This is the fifth in a series of blogs written by Peterborough Poverty Truth Commission Community Facilitator, Fames Farson.
A few weeks ago, we were kindly invited by Sarah (with an h) Collins at ARU Peterborough to have a chat with some of their Social Work students about the Poverty Truth Commission, and we were only too glad to accept. Sara (without an h), one of our empowerers, had a free morning and came with me so we could talk about what it’s like being on a Poverty Truth Commission as well as what it’s like facilitating one.
We didn’t go with anything prepared – if I like anything about Poverty Truth it’s how rarely there’s a PowerPoint involved. Instead, we decided to just turn up, sit down, and have a chat, and just be as present and genuine as possible, like a PTC encourages you to be.
One of the first things Sarah mentioned to us was that their guest speaker the previous week was someone who works within Peterborough’s Food Bank system, and that they’d already mentioned the relationship we’d formed and had talked a little bit about us as being part of the work going on around Poverty in Peterborough. I took that as a great sign. The connections we’re forming are strong and the word is getting out there.
While we were being introduced, Sarah explained a little bit about why we’d been invited. She said that historically, poverty had been a kind of wallpaper to social work, always there but never really questioned. Social workers in training now are being asked to consider much more the root reasons why people might find themselves interacting with social services – poverty being one of those main root causes. That focus on lived experience dovetails with what a PTC tries to do.
Sara and I introduced ourselves and gave them our elevator pitch for the project so we were all on the same page, and then the students had some questions for us. They ranged from day-to-day things like, “How do you recruit commissioners?” and “What issues do people want to focus on in Peterborough?”, to big questions like, “Why do you use the word poverty? How do you define it?”
I’ve gotten pretty good at fielding questions from people new to our approach, but these exchanges reminded me of one of the reasons this work is so joyful and exciting: every interaction is a chance to learn something new and have your perspective shift.
The students asked Sara how she got recruited, why she said yes, what her experience of being a community empowerer had been like so far, and what hopes she held for things to change in Peterborough.
I think we both gave good accounts of ourselves and the project.
I mentioned in our last blog the resource the Poverty Truth Network is developing to show to first year health students so they are more aware of lived experiences of struggle that people might be presenting to them with. That filled me with hope, and so did this chance to speak with the students at ARU Peterborough.
Systems might be difficult to change in the here and now, but we can still have an impact on people, and it is people that go on to develop and administer systems. Our visit to ARU Peterborough confirmed to us that there are people out there ready to listen, and that a lot of people and organisations are starting to recognise the value in centring lived experience.
Thanks again to Sarah Collins for the invite and her students for the excellent discussion.