This is a guest blog for coproduction week from my colleague Anna McEwen (@annasharedlives) who is our Executive Director of Support and Development. Anna writes:
Coproduction – where did that word come from? I remember coming back from maternity leave years ago now and suddenly that was the buzz word. If I’m honest I didn’t really know what people were talking about, it was part of the new jargon that had developed while I was off juggling twins and trying not to drop one or the other.
Then, that cringey moment in an interview a couple of weeks later when I was directly asked about coproduction and I had to admit that I didn’t know what they were talking about. It was awful. When they told me what it meant I thought, so you’re talking about working with people who are the experts in their lives to design the lives that they want for the future. Oh. But that’s what I’ve always done, why would I ever not work alongside people. Why would I pretend to know what people want? What we call it doesn’t really matter, it’s what we do that counts.
I also remember when I was a commissioner and as part of a new colleagues induction I did the usual thing of talking about past experience, and the reaction ‘wow, so you’ve actually worked with people’. Hhmmm. How could I possibly commission services without first-hand experience of working with people.
So many people stand out along my journey, David in Harrow who was the first chair of the learning disability partnership board and such a powerful advocate at a time when this was all quite new, Kevin in Newham who when I first met him couldn’t give me eye contact but bounded up to hug me when I left. Meg who speaks beautifully and eloquently about her experience which humbles me every time.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke at on online conference with Alex Fox and Tom who has lived experience of Shared Lives to support his mental health. Ours was the only presentation with a real expert, and with over 500 attendees the chat went wild with support and respect when Tom spoke and told his story. Those people will remember what Tom said, and his Bob Marley poster, they won’t remember what I said and that is fine by me. I’m not here to make a name for myself. I’m here so that Tom, David, Meg and Kevin, and so many more people, have their voices heard and get to tell their stories so that we can listen and do better so that people can live their best life.
The days I spend working with our Shared Lives Ambassadors, who are paid members of our team and have lived experience, are my best days. I continue to learn so much from them and have enormous respect and admiration for them.
This coproduction week I commit to doing more of this, and challenge you to stop and listen too – I promise it will be worth it.