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.