“I like the idea that being deaf doesn’t affect how I work but rather provides me with a challenge – to make what I do accessible to everyone regardless of language.”
Lisa Rossetti speaks…
I have been working with mental health service users through participatory arts and storytelling for some years. I work primarily in Recovery Colleges, as well as in adult day centres for those who are using mental health services. I also have personal lived experience myself of depression due to hyperthyroidism. My biblio-poetry and creative writing work in Recovery College (West and East Cheshire) and the team-building I undertook with my local NHS Recovery Team introduced me to the principles of co-production which made perfect sense. We were involving service users in decisions and planning, but embedding these principles properly into my own work such as co-facilitation of my workshops was somewhat aspirational. So when Natalie Koussa (National Voices) invited me to join the team as someone with personal experience, and then to co-design the National Voices’ launch event of Wellbeing Our Way, I was delighted to be putting co-production values to work.
In one sense I felt I was taking quite a daunting leap of responsibility from applauding the principles of co-production to actually being involved in designing and facilitating a session which would model how co-production would look for members and participants in Wellbeing Our Way. However, I felt supported throughout by Natalie and indeed by the participants at the launch event, which in itself is a testimony to the enthusiasm and appetite for co-production. I knew from feedback and research into my work with Cheshire Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust that a storytelling element could facilitate teamwork, and engage the participants, and was delighted that Natalie was open-minded enough to try out this approach.
On the day, the interactive discussion round which I call the “Story Café” created an engaging and reflective atmosphere. I told the tale of “Stone Soup”, a traditional European folktale with a theme of community, co-operation and shared talents set against a background of deprivation, conflict and suspicion. Then we explored the themes and issues that were evoked by the story in conversational rounds.
In the role of story-listeners, participants were enabled to step outside their usual roles and collaborate at a much more connected level, sharing their ideas and insights through the safe neutral ground of the imagined story world. The creativity of the Story Café thus paved the way to the more logical mapping of the co-production model in the afternoon.
I have always felt that co-production was the way forward for engagement; we are, after all, experts of our own lived experience. I’ve experienced many approaches to involving others, from Open Forum to World Café. I’ve also experienced so-called engagement events that quickly peter out with no further involvement or even communication, and sadly the return to “business as usual” as traditional hierarchies and control mechanisms reassert themselves. So it was delightful to see the seed of co-production flourishing in that upstairs room in the Indian YMCA on one of the hottest autumn days in London for many years.
My experience of what National Voices is attempting to achieve continues to be positive. I like the transparency, the respectful communication and commitment to involving users of mental health services. I have high hopes of my continuing involvement with Wellbeing Our Way, and look forward to making a really useful contribution to how we approach and regard mental health services in this country. And I am looking forward to more collaborative work and more co-production in 2015, as we move the work of Wellbeing Our Way forward together.
For myself, I now want to explore further how I can incorporate co-production into my own workshops, especially at Recovery Colleges.
If you’re a person with lived experience or a National Voices member who would like to get involved in Wellbeing Our Way, please contact Natalie Koussa firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about Lisa Rossetti’s work on: www.impactcic.org.uk.
[VIDEO] ATTIC: A Matter of Perspective [20’18]
ATTIC was a contemporary art project and gallery space in Cardiff dedicated to exploring personal, cultural and scientific understandings of the mind with a particular focus on the spectrum of mental health and mental illness. ATTIC had no agenda other than to provide an impartial platform and opportunity for encounters, dialogue and creative expression from a variety of perspectives.
National Theatre Wales’ Assembly programme is developing into a new, three-year programme of work called The Big Democracy Project, which will explore how art and creativity can play a part in helping communities across Wales re-engage with the democratic process.
For the first year of the The Big Democracy Project, National Theatre Wales will work across Wales holding four Assemblies as it has previously done: proposed and organised by local communities, voted for by the public – and at their core will be a discussion on how we can create the Wales we want. But where previous Assemblies could be on any subject dear to the bidder’s heart, the Big Democracy Project will focus on local political issues with a national, or even global relevance.
Assembly proposals could explore issues like cuts and austerity measures, immigration, climate change, or education. And crucially, an emphasis will be made on action – what can we do to move us closer to the Wales we want?
All four Assemblies will be streamed online, meaning a UK-wide and international audience will be able to follow and even engage with each conversation. For the Big Democracy Project, National Theatre Wales aims to: ask big questions about our democracy; help Wales imagine the future it wants; make a real change to the lives of people in Wales and beyond; instigate action through art.
Spotlight on a co-production case study. Peer Mentoring Wales (PMW) aims to support current and ex drug and alcohol users to achieve economic independence.
Most of DrugAid’s peer mentors, both paid and voluntary, are ex drug and alcohol users. The experience and understanding they bring is invaluable – no-one knows better than they do just how hard it can be to overcome substance misuse, and how easy it can be to slip back in to dependence.
One of our big successes has been the creation of an Art Group within the Peer Mentoring scheme. Looking for ways to keep mentee ‘Joe’ busy and engaged in something other than drinking, our peer mentor discovered that art had once been an abiding passion and suggested that Joe could set up an Art Group with the support of the Peer Mentoring Team.
The idea energised Joe. His enthusiasm, inclusiveness and hitherto untapped know-how meant that the group grew rapidly, attracting participants with a whole range of skills and experience. Some revealed hidden talents; most had never picked up a paintbrush in their life!
The outcomes from this simple starting point have been extraordinary. We’ve held exhibitions and auctions across South Wales to great critical acclaim and run joint ventures with local community groups. We’ve produced Christmas cards with revenue used to support the Peer Mentor scheme. Community events have been centred around the work of the Art Groups and on Europe Day 2012 when Peer Mentoring Wales celebrated their participants’ and their own spectacular successes, the Art Groups facilitated a hugely popular ‘live’ painting. Friends and families of our participants, curious shoppers coming in off the streets of Pontypridd, as well as invited dignitaries all contributed to this piece of uniquely collaborative artwork! The original now hangs in our Ebbw Vale office.
Fundamental to all of this is the realisation that our mentees are not just people with problems, but assets, people with abilities and skills who can make a contribution – a core principle of co-production. Participants are now valued as central to the delivery of a whole range of informal services which support the official objectives of Peer Mentoring, recognised for the mutual support that they give each other.
Perhaps most significantly, participation in the Art Group builds confidence and assists personal growth – not least in the case of Joe who became a full time volunteer and subsequently a paid Peer Mentor in Ebbw Vale where he promptly replicated the popularity and success of the Art Group. Merthyr and Pontypridd have picked up the baton and all three groups continue to prosper.
All this from a simple notion of recognising the possibilities of the receiver as a giver!