Introduction: Andrew Walker sustained a spinal cord injury during a diving accident nine years ago in India leaving him paralysed from the neck downwards from the age of 28. From the very onset of his injury he was always motivated to continue his life, to chase the same dreams; running a business, adrenaline activities, having a family, travelling around the world as he had done previously. He talks here of his experiences chasing these goals.
I always knew that I would have to source support in order to achieve the goals and ambitions I had in life, following my accident. I actually thought it would be easy to access these, and I was startled to find some of the barriers I faced, the attitudes of some of the professionals, simply how difficult the whole thing seemed to be, just to get people to understand me, Andrew Walker the person- not the injury! Whilst now successfully running a personal budget I initially found that, as an example, accessing continuing healthcare and certainly negotiating a personal health budget with my local area, which at the time was a pilot site, actually far more difficult than I had ever anticipated.
I felt like I was battling the system, like there was a sense of ‘Us & Them’ rather than us working together, looking at the outcomes I wanted to achieve, sharing thoughts and ideas as to how we could achieve them together, in true partnership as I have experienced successfully in all of my other working activities to that date. I simply got the sense at times that some of these services ‘simply didn’t get it’. Everything appeared to be analysed from a medical perspective rather than in terms of the dreams I actually wanted to achieve and working backwards from that point. Disability not ability focused. I was losing faith in the system, the professionals and I’ve never lost faith in anything in my life, not even when they told me in India I had a 1% chance of living, and that was being optimistic!
Then I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the Right to Control pilot scheme, which appeared from my previous experiences of services a far more pragmatic, intuitive and realistic means of achieving people’s outcomes. People who needed support in their lives, in this case, accessed six key funding streams and support services; Right to Control was designed and implemented with the full involvement of the people they were actually designed to support, not just the professionals providing those streams and services. I’ll never forget the comment of one of the ‘older statesmen’ of the group who, as a gentleman accessing services for many years had effectively been calling for what we now call ‘co-production’, ‘what I like about this project is that it recognises this – “nothing about us, with us” ‘. Genius, and bang on the money I thought…and still do!
Coproduction is a breath of fresh air in achieving success in projects which are designed to enable people living with support needs to achieve outcomes. It works by bringing people with fantastic, real, ‘lived experiences’ lessons which a team can draw from to -not consult- but integrate and use that profound insight, professional real life knowledge into the design, implementation, decision-making and overall success of such projects. Coproduction works because everybody is given the same level of ability to input, the same level of respect and the same ability to feel the sense of achievement & accountability when the schemes inevitably work time and time again.
Why? Because teamwork makes the dream work, because people’s life experiences living with support are real and they are essential to consider in the design and delivery of any such project; because coproduction is truly the only way to work and it will always work in such circumstances if indeed the fundamentals of coproduction are adhered to – a level playing field for all, A true, positive team ethic, real life experiences which are valued and involving people who bring a solution-based approach!
Because my support system works, thanks in no small part to coproduction, I now run a successful international business, am involved in several national groups such as the Think Local, Act Personal national coproduction advisory group, the Personal Health Budgets peer network group and more locally through Breakthrough UK I facilitate the award-winning Disability Design Reference Group for Transport for Greater Manchester. I have the privilege of working with exceptionally talented individuals including Lorraine and Helen, and, much more importantly because of coproduction, that have the assurance and satisfaction that people’s support needs are in much, much safer hands – and that we, the people accessing services, have the input and accountability to live our lives in a way which we consider ‘normal’ – at least for us as individuals :-