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Purposeful participation and pandemics: Helping people to be heard when lockdown keeps you locked in

By Natalie, Project Manager | Our views

Lockdown has been full of firsts for most of us as we try to navigate moving almost every aspect of our lives online. Last week I had my first experience of presenting a webinar via Microsoft Teams Live. The webinar itself went smoothly (minus a couple of user error tech issues – all mine by the way!), the audience was engaged, sharing comments and asking questions throughout the session, and the presenters spoke passionately about the work we have been doing as a team over the past 12 months and about what we hope will happen next.

The topic of the webinar was Why Community Matters – an insight report into Early Help in Wirral for children and their families when they first start to face challenges that they cannot overcome on their own. I’ve spent the majority of the last 12 months listening, learning, writing about and listening again to families who have had good, bad and ugly experiences of getting the help they need. I’ve been desperate to share the things I’ve heard, so that steps can be taken to build on what works and get rid of what doesn’t. Ultimately, the system should work for families, rather than making families work within a system.

Ultimately, the system should work for families, rather than making families work within a system.

The report captures a huge range of life stories and is built almost entirely on the voices of the 450+ people who took part in the research, with some numbers and observations to add context. At times it’s a difficult read. Along the way we heard from a young girl whose baby sister died only a few days old, families who are managing multiple diagnoses of additional needs, families facing financial challenges and young people who are worried about their future if they don’t fit into mainstream education. However, we also heard about the life-saving networks of people created within communities that are preventing one another from tipping over into the social care system. These communities have welcomed me into their lives to share their experiences, vulnerabilities and ideas for what really effective systems need to address, and how they need to do it, without causing shame or embarrassment.

We also heard about the life-saving networks of people created within communities that are preventing one another from tipping over into the social care system.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, real people are still very much at the heart of this work; we have a team of parents and carers who have been there from the start, helping to keep us grounded in the reason we are all here, but, with families in lockdown, parents trying to master home-schooling and people trying to do their jobs from a distance, finding the time or space to think about anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for survival is quite the ask. The way forward needs to be paved by families and communities, but with them locked in during lockdown, the question for us is: how do we maintain their involvement in the most meaningful way possible?

Our next steps will be to design and test new ways of working with families to help them thrive in their communities. To do this, the families themselves, as well as the communities they’re part of, need to be involved in every step of the process.

The question for us is: how do we maintain their involvement in the most meaningful way possible?

So this piece, as well as being a reflection on how I’m managing a new way of working, is a call to action. If you have experiences or brilliant ideas to share, or if you want to be involved in any way, we want to hear from you.

Get in touch with me at Natalie.mansfield@capacitylab.co.uk