Today is the start of National Co-production Week (6-10 July 2020) and, like everything about 2020, it is looking very different to how many of us imagined. I never thought that I would spend my working day supporting people at MFT from my dining table, wearing a pair of jogging trousers that are overdue an upgrade and dreading a trip to the supermarket later to buy a loaf of bread. But 2020 is full of surprises and my unusual work attire is perhaps one of the least shocking developments.
One thing that the pandemic has taught me, besides giving me an unusual insight into different stages of virus management and how to make tik tok videos, is the value of our communities. When we were at our most vulnerable, it was our neighbours, our friends and our families we turned to. Local community groups sprang up overnight, full of people offering support to anyone who was self-isolating or who couldn’t get out. As an organisation, we quickly developed online services which provided a platform for people to offer each other emotional support during this difficult time. This required commitment not just from staff, who had to quickly adapt to a whole new way of working, but from you, the people who use our services. Week in, week out, during the most unusual set of circumstances that many of us have ever seen, I have witnessed people who are going through their own difficulties reaching out and supporting others. I have attended virtual MFT coffee mornings and seen people who might not have slept properly for weeks, who are dealing with extreme anxiety and stress, remember that someone else who attends the group was due to meet their daughter for a socially distanced walk and wanted to know how it had gone. We have had the most brilliant people with personal experience of mental illness running popular MFT workshops that have provided invaluable support to others during the lockdown.
Besides highlighting what we already know about what a great MFT community we have, this experience has confirmed over and over again just how vital we are to each other’s wellbeing and how important having personal insight really is when helping others through difficult times. We may not have gained our experience from textbooks (perhaps this might have been an easier learning process!) but that does not make it any less valid. And if there is one thing that I have learned from three years working in Co-production, it is this: the only difference between someone running a service and someone using a service is circumstantial. Insightful people come from all walks of life and, having sat on groups made up solely of paid professionals and groups made up solely of people with ‘lived experience’ of mental health problems, I have found the same levels of compassion, understanding and vision in both.
But there is a huge challenge which we face and it’s bigger now than ever. Co-production, which means when professionals and people with lived experience come together to plan, create and deliver services together, is harder than ever. We are not able to meet in person and services are being developed at an incredible rate, which can mean that true co-production falls through the net. In a recent survey from SCIE (the Social Care Institute for Excellence), it was shown that 95% of respondents would rather use services that were co-produced than those that were created more hierarchically. Similarly, 95% of professionals agree that power needs to be shared more equally with those using a service. It seems that everyone recognises how important the process is but we can become overwhelmed by barriers and obstacles that feel insurmountable.
It is so important that we come together at this time to ensure that, even during these unusual circumstances, our organisation is driven forward by people like us. Do not feel that, because you have needed support in your life or because you might continue to need treatment that you have any less to contribute in terms of how recovery services are run and what direction our charity takes going forward. I have learned so much from our fantastic Advisory Group and the incredible individuals who make up the board and I would urge anyone who feels that they are in a place in their life where they can talk about their experiences and use them to develop and improve services for other people to please get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Mary Frances Trust is fully committed, as an organisation, to Co-Production – as an approach, as a method and as a process. We fully support people to have a voice and to join us as we develop a community built on equality, respect and true co-production values.
If you’d like to know more about how we co-design our services, please visit our Co-production page. If you’d like to take part and contribute to making better services with us, why not join our Advisory Group?
Want to write a blog for us or share your story? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org