Charlton shares the difference coproduction of peer support has made in Camden

um, yeah. Um I think it would be helpful if I give a little bit of a background as to my job role of what I'm doing, what I'm up to and why, Um, so I'm working in Islington. So in North London, and it's an Islington council funded project that I'm working on, and I think the idea for the project was kind of birthed during the pandemic. Um, the council found it very difficult to effectively and efficiently communicate with people who really needed quick access to information

A lot of residents and community groups, um, require, um, information around vaccinations, food, banks and support. Um and they realised they they didn't have really a quick mechanism in order to do that. So they came up with a project called local Well-being Networks and they put that out for tender

Um, and two organisations kind of came together in the spirit of co-production and bid for that tender. So one of them is my employer, which is voluntary action Islington. It's the largest voluntary organisation in the borough, and they teamed up with the 15 largest community centres in Islington

They're all kind of form a conglomerate called octopus community networks. So technically, my two employers, they went for the bids, they were successful. And here I am now speaking with you this morning

Um, so I'm the local Well-being Networks coordinator, and my project is really split into two main parts, and one of them is just swimming in co-production, which you'll find out about, um, we're looking to upskill and empower Islington community members. And when I say members, I really mean anybody who lives or works in the borough. Whether that's a resident, um, someone who represents a community group or grassroots organisation, social enterprise, anyone at all, um, we're offering them free online training on community organising

And that's in co-production with a nationally accredited charity conveniently named Community Organisers. We've taken 45 participants and we've split them up into the three localities of the borough. So 15 from the north of Islington, 15 centre, 15 south

They're doing two introductory workshops, um, with community organisers. Um, but then what we're doing after that is we're taking 15 on an intensive six month training journey. Um, and that's with in co-production with a different national charity called the Social Change Agency, whereby the participants will be learning network building

And the idea is these 15 people are representing a really diverse and representative group of Islington Through every space, every corner of the borough, they're forming their own middle network of like minded kind of community champions. And by the end, they're gonna be championed as our community change makers. The plan is for them to create this network and then to start to think of ideas where they can copro produce projects to address local health inequalities

Um, hopefully we can give them enough exposure that with our partners, um, and with our other kind of members organisations, they can start to copro produce projects, whether that's with funding, whether that's with volunteers, but really on a hyper local level, start to address some of the things that we're seeing and hopefully some of the things that we're able to capture, um, with with resident voice. Um, so that's going to be running in the next few months. Something that's really helped, I think, is this element of co-production that I mentioned because I think if it was just voluntary action, is Liton trying to get this off the ground? It would be really hard to gain traction, but because we've already got the buy in of the 15 largest community centres, they already have such an existing network of engaged community members

They see a footfall of residents, parents, volunteers every single day. So I think having that backing, um, has really, really helped. And, of course, the council being able to put a bit of money and a bit of media behind it, that element of free organisations, all with their own unique insight and experience and resources coming together in the sphere of coproduction has really meant that the demand for this training and this project has been such that we have oversubscribed our training programme

Um and we're looking to, um, just continue, continue that cause and and hopefully make a big difference on a local level, but also, um, on a borough wide level, too. That's wow. That's amazing, Charlton

Thank you. I just, um I don't know where to start in terms of what? What, what? What I would want to know, But I think one thing that does come to mind is, and it might be too early to say, um, is that, uh what difference. Is it making, um to to people, um, you know, in those communities, um, how how is that? You know, how how are they involved directly? And, um, do you Are you seeing the benefits of that in terms of or or is it perhaps a bit too early to say no? It's a good question

Um, already, a lot of the feedback that I'm getting has been has been really positive, and some of it has been disbelief that this is a CO the council are funding this type of project. I think it's all it's putting residents first. And maybe there's a bit of misconception about local government

Um, but there's a lot of surprise in that the Council are willing to put some money behind this and empower residents. But in terms of the difference, probably my favourite thing about this project is it was written into the strategy to allow marginalised voices the chance to equitably contribute to their own local development. So what I did for that was I was able to extract the latest statistics around island's population based on eligibility for the vaccine

It's our it's our greatest method of up to date data. There's around 260,000 people in Islington. Um, and I was able to look at how that spread in terms of age and ethnicity

I took that data out, put it into, um, a column chart and a pie chart, which I love, by the way. And I tried to match the training participants that we have to the breadth of diversity in the borough and a spread of age so that the training that we're offering is actually representative of who makes up the global community. Um, in terms of the difference we're making, I'm really, really proud to announce that our training participants actually are more diverse than Islington

