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Shining a light on the valuable (not vulnerable)

3 June 2021 · Categories: Bulletins, People Can

We have recently ended a 6-month project with a focus on the positive – working with people who were formally or informally shielded and their supporters in 6 areas of the Midlands and South.

As the project draws to a close we are working with the members of our coproduction group to share what we have learned and to challenge the rhetoric around vulnerability.

The report

Last month we launched our lovely interactive project report showing what happens when we focus on what people can do and not what they can’t and sharing stories and opinions from people with personal experience.

The stories

As part of the project we collected stories of shielded people making positive things happen. We also gathered stories of organisations and groups helping people to act on their strengths.

Several of the stories were featured in the report and others on our project webpage. People like:

  • Moseley and Kings Heath u3a which is run for and by members who are retired, many of whom have been shielded through the pandemic. The group brought local people together to network and share ideas for working together and broadening the appeal of u3a.
  • Ceri who runs her own social enterprise and developed a training course to help disabled entrepreneurs who might want to do the same.
  • Things with Wings a community art project run for Community Catalysts by Jeanette McCulloch an artist based in Ledbury, Herefordshire. People, including many who live in care settings and had ‘their wings clipped’ as a result of the pandemic, were invited to produce an image inspired by the title. A local art exhibition to showcase the results is planned.

The opinions

The focus on valuable and the corresponding discussion of vulnerable gave rise to many people sharing their opinions as part of the project.

People like Anna Severwright, a member of the project’s coproduction group, who shared her view that the vulnerable label doesn’t work, has a focus on weakness and detracts from the fact that people are so much more

“During the pandemic the phrase ‘the vulnerable’ has become everyday language, usually referring to older people, disabled people and those with pre-existing medical conditions. I, along with many other disabled people, feel extremely uneasy and even angry at being labelled and categorised in this way”

Anna Severwright

Or Neil Crowther, convener at Social Care Future who made a strong case for abandoning the vulnerable label altogether.

“As a result, the label ‘vulnerable’ conspires to focus attention away from the external factors which place people in a ‘vulnerable situation’ such as where the person lives, the adequacy of the support available to them, the discrimination they face, or the hostility of the wider community for example.”

Neil Crowther

The impact

At the end of the project, we asked everyone who had been involved to complete a survey – to let us know what had happened and the impact it had on their lives and/or practice. 39 people completed a survey including individuals, people representing organisations, workshop delegates and coproduction group members. They offered diverse opinions and experiences, but everyone reported a positive difference made. Comments included:

“It made me feel that I could do things that I didn’t think I could.”

“Our organisation is adopting a strength-based approach going forward, we got involved with this project as it focussed on the strengths a customer can build on rather than focussing on any vulnerability or their inability to do things. It has impacted in changing our thinking and culture going forward, we will follow through and revisit our current practices to see where we can introduce a strength-based approach at every opportunity.”

“I think it had a great impact on people who are shielding, for me is joining likeminded people who share a common goal.”

“I think we had great impacted with dialogue in this space creating awareness of longer conversation about language and labels we use can constrict our thinking, this is a longer-term culture piece we will need a constant movement on this as language evolves.”

The events

Together with members of the Coproduction Group we have been sharing the learning and holding a space for discussion. We hosted a session at the Social Care Future Spring Gathering and led a roundtable convened by the Coalition for Personalised Care.

In addition, we have been working with Learning Disability England on a series of workshops bringing together people with personal experience and members of the media. People working together to challenge the ‘vulnerable’ narrative and plan better ways to work together.

What next?

Community Catalysts would love to keep the conversation going about the issues this project has raised. We get a sense that other people would like that to happen too. We plan to find ways to make that happen and are looking for collaborators in that endeavour.

  • Read more about the project by visiting our webpage
  • Share your opinions and stories on social media using the #ValuableAndVulnerable hashtag in order to change minds, policy and practice.
  • Contact if you want to learn more about this project and our future plans.

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