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Finding the time to put the Co in Co-production?

Triumphs and challenges during a pandemic….

Finding the time to put the Co in Co-production?
By FLNG System Change Lead Claudene Cetinoglu

This time last year, the Experts by Experience Network at Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead was approaching the end of National Co-Production Week with a celebration held at Gateshead Clubhouse that looked to explore the theme of “Sharing Power” across provision, staff and people.

This year looks very different, and that’s ok.

In March this year, the world braked, and it braked hard to prevent a head on collision with the unprecedented times we were all about to go through.  We all held our breaths and acknowledged that this was going to be really tough, and now as we begin to gently grasp at the easing of lockdown I want to talk about what this time has meant for our Experts by Experience and how these times have reshaped our lived experience community.

Over the last few years, the Experts by Experience have grown and evolved into a group that has the agency to work with partners across Newcastle and Gateshead, using the collective power of their lived experience – stimulating change and reform in the multiple and complex needs system, and they have worked tirelessly in doing so (find out more about working with the group here).  There has been a lot of laughs during our systemic projects, but there has also been exasperation and wobbles, nevertheless the Network has always kept moving and championing change.

For those agencies that have worked with the Experts by Experience, you will know there is no second guessing their asks or motives – they are clear, to the point and keep things simple.  This is something I admire and strive for in my own practice, as systems change language can at times leaving me scratching my head and wondering where is the plain English filter please.

So at the start of lockdown, the Experts said we need support and we need a listening ear, so that is exactly what we offered.  The Co-Production team on a daily basis spoke to Experts and asked about well-being, heard what fears people had during lockdown and worked at the pace of which our Experts were asking of us.

Co-produced projects took a backseat, and that’s ok.

As we began to find our rhythm through the early weeks of lockdown, the well-being check ins started to shift and an appetite grew from within the Network to share with their peers what they had been doing to look after themselves.  The hope being that others could find solace and comfort through a Well-being Takeover held in May 2020 where the Experts took over FLNG’s social media and blog for the day to share their thoughts, experiences and tips.

Hope from within the Network began to help grow confidence and the ask soon came after our Well-being Takeover that Experts would welcome a Network meeting on Zoom, which now takes place every Wednesday from 2pm.   We started the meetings a little rusty and I would say a little shell shocked with what was happening around us globally, but we started.  Digital barriers began to fade away and our lived experience community started rebuilding itself.

Our Network champions change and reform, and there is a true belief that despite all the desperate hardship of the last few months, we have been given an opportunity to take the learning from this time and kindly start to reshape beleaguered parts of the system.  At the heart of this re-shape – the power of co-design, lived experience, and ultimately the force of a collected community voice.

So here we are, five months into a global pandemic and now coming to the end of the 2020 National Co-Production Week.  This year, the theme being ‘Co-production in a changing world’.  We might not be holding big public events and we might not be running a National Multiple Disadvantage day in Newcastle City Centre as we did in Co-Production Week 2019  but our voices are still connected.  We have used the week to showcase the work of the Network and share examples of “Co-production during Covid, we’re still doing it!”.  We are stronger and more resilient, and are taking on co-production projects with partners.  We are slowly but surely putting the Co back in Co-Production after a period that asked for immediate crisis management and quick service decisions to be made order to lessen the impact of Covid-19.

This period has bought the Experts by Experience Network significant challenges, but as the triumphs begin to outweigh these, I am excited to work alongside a Network of people who believe they have the power to influence and create long-lasting impact across the multiple and complex needs system.

The world is indeed changing, and that’s ok.

We are ready.

Find out more about our work and how the Experts by Experience Network could support you at www.fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk/experts-by-experience/.  We’d love to hear from you.