By that I mean, there are different types of communities and different grassroots organisations that now actually have a seat at the table and have access to a course that empowers them to make a difference themselves, but also connect with their fellow community members trying to integrate that kind of social cohesion. And that community feel, um so yeah, in terms of a difference, I think because the training is live, it's actually one in 15 minutes happening for central locality members. Um It's quite early to to be able to predict

But from what I've seen so far, it's bringing different walks of life together for the same reason in that we all want to make a bit more of a difference on a local level. We're maybe not too sure how, um, and bring in, like I say, bringing together a network of like minded individuals to do it together rather than alone because from recruiting. There are so many people doing so many incredible things, but they don't know what everybody else is doing

And there's a lot of duplication. I think this project, one of the core aims, is to avoid that duplication and to realise that we can all bring in our own skills. But we don't always have the same the same fight

Um, we can. We're We're You know, we're all trying to do the same thing. Let's let's do it together

It's gonna be a lot easier and quicker, um, and more of a community spirit and gosh, that's amazing. And I love that connection that you've made, like, really strongly made and really, positively made between the data and and, you know, getting people involved. And And I think that's something that we often find hard in this coproduction space is, is how do we use data to the best effect? Um, and sometimes people will dismiss data in favour of stories and anecdotal evidence

But actually, what you've really highlighted is having that balance. Um, between the two. Um, how how do you How is that resonated then, in terms of the I know, it's council funded

Is it the project? Yeah. How how has it been? Are they Do you get the sense that they're feeling the impact of it and they're open to kind of the learning and you know, the differences and the potential for working more in this way, I guess it's a really good question. I I'm happy to report that the feedback that I've received from council members so far has been incredibly positive

Um, I don't think that they expected there to be such a demand. In fact, when we we set the targets of 45 training participants, but we only had four weeks to recruit. Now I think in normally the council will have two or three months to recruit maybe 30 people and Sometimes it's quite challenging, perhaps, as I mentioned before, because of some common misconceptions or a level of mistrust of local government

But, um, regardless, it's been incredibly positive. Um, we're already talking about extending this current project and looking at Year two and three funding, and that's just because of the demand that's been seen. Um, so yeah, the council, I think, are recognising that they there there is demand

It's just about how to access it. And there's a common phrase that gets knocked around, and I don't really like it to be honest, and it's hard to reach groups. I don't believe the groups are hard to reach

You're just not reaching them in the right way for them. You're probably trying the same way that you try every group and not really recognising the differences, um, and accessibility that different community members face so hard to reach. I'm not really feeling that

I think maybe let's look at how how we can reach different groups and I think that that's what we done successfully in this project is celebrated difference and working with existing networks, existing community leaders, for them to be the ones to disseminate information and to bring people in, Um, and that that approach has worked really well. And I think the council have definitely cottoned on to that. Um and as I say, are now looking to extend this current project, which is really good, that that's great

And I love what you've just said about hard to reach again that resonates so, so much. And I sometimes hear people say that it's actually the services that are hard to reach, Not not the people. Do you think that Do you think that, um, then has the potential or is already having a knock on effect in terms of how the council or other organisations that you're working alongside are working and and relating to residents and and local people? I think I I hope so

What I've seen so far is, um, one example is that the council, now through the advice of voluntary action, is and the community groups that I've mentioned, they have now translated, um, vaccine information into the top six or seven languages spoken in the borough, which doesn't sound like it should be this revelation idea. But beforehand it just didn't exist and they were using the same leaflet and wondering why um, groups where English isn't their first language is the lowest uptake. So I think it's a little little things like that that the more that we can suggest these different and more inclusive, I think, methods of communication

Um, the the more impact we're seeing. And the and the Council are realising that and and going back to the data, I had a meeting with a few community centres where they asked me quite bluntly, how on earth have you recruited 55 people for a 45 capacity training event in four weeks? And I just told them the same about getting the data of who actually makes up our borough and making sure that that is always the focal point and the strategy for recruitment, making sure that it matches. Who is there because once you started recruitment and you get the numbers coming through, you're then able to see who isn't there, and that changes your tactics completely, and you're able to then target groups, um, a lot more effectively

So the community centres have have got that information, and I think that is going to inform practise, moving forward I think that's another really important point that you've raised there char around how the iterative nature of of this work. And I suppose I'm I'm curious, then to know in terms of your role was that something that was very strictly defined or have you had a lot of flexibility to actually do this in a in a way that makes sense to the people in the communities that you're trying to make a difference with? Really good question that there were things in the job description about what we wanted to achieve. Um, by that as I mentioned before, um, making sure that marginalised voices are included

