I sat down this morning and thought, ‘wow’. It’s been a bit of a crazy four years, hasn’t it? Putting all the pandemic stuff aside, it really has just been mad. Four years ago next month, I was winding up my time as a co-chair at the Independent Care Review. I was still working at Edinburgh Council and had just moved into my first-ever flat.
Just over the horizon, unbeknown to me, was an idea, a project, a niggle, a curiosity, a thought. A thought that I probably didn’t know had been eating away at me for a while, but there’s some context first. Before this slightly self-indulgent diatribe gives you some new information! I had not spent much of my childhood or teenage years thinking about being a care experienced person. I spent a lot of my time doing what most teenagers do: avoiding homework, trying to spend as much time on my computer as possible, and probably not doing nearly enough laundry.
My point, in essence, was that by the time I started my working life post-university, I had gone from not really having any foot in my own community to falling, quite akin to Alice, into Wonderland. And wow, what a Wonderland it is: an amazing, diverse group of people, a passionate group of people, sometimes a very combative group of people – but that comes from caring. You want to make a difference.
So, what’s my point?
What was the idea I had nearly four years ago, post-Christmas 2019? I think, with the beauty of hindsight, it was that whoever you are, whatever label people give you, you should have the power, the autonomy, the right to have people listen to you and for you to make a difference in this world. Sounds simple, right?
I was once told, just as I was finishing up at the Independent Care Review by someone outside of the review, that ‘we’, the review, hadn’t listened to their organisation and that ‘they’ were the experts. The implication being that ‘we’, the review, weren’t the experts. They were wrong on both counts. Organisations aren’t experts; government reviews aren’t experts; government isn’t experts.
People are experts, and people with a direct lived experience of an issue are the best experts. They’ve lived it. So, maybe this person doesn’t remember telling me I should listen to the experts, but I don’t think they knew I’d take it so seriously and go create an organisation that’s dedicated just to supporting the real experts to lead change. Those that have lived it.
So, it’s 2023. Nearly 2024. ProjectChange is coming up to its fourth birthday; what’s it done, what’s it going to do? Well, what an aptly timed question you’ve given me. Let me tell you.
We’ve always had three things at the core of who we are and what we do. The first part, and the one that was always closest to my heart, was to create tools and resources that were open-source, free, accessible, and useful. That was goal one, and we achieved something new and different with our voice’s toolkit. It stands out in the sector as probably one of the first self-led series of resources designed by care experienced people for other care experienced people. Not organisations, not staff, not workers, not the system. For lived experience. Over the next 12 months, we hope to have a chance to revamp the toolkit, go out, listen and learn from our community about what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s needed to help as many people as possible be involved in the improvement of our community.
The second thing we’re building is a whole support package of training, upskilling, and auditing organisations that work in and around our community to be better at listening to our community. Listening is hard; it’s not straightforward. But some organisations recognise they have an obligation to be better at having the voice of care experienced people embedded throughout the layers of their organisations. Not just making staff aware of care experienced people but having more experienced people working in, guiding, leading organisations. We’ve built a whole social enterprise in six months, and I look forward to showing you what it will do in the next 12 months.
The third part, and this has been the part of ProjectChange that has been the slowest to get right, is about trying to create the conditions on the ground for this to happen. Bringing people together, bringing our community together, to talk, to listen, to meet, to share, to debate, to discuss, to explore. As a community, not to reach a consensus, not to agree on a position, but to just have those spaces where we, as a community, can discuss. What this will look like, I’m not sure; it won’t be a chosen few who will be consulted on organisational priorities, or any of that rubbish. We will work over the next 12 months to work with our community to see if there are any topics or ideas that are important, that we, as a facilitator, can hold the space for our community to explore those safely and powerfully.
Helping people talk, helping organisations listen, bringing people together. Change will happen: positive, meaningful, led-by-experience change.
I use a term coined by Jimmy Paul to describe ProjectChange: we’re a ‘think and do’ tank. It’s squarely on our homepage. What does it mean? It means we take time to understand what our community needs; we take time and thought. Then we do; we create the tools, resources, and opportunities that will help our community get involved in solving problems, building its identity, and being a positive force for our society.
So that’s ProjectChange. That’s the future of change, those are my thoughts anyway. But let’s hear yours.