Beyond ‘box ticking’: MIF introduces the Lived Experience Movement

Picture courtesy of Manchester International Festival via Twitter

When you are different society does not cater to your needs, you do not have power and more than likely you don’t have access to the freedoms that those with power take for granted.

But things are changing. Diversity initiatives have invited people from a wider range of backgrounds into the institutions that make important decisions for all of us, about things like our health, wealth and the law.

Of course this is a good thing, but it is only a very tentative step in the right direction.

For real and meaningful changes to happen which genuinely make society a fairer place for all our citizens it is not good enough merely to employ people with lived experience of disadvantage.

The value of lived experience among the leadership of the organisations that shape our society needs to be recognised, championed and believed in.

As part of the Interdependence line-up at this year’s Manchester International Festival, a panel entitled ‘How do we reclaim our humanity?’, six extraordinary people described how their life experiences had led them to head up their own organisations.

Human rights lawyer and Clore Social Fellow Baljeet Sandhu headed up the cast of ‘New Constellations’ – the bright stars who are leading a new era creating new services and opportunities for the unheard.

Baljeet founded Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit based in London and was its director from 2012 until 2019. She is one of the UK’s top experts on children’s rights in relation to asylum and immigration law. 

Paula Harriott is a mum, grandmother and part of the senior management team at the Prison Reform Trust, she is open about having faced a long custodial sentence herself and believes that more needs to be done to meet the needs of the one in ten people in the UK who have a criminal record.

Sunny Dhadley talked about his own experience of addiction to heroin and cocaine. He explains how he developed a peer-led treatment model after he found post-detox support failed to adequately support those in recovery. (More on this in his excellent TEDxWolverhampton talk).

Farzana Khan is a youth worker from Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest and most culturally diverse boroughs. She started working with young people when she was 14 and created inclusive arts products.

She found that institutions didn’t meet her needs or those of other people who were the brown or black, or those with LGBTQI identities, disabled people and those from a range of disadvantaged backgrounds.

Farzana set up Healing Justice London to address the need to ensure that health and wellbeing can be a focus for every person, and that the distress of loss and trauma are shared, acknowledged with individuals and communities given the chance to repair themselves.

Jane Cordell has an incredible career portfolio as a musician, educationalist and diplomat among other roles. In 2010 she was denied a position on the basis of the cost of reasonable adjustments in relation to her hearing loss.

She believes the world is missing out on the talents, skills and experiences of many people because of kind of treatment that she has faced in relation to her disability. (There’s lots more about Jane on her website gettingequal.com).

Peter Atherton grew up in the care system and became involved in crime during adolescence resulting in a custodial sentence.

With little to aspire to, his impulsive behaviour led to drug addiction and poor mental health and his chances of finding paid work faded.

In his thirties, he realised that he could use his experiences to help others. He volunteered before working in the public sector. However, he started to feel that his presence there was token and was frustrated.

Wanting to do more than ‘tick a box’, Peter set up Community Led Initiatives with another former addict. The peer-led organisation helps people to move on from difficult and traumatic experiences such as addiction, time in prison or homelessness.

It’s time for Lived Experience to make a difference

While ‘service users’, ‘clients’, ‘claimants’ and other outsiders are starting to get their voices heard in the development of state provision, having a place at the table is not enough.

So let’s not tick boxes, let’s turn the tables themselves.

There’s enough room for us all to bring our lived experience, share it and help each other to heal from the trauma, loss and alienation we have faced and build services that meaningfully involve those they most impact.

You must be Barking (Tales)

Picture courtesy of Harriet Dyer / Barking Comedy

I’m not quite sure when I came across stand-up comedian Harriet Dyer, but I think it was nearly five years ago at the Addictive Comedy night (alas no more) at Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester.

Harriet spoke candidly but hilariously about her history of mental illness and addiction to alcohol. Sometimes it’s the darkest material that can bring a sense of connection with the audience.

Strangely, the very next day it turned out I was in the same train carriage as Harriet and I took the liberty of introducing myself. We had a good old gossip and found out we have lots in common.

She told me about the monthly comedy night she’d set up called Barking Tales and how it was a haven for the socially awkward – including herself!

The rise and rise of Harriet Dyer

I continued to follow Harriet’s progress, mostly from a distance as I like going to bed quite early. I saw her appear on BBC Ouch, and rack up a series of Edinburgh shows and start to get recognition for her work.

Most recently, Barking Tales won a City Life award for Best Comedy Night in Manchester. When I read a BBC piece about Harriet’s work I decided it was finally time that I postponed bedtime and got down to the gig.

Light, sound and giggles all round

There are several things that makes Barking Tales more inclusive than most comedy nights. Doors open at 7pm and the show finishes around half past ten. There’s no ticket price but you are asked to ‘pay as you feel’ on the way out.

I arrive just as the show is kicking off. I am delighted to see that there is full, but not too full house for the three acts due on that night.

The place feels instantly welcoming and I take a seat towards the back. I am sitting next to Vanessa and Geoff who have clocked I’m taking notes. I tell them I have a mental health blog and they become my gig buddies.

As Harriet takes to the stage she’s at pains to make sure the audience are comfortable. Nothing’s too much trouble. The lights are adjusted at the request of a couple of punters and the sound levels are also sensitively altered during the evening.

The line-up…

First up is Scott Gibson who is preparing for his Edinburgh show. A straight-talking Glaswegian, Scott references his own dark moments before launching into a routine that can only be described as going from self-deprecating to self-defecating.

Lindsey Davies lives locally in Leigh but is recovering from a panic attack on the way back from a trip to Amsterdam. She talks about her anxiety disorder before riffing on her son’s ADHD, being a ‘Grandma’ at 42 and getting back in the dating game only to be branded a ‘cougar’.

Steve Harris quips about childhood Tourettes and losing weight as an adult. He lunges from harsh 1970s parenting to strange incidents in the gym. Steve plays the guitar (a bit) and his style reminds me of Graham Fellowes creation John Shuttleworth (in a good way).

Can I go to Barking Tales?

Barking Tales comedy night logo.

You totally should. I went on my own on a Wednesday evening in central Manchester and had a lovely time.

Yes, you can. The best place to find out information is on the Barking Tales Facebook Page or by following Harriet Dyer on Twitter.

You can also find more Harriet Dyer goodness on her regular podcast Don’t Worry, Bi (Polar) Happy on Podbean, Stitcher or Apple iTunes.

Psst…

Harriet did this rather stunning interview with comedian Sofie Hagen on her Made Of Human podcast. Harriet talks about her mental health history and how Barking Tales is an open space for people who are different. There are trigger warnings.

Move over Care Labels…

I have neglected this blog.

But it’s OK. We’ve had a chat and we both agree that maybe having some time out was best for both of us. The blog has been most forgiving.

There are rules though.

  1. This blog will now be the home of reviews and comments about mood, mental health and wellbeing apps and related online and offline services.
  2. Care Labels For Humans now has to exist on its own website and mostly not be mentioned on here.
  3. Rules 1 and 2 can be broken.

With a renewed focus on the future of this blog I have selected just a few of my favourite entries to give a taste of what once was.

My hope is that by pruning back the old I will be leaving space for new shoots to grow.

Onwards!