Hello from Govan Community Project!

My name is Tilly and I’m the project coordinator for our Participatory Action Research (PAR) project. PAR is a collaborative form of research, based around breaking down the hierarchy between “professional researcher” and the unprofessional “researched subject”. This “researched subject” is often groups of people, and often groups of marginalised people, while the “professional researcher” is often, as a result of their privilege, too disconnected from these communities to truly recognise what is affecting people the most. PAR is based around the idea that anyone who is affected by something is a key stakeholder in building solutions to that problem, and has the skills and unique insight to research it themselves, and not only that, but act on it too.

So here in Govan we meet once a week to talk, discover and plan around things that are important to us. Apart from me, the group is made up of people who all have lived experience of the Asylum System, and who are all People of Colour. It is made up of people who are men, women, LGBTQI+, cis-people, mothers, younger and older. The majority of us live in Govan. The group has carried out research into what issues affect Govanites who are also going through the Asylum System. We also run Peer Education workshops to teach, gain support, and learn from each other; have made a short film documenting journeys to the UK; and are currently co-producing a workshop plan to go alongside screenings of the film, with the theme of reducing the stigma surrounding Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

That brings me onto Iriss’ co-production project planner, which I have been using over the last few weeks to help guide us! New to co-production myself, I was drawn to the planner when looking for resources to aid the process, and was very happy to find it. The written introduction to co-production and the project planner booklet were useful in confirming some things I’d already been thinking about, such as how to tackle power dynamics, as well as aiding me to think through things I had been unsure of, such as ‘process’ and how to order things. Day-to-day, the resources in it help to shape and inspire sessions, and I often base activities loosely around the ‘tools’ cards, but cater them to our specific aims. It’s very well thought out and easy to use, and contains so many useful ideas that have helped structure activities around things that felt difficult or ambiguous. Also, one of the things I like best about it is its colourful and friendly design – it somehow lends to it feeling like an optimistic, fun and ‘easy’ resource, that can help get important and challenging things done.

I started by using the ‘inclusion checklist’, which gave me great insight into all the needs of individuals in the group, including language barriers and eyesight and hearing issues I hadn’t been aware of.

Daily we use the ‘stop’ and ‘I want to speak’ cards, and the ‘thinking hats’ idea. The speaking cards help the group to communicate non-verbally and help loud voices to not dominate the room (although sometimes even the cards can be used aggressively!), and the ‘thinking hats’ help us to focus our attention in different mindsets (we especially benefit from the ‘creative’ and ‘positive’ hats, which help to encourage positive thinking as opposed to pessimism and worrying).

We have also used the ‘tomorrow’s headlines’ tool to re-imagine positive and realistic media headlines about Asylum Seekers in the UK. We had looked at negative stereotyping in the media for a couple of weeks, and it was getting everybody down. Writing the new headlines felt like a good antidote to the sadness of the terrible slander of the British tabloid press. The group wrote headlines like ‘Asylum Seekers And Refugees Are Humans’, ‘Nicola Sturgeon Visits Glasgow Pride Instead of Meeting Trump’, and ‘Glasgow Is A Better Place Because of Migrants’.

We have used the ‘asset map’ to figure out how we are placed in Glasgow to effect change, and to give us a sense of how, together, we have a huge pool of resources and connections to help us.

At the moment we are using a combination of the ‘character profile’, ‘pathway mapping’, ‘character journeys’ and ‘conversation reflections’ tools. Because of their lived experience, group members sometimes struggle to talk about certain subjects without getting bogged down in negative personal experiences, and also the group as a whole struggles to recover from intimate disclosures of these experiences. We have created characters, Asylum Seekers in Glasgow called Alpha and Omega, to help us talk through some of the difficulties faced while also maintaining a level of distance. We have also created profiles for some ‘Old Scots’. We are currently mapping the day-to-day life of Alpha and Omega, their daily interactions with these Old Scots, and using the ‘conversation reflections’ template to think about how interactions between these two parties can become dissatisfying, stigmatised and even hateful. This work has also inspired the group to want to make a further map of Glasgow, through the eyes of Alpha and Omega. So as well as helping us to talk about difficult things with a level of distance, these tools have also inspired further ideas.

Just leafing through the rest of the tools I see so many that I want to try out, and we will continue to use them in the months to come. I’m looking especially at the ‘priority matrix’ and ‘problem and solution ranking’ as we come to the more practical side of the workshop planning. I’d recommend it to any group embarking on a co-production project together, to inspire ideas and ways of working, to make sure everyone is heard, to work through daunting challenges as a group, and to give structure to the general hum of many voices and experiences coming together.