We are Chris and Lee (two residents at The Greens recovery community in Sheffield) and Joe (Humankind’s co-production lead). This summer we collaborated on and co-authored Humankind’s new Working together strategy and we want to tell you about how we’re putting this into action.
Working together is more than just a strategy – it’s a way of working that ensures our staff and volunteers team up with people who have experience of Humankind’s services to find solutions, share responsibilities, make decisions (and occasional mistakes), learn, grow and get things done. Some people call this ‘service user involvement and influence’, some people call it ‘co-production’, but we just call it Working together.
Our new strategy sets out some of the ways we will make this a reality. In particular, it’s about making Working together everybody’s business, so that every single colleague understands how it relates to their work. While we want to keep getting better at collaborating on big pieces like recruitment (and writing strategies!) we also want to sew this ethos into the fabric of Humankind’s culture.
Sometimes the best ideas come from an unplanned ‘corridor chat’ with a colleague with no predefined outcome, and we want to ensure that those conversations are also taking place with people experiencing our services. As well as improving the work of Humankind, the strategy is also intended to increase personal development opportunities for people with lived experience, in more resilient, sustainable and supportive communities.
The non-profit sector is leading the way when it comes to involving service users in recruitment processes, and continuing to include people with lived experience on our interview panels is a fundamental part of the Working together strategy as it brings huge benefits to everybody involved. We were recently part of a recruitment panel for a project development manager post in Humankind’s new integration team – it made us feel valued, and we welcomed the opportunity to be in a situation where people showed us respect. We knew the value we brought to the situation too, because we were able to bring something out of people that an entirely ‘professional’ panel could not have done. This was the key to finding the right person for the job.
The idea of being interviewed by three people that have a history of drug or alcohol use would frighten some people, but others relish the opportunity, which is essential if you want to work at Humankind. The best candidates took us all at face value, not as stereotypes, and we were able to ask questions that allowed them to demonstrate empathy and open up their human side, including sharing their own experiences of mental health challenges or family experience of addiction. For candidates who had not previously worked in drug and alcohol services it provided them with a different perspective and a chance to learn, and they thanked us for sharing our experiences.
Working together is about much more than one-off events like interviews. It is at the core of Humankind’s culture, where everybody’s strengths and experiences are valued. A great example of how the approach is embedded into Humankind’s everyday work is The Greens, a housing and recovery service in Sheffield. Residents, staff and volunteers at the programme have a regular Working together meeting in our living room, where we make decisions collectively. This might mean voting on things like our plans for Recovery Month, community partnership opportunities, designs for logos and publicity or what people’s roles are in making activities happen. But the real magic happens in the doing.
Last year, we built a breakfast bar and used some money from Humankind’s service user fund to re-cover the pool table. More and more people started getting involved, including people who thought they didn’t have the skills needed. We painted the lounge and made a new coffee table that everybody who now comes to visit wants to buy! Projects such as that, or working in the garden, also give us the chance to share recovery tips and build a sense of community. There’s always somebody willing to lend a hand or a pair of ears to listen or offer a bit of wisdom, and listening to somebody else’s problems can also be a positive distraction from your own. Working together is not just about consulting on what staff will do for people, but also what we can do for each other.
As a result of this, people have the opportunity to build connections and learn to support each other. We still have people who have left keep in touch and ask about the fish pond that we’ve created or come back and see how the garden is doing. Having the opportunity to stay part of the community means the road doesn’t have to end for someone when they leave The Greens. These connections show that Working together can have a longer lasting impact. Partnering with people with lived experience in this way can nurture closer communities, create experiences that people can build on in their careers, and lead to pathways into employment or volunteering.
As a social inclusion charity that has almost tripled in size in the last decade, people are becoming interested in what Humankind stands for and aspires to be. We want Humankind’s mission to be guided by lived experience and to create fair chances for everybody to take part regularly. We like to tell people that Humankind is part of our local communities, where everybody’s strengths and experiences are valued. Our strategy includes some bold ambitions for our governance and leadership, which are woven into the activities that everybody values so that we can shift conversations out of clinics and into community spaces. We think that the key is collaborating on the things that matter to people, and we’re looking forward to seeing the impact that the strategy has.
Chris Lee and Lee Darling are residents at The Greens recovery community in Sheffield. Joe Alderdice is Humankind’s co-production lead.
More information on Humankind’s Sheffield recovery Community is available here.