X Close

UCL Public Engagement Blog



Pioneering co-production in mental health settings

By Rory, on 22 November 2020

Guest author and Co-production Collective co-producer Mark looks back at many years of co-production experience. He reflects on how his own mental health journey influenced service change and better collaboration within teams.

Orange and pink balloons with smiley faces on them. Some faces are sad, some are happy.

While some experiences of involvement have been unpleasant for Mark, he continued to see them as opportunities to make an impact and speak up for change in services and advocate for co-production. Photo credit: artbyhybrid


I have been a patient, service user, expert by experience and person with lived experience (choose whichever is the buzzword at the time) for near on 17 years. I state the names used as there have been so many, including ‘customer’ which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with fury, as well as ‘client’, but with these names my actual name ‘Mark’ has always been secondary. I once said in a session – it was like my very own ‘I Daniel Blake’ moment – that I’m Mark and yes, I’ve had varying experience which has brought me here. However the aspect that I’m a user of services is only of a little significance due to the fact that around this table we all should take our badges and labels off and be our own names.

Now the blog I write is in no way meaning to be downhearted or dour to the extreme because ultimately in a great way things have moved on from the early years of co-production. But I’m of a type that believes co-production will always have a percentage point of 99% and, like life in general, we should be continuing to find that elusive 1% because if all was perfect and great we wouldn’t need to do anything anymore. The Co-Production Collective would be out of a job, and services and research would be a rose-tinted world of all of us together hand in hand. I suppose I for myself don’t want that either, as my own contribution would not be needed and my work would be done.

My initial experiences were with universities within social work and health faculties and in some ways these were my hardest ever experiences of co-production. Speaking personally, I feel that many universities are dusty relics of institutions many hundreds of years old and when any new ethos or way of working is introduced you actually hear the walls creak and start to crack, because people don’t want to either seek or experience change. But after many a frazzled encounter with lecturers who believed textbooks are best, inroads were made and people not with various letters behind their names were included for the first time, and not to just to nod and say some helpful clichés. My feeling is, when that starts, you can at least say one foot has been allowed in the door.

Finding a way forward

My university work allowed me to see students not yet laden with mantras taught from the relics and I could at least give my experience of being someone who had a social worker (in fact over my life I’ve had four). In time, like all education and indeed health establishments, old faces left and new blood came through who were more likely to listen and involve further people like me in work. Again, this was like winning a battle, but the victory in this war was still some distance away.

Through time and with lots of sweat, and indeed headache tablets consumed, I was part of a group of people working with lecturing teams from admission to graduation on themes such as poverty and research into varying needs. We also worked preparing students undergoing placement, visiting them on placements, and becoming an extra part of the student educational team. For me, to see how far the dusty creaking walls had allowed me to come was encouraging. Team meetings were starting to include the new term of SU (Service User) associate lecturers and we started to become ‘The Team’ rather than a past Service User.

Poster illustration of an impressive rocket about to be launched into the night sky. Mark provided this poster for our Launch in October 2020.

Though this is his first time contributing to our blog, Mark has been involved in the work of Centre for many months now, including being part of the Launch Event Organising Team. This poster was created by Mark for the big day.

What’s next?

Now I work within healthcare and experiences differ in some cases day by day. Some are well-versed in co-producing and some believe that people with lived experience should still be seen and not heard. But we all should look and embrace the good and bad times, in order to collectively work together to create that added 1% needed for the 99% rule.

Get Involved With Us

Mark is part of our network of co-producers who together develop the Co-Production Collective and work on projects across the UK and globally. Let us know if you’d like to join and learn more about co-production and or get involved in things that we have going on. Email us at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk to find out more!


Leave a Reply