We spoke with Alyson Wylding from No5 about how they include coproduction and lived experience within their work.
1 – What does your organisation do and who do you work with?
No5 was established in 1971 and supports young people experiencing well-being and mental health challenges, aged 11 to 25 years living, working, or studying in the RG postcode area (most of Berkshire West). No5 is a community-based organisation offering counselling and preventative outreach support to young people and those around them. Our counselling sessions are provided by qualified employed counsellors and counsellors on placement in their fourth year of training. All counselling for young people under 18 is delivered by counsellors with an additional specialist qualification. We have 65 counsellors offering sessions five days a week. Our counsellors come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and all share a commitment to supporting young people.
What is your role?
I am the ‘lived experience’ Director at No5. I am responsible for leading the organisation and mentoring our ‘Lived Experience Young Leaders’ (LEYLs), developing strategy and managing statutory and VCSE partnerships. As a qualified psychotherapist, I also work closely with the clinical team to ensure No5 delivers services that are informed by local young voices and best practices and that a continuous feedback loop is maintained.
2 – Why is Co-Production a priority in your work?
The way we work to ensure the voice of service users has grown and developed over the last 8 years to the point where we now feel we pursue genuine co-production and co-design, and co-delivery on suitable projects. As a lived experience leader myself, it felt obvious to me that if we wanted to support young people, we needed to properly understand them, their needs and concerns. Co-Production is a priority as this is the way to develop and sustain services that young people want and will engage with. This way we are ensuring that any funding is spent in the most productive and effective way. Many young people tell us they ‘have had the number of sessions they are allowed at another service, but they need more’. This may indicate that a shorter-term ‘intervention’ is not effective or productive for some.
I believe we are at the ‘doing within an equal and reciprocal partnership’ stage on the ladder of engagement, but I think this is a question we will constantly be asking ourselves.
3 – What is in place to make your services more accessible?
We started in 2015 by establishing a Young Ambassadors Scheme. The purpose was really to provoke a conversation with young people who had used our service. We wanted to find out what young people’s experience of our service(s) was like, including the process of accessing our service. We already had forms that we asked young people to complete at the end of their counselling, but we felt that a more nuanced approach was needed.
We found out the myths and preconceptions about asking for help young people held. For example, they thought they would have to lay on a couch while a white middle-aged man wearing glasses and carrying a clipboard sat behind them writing down what they said. We were shocked by this and also shocked that we were shocked! Why wouldn’t they believe this when so many portrayals of mental health support in the media suggest this scenario?
This gave us a clear reason to seek more conversations to find out what our own assumptions were as an organisation and profession.
We also learnt that:
- Young people spend quite some time worrying and not knowing if they need help
- Then more time trying to find out who to ask
- Finally bucking up the courage to ask
- Others talk to their parents who take them to their GP who then refer them to CAMHS and then they wait for months for an assessment to be told that they don’t meet the threshold for support.
This told us that we needed to bust these myths through more young people to talk to their peers, in the paces they were; social media, the few remaining youth groups and in schools. This is what we did and employed young people so their voices can sit at the heart of our service and the decisions made. We also ensure our LEYLs are visible so young people can ‘see people who look like them’ to build trust.
Trust is also vital within the teams that make up No5. Decisions are discussed at team meetings along with the rationale for them. The LEYLs are central to this, and their voices are equal to those of our other professionals. Everyone at No5 shares the ‘young voices’ ethos – listening without judgement to understand and responding in a way that takes the young person’s views and feelings into account. We see behaviour as a young person’s best way of communicating at that point.
4 – How do you currently involve users to create and develop services?
As the fledgling Young Ambassadors scheme gathered momentum and we offered training to them in skills they told us they wanted and didn’t receive at school. We also found out that young people were much more likely to listen to their peers and that they wanted mental health education that they were not getting at school in PHSE. This is how our Mental Health Workshops evolved. Written and delivered by young people supported by a professional, they are provided to local schools.
We funded the role of an Outreach Worker to support the Young Ambassadors from our reserves. Gaining funding to take things further became easier once we employed one of our Young Ambassadors in a professional role. Her voice, with the authenticity and passion she brings is persuasive.
No5 now employs 3 ‘Lived Experience Young Leaders’ in professional roles. Each has had counselling at No5 as a teenager and progressed to be a Young Ambassador and then a team member.
- Carly Newman – Operations and Relationship Manager
- Abbie Trussler – Projects Coordinator with increasing responsibility for comms. and social media
- Nathanya Legesse – Outreach and Support Counsellor
We also currently collaborate with two other VCSEs in Reading to expand our engagement with young people beyond those who have used our service. One of the projects we collaborate on is ‘Young Voices’. We work with Reading FC Community Trust and Starting Point, and we have found that working together means we hear from more young people but need to do less work. We share learnings and insights with each other and develop joint projects which are co-designed and co-produced with young people. Our Operations and Relationship manager attends some trustee meetings, and we recently engaged our first young trustee to ensure the ‘Voice of Young People’ is listened to throughout the organisation.
5 – What changes have been made as a result of Co-Production?
Consulting with young people and developing our co-created services is transforming everything we do and crucially HOW we do it. Young people via our LEYLs are, alongside their professional colleagues, driving our strategy, and designing new services, such as our recently launched ‘Signposting Website’. We are forging links with local businesses to bring them together with young people. Developing plans for a Young People’s Hub – a physical safe space in Reading. This came out of speaking to young people and the many focus groups involving seldom-heard and under-served young people. Our LEYLs have successfully applied for funding in their own right. We collaborate with partners both VCSE, schools and Statutory more. As we do this, we find that we get more done without needing more resources. The key change has been the development of trust between professionals and young people.
6 – What organisational benefits have you had from Co-Production?
Some of the benefits of having the voice of young people or service users;
- You can be sure that the project you are offering is the right one for the cohort you are trying to help. This means as an organisation we can decisions more quickly.
- You are more likely to be successful at attracting independent funding for a project that is co-designed and co-produced and co-delivered
- You can be confident the support will be more efficient and effective due to better decision-making processes, i.e. by consulting with service users, we can be sure we are delivering the right services/the services they want and need
- The people you want to help/engage with are more likely to participate if other people who have had support are part of the design process due to increased trust and confidence
- There are fewer unknown unknowns due to the additional perspectives involved
- Services users have a different perspective of risk and this can help providers to mitigate unnecessary worry – I don’t mean genuine safeguarding issues
7 – What top tips would you share with an organisation that wants to involve users in shaping their services?
A crucial element of lived experience participation and involvement is that an individual is sufficiently self-aware, able to take and work with feedback, aware of the impact of their behaviour on others and understands the boundaries of their role and their capacity. Training is vital for this. There needs to be a continuous feedback loop between all those involved.
8 – Lessons learned around Co-Production –Things that went well or not so well
One further important factor is that professionals are alongside young people or service users to support them but also to listen. This way a constant feedback loop can be developed. Sometimes this can lead to small, easy changes that make a big difference. For example, young people told us that the ordering of the questions on our online referral form made them feel that their data was more important than they were. We were asking them about their address, date of birth etc first and why they needed help last. Now we have reversed the order they tell us they feel more valued. This change didn’t make any difference to how we operate and was easy to make but we would never have thought about it without having conversations with young people and this isn’t something that can be easily found out from a feedback form.