In this guest blog, Katie Brooksbank, Pathways Worker at Together for Mental Wellbeing talks us through her experiences as a listener attending one of our Hard Edges: Lives Behind the Numbers Workshop, and why she thinks stories are some of the most powerful tools we have when redesigning public services.
“We are all aware of people who are, or have been affected by severe and multiple disadvantage. Whether this is because we have heard a story on the news, we vaguely remember it touching the life of someone at school or through simple hearsay, we have all heard about it at some point in our lives. And certainly we can all be guilty of being ignorant towards things we don’t have personal experience of; it’s easy to judge the things we don’t understand.
Many assume that individuals who have experienced disadvantage isolate themselves from the rest of society. Having the opportunity to sit, talk, listen to and have lunch with people who have personal experience of these difficulties made it clear to me that listening is something essential in public services. We are all human at the end of the day, and we should not be so quick to judge.
It was very different actually hearing the stories of people in their own words, and experiencing their journey’s with them, face-to-face. Although I do directly work with individuals who have experienced similar problems of disadvantage, they are still only young. To hear people speak so candidly about the disadvantage they have faced their whole lives, and are still fighting to change was really inspirational.
I felt a number of different emotions throughout the day. Initially before arriving I felt apprehensive about what to expect, thinking about spending a day with those with addiction issues, ex-offenders and others can be somewhat strange. I was also excited – excited to be given the opportunity to actually hear the stories from the individuals themselves rather than the preconceived versions I am so used to seeing in the media.
Soon after arriving I realised there was absolutely nothing to worry about, everyone was very warm and welcoming, right from the staff at the venue, to all the Innovation Unit researchers and finally to the storytellers themselves. I found it great that there was no hierarchy throughout the day, everyone – storytellers and service providers alike – was equal and given the opportunity to share their stories, knowledge, experience and ideas.
It was difficult not to feel some sadness when hearing about some of the things that had been thrown at these individuals throughout their lifetime. But it wasn’t long before this changed to feelings of inspiration; that even though these people who had been through such trauma were in a period in their lives where they had enough strength and support to be there with us on that day, and were able to tell their story. It couldn’t have been an easy thing to do.
Service users are without a doubt the most important factor when thinking about providing services that fully meet individual needs. From my listening experience at the storytelling workshop, It’s clear that they should be given the opportunity to have a voice and share their stories and experiences in order that their support is shaped to their needs in the best way possible.
Storytelling should be used more widely. Having stories told directly by service users themselves helps people to understand exactly what individuals have been through, and what could be done to enable them to make the changes they need to live a good life.”