indeed just the middle man for them all to tell us how it is.

What we did find out was that they were sick. Sick of:

  • Gatekeeping.
  • Poor housing.
  • Poor temporary accommodation.
  • Having no opportunity.
  • Having no hope.
  • Being spoke at and not listened to.

Asked if any wanted to volunteer on piloting the suggestions, we sourced our first two Trainees – one male, one female. Both never held employment between a long time, or never. Another thing we aimed to end.  

The 3 main things we decided to focus on:

  • Advocacy at homeless presentations due to gatekeeping.
  • Outreach work, go to them and not make them come to us.
  • Led by those with “lived experience” – we want to speak to people just like us.

Time for Change as an offer in Glasgow has become about opportunity. Opportunity to give people experience, training, qualifications and most importantly hope. Hope that the very thing they designed can not only allow them to help others – but hope that their tomorrow can be better than today.

When we won the SSSA award last year one Trainee told me “when I got home my son was crying when I told him. He is so proud” another told me “I sent that picture to my mum, she was the same”.  

To me that is what co-production can truly achieve. The ability to change lives and “changed lives, change lives”. A project they helped design has started to change not just their lives, not just given them hope – but giving hope to their families, friends and “service users”.

Remember those labels?  These guys were those labels once upon a time. A second chance should always be a mindset, not a number.

Labels can be removed, forever. If we ever give them a new label it should be the next Alison Watson or Polly Neate (insert your own name here if you want 😉). I’d say the next Prime Minister but let’s leave that there eh.

Co-production is a belief that we can all hold, if we just give people a chance.

It is indeed a Time for Change.To get involved with Time for Change, contact our DundeeEdinburghGlasgow or Aberdeen projects.