August 3, 2022
Our team is changing! Excitingly we are introducing two new staff members, and as Rory is sadly leaving her role as Project Co-ordinator, she shares key moments from the past two and half years.
Before I explain where I am heading off to next, I wanted to share some highlights that confirmed for me that co-production is the way forward and the Co-Production Collective is the place to be. The first thing I learned at this job is the phrase learning by doing. For me, this very phrase is the proof that co-production works: if you keep an open mind, then you never stop learning, which means you will never have to work alone again, and you will never feel the need to have all the answers. Co-production means you always have others to learn from and tackle issues in partnership.
The second learning curve for me happened around the time of the official launch of the Co-Production Collective in October 2020 – right in the middle of the pandemic. As someone with serious mental health issues even on a “normal” day, I can safely say that I, like many others at that time, struggled as 2020 slowly turned into 2021. But the constant connection with co-producers kept me going even through dark times. Why? Because the work we were doing was meaningful, even in a time when a lot of things lost meaning for me. The conversations we had were honest and the projects we worked on were genuinely co-produced. This period showed me that sharing power is always the best course of action, especially when times are tough. I saw it first-hand that when people demonstrate the values needed for co-production to happen, any barriers can be overcome.
My third lesson was that even “experts” will always have room for growth. Writing has been my life-long passion and I was given free-reign to practice it at the Co-Production Collective. Some of you experienced my obsession up close, as I jumped on every opportunity to promote the blogs on our website, and hounded down everyone I met to write a piece for us. These stories are my pride and joy, but not because I wrote them – I actually wrote very few myself. I’m proud because I was there to record people’s thoughts, their exact words as they were saying them, because I helped create written versions from phone conversations, and because I read every comment from numerous co-authors and my team. All these blogs are proof that the most important relationships were created just by listening and letting people speak, and not by inserting my own agenda when it was not needed. I’m grateful for everyone who trusted me and shared so much with me, whether it was a personal account looking back at many years of co-production, multiple authors reflecting on a theme, an anonymous piece, or different experts commenting on a complex issue. Many of these authors I am yet to meet in person, but by engaging in this collaborate creative process, I feel we have grown quite close and a foundation of trust exists already. It all started with giving the space and time for people to speak earnestly, whether digitally, on the phone, or in whatever way fits them best.
Lastly, my learning experience about relationship building happened more recently, as our associates model kicked off. I was part of an online breakout room with Isaac. It certainly wasn’t the first session we facilitated together; working remotely due to the pandemic meant that Isaac and I have met virtually countless times and facilitated many similar sessions together. However, this online session was the very first one after finally meeting in person at a workshop earlier that week. I remember arriving very flustered – it was my first face-to-face co-creation session after two years of nothing but Zoom calls. The first thing I saw was familiar faces in the room; I never thought I’d be so happy to see colleagues, let alone colleagues that I only worked with remotely until that point. And yet, we hugged like old friends. I talk a lot about relationship building and trust when explaining co-production, but it’s not just hot air. Experiencing it both online and in-person, I’m convinced that living our core values is really is the only way to be. Co-production makes work more than just a way to get by – it makes life worth living, especially in times when we feel so divided and isolated. Which is probably why leaving doesn’t feel like leaving, I know I will always have a home at the Collective.
I want to “leave” you with a thought. I heard it in that online breakout room I mentioned above, while Isaac and myself were collecting comments from a group of co-producers. Michael, a co-producer I had met just then, said that the co-creation session we were in was to his liking because it was ‘redefining and redesigning the social contract we have with each other’. I said thank you to Michael for sharing the thought, and I would like to say it again. Thank you! And a big thank you to everyone who has ever shared a thought, a comment, a concern, a poem, a drawing, a short or a long email, a nod, a smile, or a frustrated rant with us over the years. Your input built the Collective, you are the reason we got this far. I’m looking forward to learning more and going further together, as we continue to develop the Co-Production Collective.
While I am taking up a new post at the charity Prostate Cancer UK, I am of course going to stay in touch with, and continue to be a part of the Co-Production Collective. I am very excited to also share that our team is welcoming two new members!
On the same week that I am leaving, we are excited to welcome our new Co-Production Partnerships Manager! Vanessa is joining our team to develop the Co-Production Collective associate programme (a working title whilst we co-create this as a community) and manage our projects with partners. Vanessa is keen to champion principles of co-production and support co-producers and researchers. She has spent the last 3 years working with young people in the NeurOX Young People’s Advisory Group, researchers and external partners across a range of research projects -advisory and co-produced - relating to mental health and ethics. We have collaborated with her previously, and most recently with one of the NeurOX young people, Sophie, on a blog about involving young people in research. Keep an eye out for Vanessa’s update blog coming in August, with the latest on the progress of the associates model.
But there’s more! We’re also delighted to announce that Makella will also be joining our team, and you will have a chance to meet at our upcoming Co-Pro Cuppa session on 2 August. In the meantime, we have a short introduction below:
Hi Everyone! I'm Makella (my pronouns are she/they) and I'm the new Co-Production and Public Engagement Trainee at UCL. It's been so lovely getting to meet new faces and find out what everyone is up to in the team. Although it's only my second week, I feel inspired by the tangible passion you all put into your work, and I'm looking forward to helping out with some of your projects. My background is in community Social Work (with children in care and young refugees) and I'm also a multi-disciplinary artist navigating the worlds of mixed media, poetry and film. Additionally, I'm also an editor/writer for a volunteer run magazine called Ashamed magazine. I look forward to continuing to share my next year with you all and hopefully work more closely with you too.