Uh, but in terms of how I was really given a really nice level of autonomy to kind of get out there in the community, speak to people, visit the community centres, get that resident voice in terms of what they want this project to be, why would they be involved? Why have they not got involved in previous projects, or why haven't they relatively been that successful? And then I kind of I've taken those learnings and that's informed my strategy. Um, and I have they I think I have been given a lot of autonomy to kind of, um use that data. Um, there are not many people that find data as enjoyable as I do

I'm not saying I absolutely love it, but when it's for this type of when it's for this reason, I I really kind of threw myself into it. And it just it really helped in the strategy of recruitment. So, yeah, I think a autonomy definitely was given with a loose basis of what we wanted to achieve in the description

But the how was left to us, and and I have to also just thank definitely thank our community partners and resident voices because that's directly informed what we've done. Yeah. No, that's that's great

And And And I think, um, again, what? What would you um what would you say to other councils or organisations or groups who were kind of, you know, maybe hesitating or not sure about letting go of control in that way? Um, yeah. I mean, it's a tough one because I've seen that, and I I I continue to see it. I think you need to ask yourself, what's the point in this project? Who is gonna stand to benefit

Why has it failed in the past and then park all of those conceptions? Keep them in a box, come back to it. But then go and ask the people this project is going to affect Go to community centres going to speak to residents and know it can be difficult if you're coming directly from the council because you know that sometimes there is that barrier of mistrust or communication. So then use your existing partners

You know, every council has a voluntary um centre and that voluntary centre is usually a hub for so many different types of, um v CS organisations and they are the ones that already have the existing relationships with the people that you're likely trying to help. So use your partners in the spirit of coproduction but seriously use existing networks and don't try to reinvent the wheel because the community centres are normally the first point of call for those out there. Um, on the ground we found that by the establishing of mutual aid groups during the pandemic, those were the ones that kind of saved the day

In the end, whilst the council perhaps struggled or left behind. So use the existing networks, Speak to people, use your partners, Um and yeah, go and speak to the people that this project is impacting and don't make assumptions. Yeah, and and and And listening to your talk just there again it It brings me to the point of thinking as we often talk about how we define co-production as something tangible, um, or a magic formula or a system or a process that's going to bring about some of the changes that we want

But actually, I think what you're talking about is much more around the conditions and the trust and the relationships and the does that Does that feel like right to you in terms of perhaps how you would define what's happening in relation to co-production or even define coproduction itself? Um, I have to say I absolutely agree. Um, there's co-production in al Borough from some of the partner meetings that I've been to has often been, uh, sometimes jeered and is often met with a very conflicting reaction. And I think it's because previously projects have been introduced and they've been labelled, uh, that this is a this is a co-production, but I think there's always been or from what I've heard anyway, the feedback is is that it's not always equal

And I think equality in co-production is probably the most important element to gain that input to gain that trust. Um, because without it I think groups feel that there's an imbalance of power, whether it's a council holding the funding and given certain conditions. If the conditions aren't being informed by the fellow Copro producers, it feels like this project is going to exist

Whether you like it or not, you need to achieve these things and then you can come on board as a copro producer. The quality in that, I think, is incredibly important. So being able to for groups to be involved in the formulation of a project, perhaps writing the bid, writing the conditions that I think would resonate a lot more with groups in terms of the true element of coproduction, because there's a lot of fairness in that and input has been there from the start

So there's no, um, you're not surprised by anything or you're not having to commit to something that you're not sure you can actually achieve. Um and I think if that was more common in the borough, perhaps in many boroughs, then coproduction will be met with a lot more enthusiasm. Because again, it's This comes from a point of fairness and and inclusivity

Thank you. Wow. Amazing

If, before I stop the recording, is there anything else that you wanna add or come to mind? Just thought I would say that this this project is the first of its kind. It's never existed before. Never before has the council worked with volunteer action Islington and 15 community centres all in the same thing

And I think the reason it's been so successful so far is because each of those three pockets have been able to bring in something different. Uh, volunteer Action, Islington. We've got the history of the borough having been here 50 years

We've got the reputation of a trusted organisation with over 1000 members. The community centres have got the footfall of residents on a daily basis. They're the first responders with their unique lived experience in the site and obviously the council and the overarching body with the resources, um, and the methodology and by all three organisations pulling in the same direction and being involved from the beginning

There's been a lot of trust and there's been a lot of, um a lot of leeway. That element of coproduction has fostered the greatest success so far and I'm incredibly excited to see what we will achieve in a year's time and hopefully we'll have some fantastic community change makers that can go back and really start to impact their local community on the ground and not have to then rely so heavily on the council or statutory services. It's putting power back into the hands and I'm very grateful facing to council to being able to do that and listening to organisations like us because it's made a hell of a difference


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