People needing change, people leading change

Ginny Cooper & David Ramsay from Homeless Network Scotland reflect on their experiences working with people to lead Change.

Ginny: My colleague David and I are programme leads at Homeless Network Scotland focusing on systems and culture change and prevention, respectively. A big part of the transformational change we are working towards is to provide our network with clear and accessible information about what needs to change to help end homelessness in Scotland. So, we are having a go at co-writing a blog!

All In for Change was set up to help Scotland’s policy and legislation around housing and homelessness to be implemented in practice and is facilitated by Homeless Network Scotland in partnership with Cyrenians and Scottish Community Development Centre. The programme does this by connecting people and communicating clear messages and a common goal. It is led by a team of people with lived and frontline experience of homelessness and relies on their knowledge, and the knowledge of their networks, to find out what progress people are seeing in improving the way we support those currently experiencing homelessness.

Since joining the organisation in 2019 I have been encouraged by the commitment of the homelessness sector in Scotland to involve the voice of people with lived experience in driving change. Through co-production and co-design the traditional power imbalances we find in the current system can be challenged but there is still much more we can do.

David and I were excited to be asked to talk about our approach to Co-production at a Scottish Co-production Network’s learning event on Wednesday 24 November where we heard Jim McCormick from the Robertson Trust talk about the need for us to work towards making co-production a right and not just an invitation. I increasingly believe that it is not enough to ask people to only contribute their lived experience but also essential that we find the best way to apply people’s experience of the system to help them lead change.

Lockdown has also been a challenge with the programme only being launched a few months before we found ourselves connecting via Zoom. We have seen members drop out due to increased pressures at work, supported people who were less confident using digital platforms to ensure their voices were still being heard, and are continuously learning and adapting the way we do things.

David: Whenever I am invited to deliver a presentation on co-production it gets me reflecting on previous work I’ve been involved in, and this was no different.

Having been involved in the work of Homeless Network Scotland for ten years now, the first three as a volunteer, I’ve seen my fair share of attempts of co-production (some good, and some not as successful). I admit, I have been involved in some of the examples which have not gone so well but have gladly learned from these (well I hope so😊).

Looking back at one of the best examples I have been involved in was a project called Navigate. Navigate had peer volunteers advocating for people who needed support with housing and welfare benefit claims. This was the first peer led project I had been involved in where people who had experience of homelessness and benefit issues were supporting others. People had come along to volunteer and give up their own valuable time to help others. It was really close to my heart, as I came through a very similar route, so I was keen to get involved and make it a success.

When I think back, one of the first things we all had to agree on was a common aim for the project and an understanding of what co-production meant and that’s easier said than done. We introduced co-production at the very first introduction meeting, encouraging people to start thinking about what approach they wanted to use, and to agree on what was best for the group.

Most people had been involved in other projects before and were not used to this language (to be fair neither was I). So, it was important to start from a place where people were comfortable and take the time to explain why a co-produced approach was different, and what the benefits were. Delivering co-produced projects can take more time than traditional methods but the payback is worth it.

This was a great project and massive learning for me, and everyone involved. We would use this learning to shape projects over the next 5 years and are still referencing it now.

The co-production model is something that just feels right, and I believe we should advocate to use it more.