Dissolving boundaries: learning from the #JusticeforLB campaign

We’ve been quiet on this blog for the last while as #107days Take Two took place over on the 107days blog; an eclectic mix of 15 weeks of campaigning, reflecting, taking action, exploring listening to families, changing the law, the Justice Quilt, art and activism, inquiries, saying sorry and much, much more. 107days ended with the premiere of the brilliant The Tale of Laughing Boy, a collaboration between young people with learning disabilities from My Life My Choice and LB’s family, and the brilliant Oxford Digital Media.

This short film of Connor’s life uses home video footage and interviews with LB’s family and friends and the views of young people about his death. It also includes insights and recommendations for positive change, some of which those in authority and at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and Oxfordshire County Council could do well to listen to.

The film was a key feature of the #JusticeforLB Symposium at the JSWEC conference last week (you can read our abstract here). JSWEC is the Joint Social Work Education and Research Conference and it sees about 250 social work educators and researchers come together over three days. It was always a bit of a long shot when we put in for a session, with noteable exceptions social workers haven’t exactly been hugely visible in the #JusticeforLB campaign to date, and so we weren’t sure what would happen. Mark Harvey has blogged a bit about this in his post: Where were all the social workers?

The theme of JSWEC was crossing boundaries so we thought this was a great opportunity to share our learning so far and do it, rather than talk about it. So our symposium was made up of Tommy and Alex from My Life My Choice a self-advocacy charity, Andy a social care journalist from Community Care, Hannah a lecturer and social work educator from Lancaster University and George (that’s me, always odd to describe yourself) I’m a freelance knowledge transfer consultant and volunteer campaign manager/agitator. We started our session with The Tale of Laughing Boy, then George and Tommy had a chat about what the campaign had meant so far, why it was important and what learning we could share with social work educators and researchers. Tommy highlighted the nightclub night that My Life My Choice dedicated to Connor in #107days last year, the events that they have spoken at, the film that they’ve made and the postcards of awesome that they collected on behalf of the campaign. His overriding message was that learning disabled people are just like everyone else; the campaign has valued their contribution and we’ve worked well together, and there’s no reason why others can’t do so too…

Andy shared his thoughts on how the #JusticeforLB campaign is the antidote to stale media reporting ‘where stories are dominated by large charities, their CEOs get their moment in the sun before a family are wheeled in’. Instead Andy shared how for him #JusticeforLB have forced a reconsidering of the dominant narrative, not always a pleasant experience, in fact one that is quite challenging at times, but in a good way:

Andy acknowledged the successes of the activism collective approach and engaging politicians and Ministers, most notably Norman Lamb. Andy concluded by suggesting that we mustn’t sanitise what is an absolutely hellish experience; just because people are uncomfortable with the reality.

Hannah shared how staff and students at Lancaster University have supported the #JusticeforLB campaign, through academic discussion, launching the Justice Quilt at CEDR last year and hosting a JusticeforLB exhibition and day exploring art and activism Live at LICA in May this year. Hannah also posed the well known but occasionally dodged fact, that Connor was failed by many, but social workers were amongst that group. Her challenge was to social work to face this, discuss it, understand it and not shy away from it; so we can prevent similar mistakes happening again.

I shared what I thought have been important elements of our success, a lack of hierarchies and no-one worrying about who gets the credit, a singular focus – to improve things for learning disabled people thereby ensuring #JusticeforLB, an amazingly eclectic and diverse group of people all willing to help out in any way they can.

We had a good discussion with the people who attended our session about what the learning has been, what we thought was transferable to other settings, why we thought we had so few in our session (four people – one suggestion was that discussing death is just too hard) and then we all oooh’d and ahhh’d at the fabulous work of Harry Venning who’d been drawing our discussion:


We then ran off to grab some pints and food in the early evening sun and debate why we’d had such a small audience again.

I guess I feel responsible; we collaboratively developed the session, people freely gave of their time, JSWEC very generously gave Tommy and Alex a bursary to help them attend, and perhaps more importantly JSWEC gave us a platform to engage with social work. Yet I can’t help feel we failed a little bit, maybe it was the abstract, maybe it’s not as important as we think it is, maybe there was just more interesting stuff on.

I’m not sure that it matters but I shared how disappointed I was with the small numbers at our session and this tweet generated some interesting responses (clicking on it below will take it to the original message and conversations that followed):

One of the suggestions was that social workers are engaging, that they’re discussing and debating but we just don’t know about it. I hope so, and indeed we received a message on facebook yesterday that suggests it may be so:

Omg, the local authority I work for are playing the Tale of LB film to ALL adult social care staff in a series of County wide big challenge sessions. Amazing, had some of our senior management team in tears. Just amazing…..Wanted to let you know xxx

We’d like to invite people to share with us if the campaign has made any difference to their practice or their education or their research or their lives really. We regularly and routinely ask ourselves whether we are getting any closer to getting #JusticeforLB and if we’re making a difference (that we don’t know about) it would be great to hear about it. Thank you.

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