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Co-Creation – So much more than consultation

VOICES Coproduction

Dr John Wheeler, Associate Dean in the School of Law, Policing and Forensics at Staffordshire University explains why.


On 28th June 2018 Staffordshire University held its annual Teaching and Learning Conference.  This is an opportunity for colleagues to share with each other the best practice that they have developed through their own teaching on our vast array of subjects and courses.  This year’s Conference had an emphasis on ‘co-creation’ of learning opportunities and teaching methods between staff of the university and a range of other stakeholders, including academic partners, employers, professional bodies and, of course, students.

I was privileged to be asked to chair one of several parallel workshop sessions during the Conference.  The first presentation of this session was entitled “Peer Mentor training: from co-production to co-delivery”.  This was facilitated by three people – Penny Vincent, who is extremely active in community-based work and who I know well as we have both worked at the University for many years, Sharon Sharman – Learning and Evaluation Manager from VOICES – a Big Lottery Funded project that I was unaware of until now, and a guy called Dan Jones, more about him shortly.  From start to finish I was very impressed with this presentation – so much I ‘tweeted’ throughout to share the good practice.

At the beginning of the presentation we were told what VOICES is all about and of the incredible work that they do for people with multiple needs.  For me, comprehending the needs of an individual who is dealing with homelessness, mental-ill health, addiction, or the results of offending behaviour is difficult enough, then to be told that Voices work with people with at least two of these needs, and sometimes all four, was mind blowing.


The focus of the presentation was Sharon and Penny describing a Peer Mentoring course that they have co- designed with Expert Citizens C.I.C. and run specifically for Expert Citizens who Peer Mentor VOICES customers.  All Expert Citizens have lived experience of multiple needs so are able to work with others going through similar journeys that they too have been through.

Five people completed the pilot course last year and are now co-delivering the current course within the University alongside Penny and her team.  Each one of these five has benefited enormously from doing the course, with most now moving on to study at university and one who is now travelling the country with their new-found employment.  This is an amazing achievement for anyone, and truly remarkable given from where these people started out.  What made the presentation even more so amazing and real, was the personal story that Dan Jones shared with us.

Dan, a fairly ‘normal’ looking guy, stood up and told us that he started working when he was 16, and then stopped working at the same age.  He then spent the next 29 years as an unemployed addict, achieving little with his life and pretty much writing himself off.  However, 2 years ago, with determination and support, he managed to free himself physically of the drugs, although, as he said, he will never be free of the shadow they will always cast over him.  He is now working in a catering role at Keele University and was one of the first students on the Peer Mentoring course.  This helped to reinforce the massive changes taking place in his life.  He talked about feeling valued and having self-worth, sentiments that were quite alien to him before this.  From there he studied the Step Up to HE course at Staffordshire University, a programme for people who want to return to education but have been away from it for a significant amount of time.  And in September of this year he will be starting a degree course History and Politics – Keele University – I’ll excuse his choice of university as he has promised to continue working with us too!

Listening to Dan was incredible.  He didn’t look like the kind of person who had spent three decades going through hell, although most people in those situations probably don’t either.  To hear about his sense of achievement and his plans for the future was really awe inspiring.  At the end of the presentation he was approached by several university colleagues who wanted him to get involved with their students, a real affirmation of where he is today and what he has achieved.


On a personal level I was blown away by the story I heard, both from Dan and from Sharon and Penny too.  They have truly ‘co-created’, not just educational opportunities, but a future for numerous people too.  To the partnership between the teams at VOICES, the Expert Citizens C.I.C.  and the University I wish many more successes, and to Dan the very best of luck for the future – keep at it, you will go far.


VOICES john wheeler
Dr John Wheeler is Associate Dean in the School of Law, Policing and Forensics at Staffordshire University.  A chemist by training and a scientist at heart, he has developed many opportunities over the years to engage all sectors of society with science, from primary school children to members of the Women’s Institute!

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