Change that leads to better lives

Blog: Coproduction in action, Time to Talk Next Steps

Alice McColl, Development Lead for Children and Young People shares how coproduction with young people, after only one year, has already brought huge benefits to Time to Talk Next Steps and everyone involved.

Alice blog

Until 2020 all my work with children and young people was in person. When the pandemic hit us that March, I knew supporting young people was going to be even more important and we had to find new ways to do it. All our work at NDTi is about enabling people to have their voices heard so we combined our experience of preparing disabled young people for adulthood and of working to build children and young people’s emotional resilience to develop Time to Talk Next Steps. It has been a hugely exciting project to deliver. We provide support and we engage and empower young people with additional support needs online. Several are now agents of change.

Through this work I have met young people with enormous courage, who refuse to let restrictions (be they at home or in society), health conditions, labels or diagnosis define them. They are above all determined to find a way forward. Everyone’s goal is different and can range from learning to wash their own hair, getting out of the front door alone, finding friendships or new relationships right through to developing a vocational profile, finding a work placement, applying for university or preparing for a job interview.

It’s not uncommon for young people to feel unsure of their own identity and many face huge uncertainty about their future. But by providing freedom to express themselves in a safe and supportive online space we have witnessed first-hand how quickly people can grow and move forward. Before we know it young people can be leading on project development, running workshops and presentations for professionals and updating us on what’s needed.

Time to Talk Next Steps provides tailored support online, one to one and in groups. A small team of staff and associates at NDTi share a common passion to make sure talents are celebrated and young people’s voices are heard. Our number one priority is to provide those we meet with confidence and motivation to be themselves and to shape their own future.

A huge step for me in the past six months has been to truly coproduce the project. It means that we continually adapt plans, shift budgets, develop new initiatives and create new links in response to young people’s ideas. A great example of this was our Celebration Event in June.

Time to Talk Next Steps Celebration Event
Group of young people, parents, carers and staff at the Time to Talk Next Steps celebration event

As lockdown restrictions were reduced young people at the peer support group and in the project steering group said they wanted to meet in person. They set up a working group, discussing criteria for a venue and researching different places to meet. In June 2022, young people, parents, carers and staff came together in person. We called it our Year 1 Celebration Event and we had plenty to celebrate having set up the project and offered support to 91 young people across England in the first year of delivery!

There is no doubt that the post pandemic context meant that everyone was feeling intrepid and nervous about meeting in person. It was this shared experience which helped us to quickly develop a strong sense of group and belonging.

Seeing and hearing young people, who originally sought out the project at a time of uncertainty and high anxiety, lead discussions about what worked and what should be changed in the project was so exciting. There is no doubt that that attending this event had a significant impact on everyone. Thanks to our colleague Thomas we were able to capture some great moments in a short film.

Over two days we shared ideas, listened to each other, enjoyed meals and laughed together whilst shaping our plans for delivery of year two. Young people shared common stories of sadness and frustration at being excluded from important events at school. For example, ‘rights of passage’ activities such as the prom or trips and outings. Many had been told that they could not be accommodated or included due to their additional support needs. Hearing from others and sharing experiences in the project enabled them to decide on important things that they want to change for example training for school staff on inclusion and making sure more young people know their rights.

Contact[1]’s family support worker also attended the celebration and chatted with parents about how to reach as many parents and carers as possible with information on managing transitions and preparing for adulthood.

The celebration event was just the beginning. Three weeks later two young people attended the residential NDTi conference. They ran a workshop about Time to Talk Next Steps, facilitated icebreakers for conference attendees and posed important questions to NDTi about how young people could be more involved in influencing social change and improving the rights of young people with additional needs.

Our work so far has led to exciting plans for the second year of the project:

[1] In order to include and support parents and carers Time to Talk Next Steps is delivered in partnership with national disability charity Contact.

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