“We never called it co-production but we’ve been doing it for the past 15 years”
Former music industry specialist and National Co-production member Kieran McMahon describes how he worked with colleagues to co-design and co-produce an accessible building for Disability Stockport.
Disability Stockport started life as a pressure group in the 70s. Now in the noughties it has grown to a medium sized charity offering services via its Independent Living Centre.
I joined as Director in 2003. One of the major issues at this time were the state and location of the two buildings used to deliver our services - they were not fully accessible. The Day Centre was in an old clinic at one end of Stockport and the offices /support services were in an old church at the other end. Visiting the latter involved negotiating a chained rear entrance and narrow corridors. This was somewhat ironic as we were the major provider for access advice and awareness training!
Life Chances of Disabled People
When 'Life Chances of disabled people' was published in 2005 the board and members all agreed to follow its 20 year plan to develop a Centre for Independent Living (CIL) in Stockport. After some searching and canvassing of prospective partners, a mortgage funder was found to purchase a suitable building. This started a long search and many, many discussions with members (users), staff, families and designers as to what kind of building and what kind of service we wanted.
Finding a suitable building
Over the next year we identified two possible buildings and listened to the views of everyone on what they wanted. The members, staff, volunteers and families wanted to retain the 'big room' element of the old centre but also wanted more options for activities including cooking and art as well as properly equipped toilet and kitchen areas, which were both lacking. In 2008 we came up with a third option in the centre of Stockport which thankfully everyone liked.
“A great deal of pride and collective ownership”
We then spent many months collating ideas and suggestions and building on the initial consultations. The 10 elected members also got involved to monitor progress and refine choices of colours and finishing. All this was relayed to both architect and builders. I was delighted when everything worked to plan and was delivered on time with an opening in April 2009. There is a great deal of pride and collective ownership due to this involvement process that works well into the long term.
The impact of change and its impact on disabled people
When we did finally move it was interesting to note that it took the staff far longer to adapt than the members. We did not lose any members as a result, even though for some it meant a longer journey, but they quickly began to appreciate the advantages of the location as well as the much improved access and space. Before the move some had had fears that they might get mugged in the town centre so we’d arranged a few visits ahead of the big move.
By the time we had a major extension there was a greater confidence with change and the process of co-producing was very straightforward. Members gave their views on the design and purpose, a few things were altered and a few new ideas added.
A further achievement of ours has been to provide an open door policy and encourage visitors into the centre to allow members to speak for themselves in local consultations. Members' reps are elected each year and meet with myself every month to decide on direction and activities as well as looking at any issues that may arise. While we have never specifically called it co-production, this has been our way of doing things for the last 15 years.
Have you worked on a similar project? How do your experiences compare?