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Introducing social work: a starter kit
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6 Service user involvement

This is a photograph of three people in conversation.
Figure 8

It is important to engage and involve service users in a respectful and reciprocal way. In their book Service User and Carer Involvement in Health and Social Care, in the chapter ‘Arts-based practice: learning from survivor artists’ (Fawcett et al. 2018, p. 87–108), Dawn River explores with Tessa Lowe the significance of hearing and giving space within educational and training contexts, to the voice of the service user. Dawn is an author, survivor and academic; and Tessa is co-author, survivor and poet. Tessa’s poem ‘Accolade’ (reproduced below) was written with reference to a university-based Survivor Arts exhibition. At this event, Dawn had created a space in which the University could be challenged to think more critically about its approach to Service User Involvement. In her poem, Tessa outlines just how vitally important it was to have her voice of protest heard (Fawcett et al., 2018, p. 96). While it might have initially appeared from the organisers’ point of view, very positive and inclusive to provide certificates to every service user attending the event, this did not take into account the way in which this was done. Providing standard certificates to all did not appear to respect the unique contributions of individual attendees, especially on this occasion, for Tessa.

‘Accolade’ by Tessa Kate Lowe

I arrived

At half past nine

Just in time

To receive my glossy certificate of appreciation

For having made a valuable contribution

To the august ivory-tower event.


How perceptively clairvoyant

They must have been

To have seen

So far in advance

That I would make

Such a valuable contribution

To the Alice-in-Wonderland proceedings.


I could have been flattered

Had it not mattered

That every service user


Every person with ‘mental health experience’

Received one too!


What is a mentally healthy person to do

With such banal inanity

Such institutional insanity

Such seduction of one’s vanity?


Here’s a valuable contribution

To your striking unthinking -

We’re mad.

Not stupid!