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Co-production on a computer

As we continue to work remotely and deliver co-production opportunities online, our Female Engagement Co-Production Worker Lou Thorpe asks: What does access to the world at your fingertips actually look like for the voice of lived experience?

Co-production on a computer
By Lou Thorpe, Female Engagement Co-Production Worker

I have no distractions – no children stuck with their school work or a dog running in circles clutching a black (or perhaps green?) small plastic bag telling me it needs to go walkies. I have a phone, a laptop and even a comfy office chair provided to me by Changing Lives, and colleagues that I know I can phone if I decide to make that leap of moving away from banging out yet another email.  Apparently due to the wonders of modern technology I have “access to the world at my fingertips!”

But walking alongside and learning from others feels very different in an online space, despite this illusion of uber-access to all we need. For me good co-production could be described as a feeling. It’s that vibe you get when you are in a space with others and they “get it” and the excitement builds.

How have the Experts by Experience Network members managed to sustain the feeling of warmth and belonging within their network and be so in demand across the system that we have hit pause until March for any new co-production work coming into the Network?

It’s always been about communication. I heard a strong reminder today that one of the “criticals for involvement” of others was doing this in more than one way. So I need my phone, my voice, my banter. I need to be able to hit the post office in the snow and send information, newsletters and wellbeing packs. I need that laptop to send the emails, links and meeting invites. And this needs to happen for every individual in the way that suits them best so they continue to feel valued, listened to and included.

So a day in the life of a co-pro worker has been shaken up somewhat in these strange times. And I have learned to value more and more for myself, too, the benefit of reaching out and being a part of something.

So how have we managed to continue forging ahead so successfully? We had a great run in with an already established group of people who shared a common bond, were comfortable with one another and were actively mindful and breathed kindness. We harnessed this culture of belonging and were able to easily go from there as we quickly found that our people had the resilience to adapt to new circumstances. Indeed, it’s part of their CV and assets on which to build.

Physical meetings changed to online spaces once a week, and then twice a week, and then we were afforded some respite from screen time and managed to meet during the Summer in person for a few short weeks only to be forced back inside and continue online once more.

Experts have got on and off this rollercoaster as they wished and hopefully enjoyed the ride. And we have picked up more riders along the way, too.

Peers have continued to support peers into the network and have facilitated online welcome meetings; smaller scale personable spaces where any new member can grow their confidence and comfort online and feel their way into this often new world.

We have supported with data and technology if needed – one of the key values of co-production is accessibility, so it was a highlight of the last few months for me to cycle into town to pass over a mobile and data so someone could connect with us.

I continue to learn alongside the voice of lived experience and grow in confidence from them. I hear about all the recovery work that is taking place online, the involvement opportunities and places where expert voice is heard, the support groups that exist across many different places and formats and how important these are. Once again Experts by Experience have proved that they have their ear to the ground in this realm too and can share good practice, what works and what is making a difference now.

So a day in the life of a co-pro worker… What’s changed? I sit down more. Tap my fingers more. Rub my eyes more. But I still get that feeling when I hear the passion for change from an EBE network member, when a service reaches out and wants to connect with us to learn with us about what embarking on a co-production journey might look like, when we are asked to be part of something new and can shape this with expert voice. It’s worth staying on for another ride!

Our Experts by Experience Network continues to meet weekly and welcome new members.  For more information, visit Experts by Experience Network or contact Lou at lou.thorpe@fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk or on 07812 672739.