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Stigma-challenging collaboration with graphic design students

Ray Middleton explains about our new stigma-challenging collaboration with Northumbria University students, who have produced a graphic novel around multiple complex needs.

People with multiple complex needs – combining mental health, alcohol and substance misuse with housing and other needs – often get thought and talked about in stereotyped and stigmatising ways, such as referring to people by a diagnosis/label or assuming people cannot change engrained patterns of behaviour.

This might be why people with multiple needs face challenges building relationships with the services they need.

We can all make assumptions in the way we think about people with complex needs – both positive and negative – that can make it hard to see everybody as a unique individual with hope for their future.

So at Fulfilling Lives we thought it would be good to run a social media anti-stigma campaign, with the help of talented graphic design students from Northumbria University.


The Anthology

Second year students from Northumbria University’s Graphic Design degree course were provided with audio clips of interviews with two people with complex needs who talked about their journey through life and their hopes for the future. The students then interpreted their lived experiences into five short graphic novel stories.

The graphic novel anthology is called ‘What Do You See?’, and encourages readers to see beyond the labels society puts on people, like ‘homeless’ or ‘ex-offender’.

View PDFs of the graphic novel here

Or watch the videos on our YouTube channel



The idea is simple – we just want people to look at the graphic novels and post any comments about what they see in the stories.

Different people will see different things as we tap into our own thoughts and feelings about working with people.

We might be reminded of something or a picture might bring an interesting question into your mind.

We would like you to post what you think about when you look at the pictures.

Hopefully this might open up a dialogue about the different ideas we all have, that come into our mind, and help to appreciate that we might all see people, and their concerns, in different ways – as we all have a unique perspective on the people we meet and the world we live in.

So have a look and please write a comment about ‘what you see’.


Why create a graphic novel?

Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead Programme Manager, Lindsay Henderson, explains:

“At Fulfilling Lives we are working towards system change to improve services for people with multiple and complex needs. There are many systemic reasons people do not receive appropriate/effective services or ‘fall through the gaps’.

One challenge for people with complex needs is negative judgements from others, that is the stigma that we are all capable of holding – both staff and the general public, when we think about this group of people. We can also hold positive ways of thinking about people as well as negative ones.

So we wanted to launch an anti-stigma campaign on this topic. We are interested in opening up a dialogue to find out the range of thoughts that come to mind by showing five graphic novels inspired by episodes from the real life-stories of two people involved with our programme.

Getting involved is easy – just post a comment (or two!) on what comes into your mind when you read these graphic novels -as we ask #WhatDoYousSee

Dr Dave Wood, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design from Northumbria University, says of the collaboration:

“We jumped at the chance of getting involved with helping Fulfilling Lives to challenge society’s stigma on people living with complex needs. It was important to us as educators of students engaged in visual communication to help to visually tell the personal stories of two of Fulfilling Lives’ clients.

Our illustration students rose to the challenge, and created short animations and graphic novellas that were sensitive and empathic to the voices of Newcastle’s vulnerable citizens.

Thanks to a EU European Development Fund Creative Fuse grant, we were then able to take the students’ graphic novellas and publish them in a printed book and digital eBook.

This book called #WhatDoYouSee –  A Fulfilling Lives Graphic Novel Anthology in June 2018 and will be used in Fulfilling Lives’ outreach workshops with social services. There is also a social media campaign to accompany it using the hashtag #WhatDoYouSee.

This project has been a very successful collaboration, as the students involved have since graduated (all with very good degrees) and have gone on to work professionally in various creative industries. The project has been presented at national and international illustration conferences as an exemplar of how illustration can have a positive impact on society.

But most importantly the graphic novellas were shown to the Fulfilling Lives clients who’s testimonies were illustrated, and each person got a printed book. They can now see in picture form that there are people in society who will listen to and support those who do have complex needs.”


Thank you

The printed anthology and partnership between Fulfilling Lives and Northumbria University was made possible through a Creative Fuse Social Media grant from the European Regional Development Fund, and was supported by creative agency Roots and Wings.