Of hope, despair and domestic goddesses…

Several things happened earlier this year: the Big Lottery Network proposal unexpectedly ground to a halt (though it might revive); we had a decidedly lukewarm response from the First Minister to our collective Open Letter; one Cabinet member decided to ban the word ‘co-production’; one thought it was just another term for well-being; and the irreplaceable and deeply fab Noreen departed for pastures new.

Which led me to wonder whether to give it all up and return to my former life as a domestic goddess, sweet-toting granny and pub ranter (although I have managed to keep the latter going even at my busiest).

On the one hand we have over 120 organisations and individuals – from all sectors and at all levels – offering compelling reasons why co-production should be the primary approach to public services in Wales. We’ve got think tanks, policy wonks (rather like weebles I imagine), social innovation gurus, improvement agencies, funding organisations, academics, practitioners, community groups and the Scottish Government heralding the glories of co-production. We had a growing body of evidence and a ton of real stories from real people living real lives in real places.

And on the other hand…? On the other hand, as my revered Uncle Cyril would say, we have a bagatelle of diddly zip. And faced with a daily dose of diddly zip I rather lost heart.

Then a ton of serendipitous things occurred which made me realise that, in spite of the diddly-zippers, co-production is continuing to thrive in Wales, and co-production champions are continuing to work their socks off in all directions.

So, in case you too had succumbed to despair, here’s a small selection. I give you: Maria Gallagher & Wayne Jepson (PHW), Adrian Roper (Cartrefi Cymru) & Heulwen Blackmore (Welsh Government), Nick Andrews (Swansea University)Rhian Huws Williams (Care Council), Jackie Shacklady (Integrated Community Nursing, Monmouth), and the massed members of Time 2 Meet in Swansea.

  • Maria & Wayne are both modest and magnificent. Over the past few months they have set up and/or funded: a Learning in Action project (with WCVA) which is supporting 5 new co-pro initiatives from across Wales; a series of Co-pro Train the Trainer workshops (with NEF) to spread the word and inspire the world: and a collection of co-pro case-studies (with us in CW) due to be launched in the autumn at a ‘Real Evidence, Real People’s Stories’ event (Carnegie are helping us with that).
  • As well as being a connector, innovator and radical, Adrian helped us write a Section 64 bid for a Citizen’s Network proposal; he’s also the initiator of our Health & Social Care Integration open-space event later this month (Wayne has sorted out the funding for that); and, along with Heulwen, he’s organising a ‘What’s the Narrative’ event at the end of July to help bring together the various gleaming and co-productive bits of the Social Services & Wellbeing Act in to one glorious whole.
  • Apart from being a permanent joy in my firmament, Nick recently organised a superb Simple but not Simplistic conference to share the outcomes from the JRF project he’s been working on. His co-researchers – from residential care homes – were there too, telling their stories through songs, poetry and images. Co-pro at its most powerful.
  • Rhian invited me to speak at the Getting in on the Act Care Council conferences, which led to an invitation to speak at Doing Things Differently, the Social Care Providers conference. And that meant that I met a whole pile of social care professionals who instinctively ‘get’ co-pro. Given half a chance, they will grab this opportunity with both hands and transform the world. Rhian’s also helping us with the Integration event, and has offered to look at how co-production could be embedded in training and review programmes.
  • Just a 5-minute conversation with Jackie will set you up for the week. She’s a force of nature, heading up an integrated health & social care team who are changing the way they work with older people in their community – shifting from tasks to outcomes, and from eligibility assessments to co-productive relationships. And it works!
  • When Leighton Andrews (not previously known as a fan of co-pro) asked to see co-production in action, we suggested that he visit Time 2 Meet  in Swansea. He did. Expect a Damascene conversion any day now. Time 2 Meet is awesome. It’s a social network organised by adults with learning difficulties, their friends and families and the staff who support them. They run 24 activity groups and regular events for their 448 members, and have volunteered over 5,000 hours in the past year.

And finally, the lovely Mark Drakeford continues to champion co-production as ‘one of the most exciting opportunities we have to bring together the knowledge, experience and contributions of those who work in our public services and those who use them…recalibrating power through new relationships based on trust’.

Thanks to all of them, and all of you for inspiring me all over again. In shed loads.

I’ve decided to do my best to maintain the random grannying and pub ranting, but the domestic goddess option will have to wait. It’s a tough choice but somehow I know it’s the right one.


About Ruth

UK National Teaching Fellow, Founder of Co-production Wales (All in this Together), co-pro trainer and consultant, working to make co-production 'the way we do things' in Wales. And having a ball!

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