While starting out running a small business in community arts I unearthed a seemingly unshakeable passion; facilitating environments which enable people to hear and share stories with each other, and build a sense of belonging, safety, and self-worth. In my opinion, us dealing with the darkest corners of ourselves is the only way we’re going to be able to build and sustain anything that resembles a society worth living in long-term (whatever that society ends up looking like).

This passion – sometimes driven by ego and fear, fuelled by a need to write a hero’s journey out of traumatic experiences, and sometimes driven by a genuine desire to help others – and exposure to endless stories of poverty, distress, exclusion and service provision that made things worse rather than better, propelled me into participating in co-production projects focused on health and social care policy, as a person with lived experience of being in foster care. I quickly took on new roles in event design, facilitation, findings analysis and dissemination, while completing a MA in project management and trading as a sound engineer and gigging musician.

Fast forward a few years and I’d gotten pretty good at translating the languages of policy makers, practitioners and the rest of us. I’ve spent several years as a social researcher and engagement practitioner now, still marvelling at how purpose-built social spaces can enable new understanding between all kinds of people.

After some time at Traverse working in my first full time role as a junior researcher, I landed at Ipsos MORI as a Research/ Engagement Manager in the Social Research Institute, specialising in deliberative engagement and qualitative research. I learned a lot about the world during those formative years, particularly disability, inequality, climate change and health services alongside research and engagement methods/approaches. I am grateful for that, and for the privilege of working with policy specialists, behavioural scientists, ethicists, and all kinds of researchers and engagement practitioners from across the globe, to support clients who serve the public.

Alongside this, I carried out a sense of duty to the care experienced community (others who have been in foster care) and the wider community of those who find themselves unfairly marginalised by society. This involved advocating for improving practices around EDI in the projects and teams I could influence, joining the sound delivery network of spokespeople utilising lived experience for change, and facilitating the care experienced young people’s network; a group of care experienced young people who delivered their own research projects and created a series of podcasts. I am grateful to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for giving us space to set our own agenda.

In mid-2022 I brought my skills and passions together in a new role at What Works for Children’s Social Care, as a Senior Researcher and overall qualitative research lead within the organisation. This role included overseeing the Research Ethics Committee and supporting a team of researchers to deliver an ambitious portfolio of projects focused largely on interventions to reduce domestic abuse and improve support for care leavers across England. I’m proud of the intellectual and emotional work we did in that challenging year.

It is fair to say that, after years of incessant accomplishment in the face of serious health issues, work-related burnout, and the fatigue and loneliness of processing multiple complex traumas with minimal social support – while giving everything and more to ‘improving lives’ – [insert words here about how devastating the merger was without publicly implying any of my former colleagues are at fault]. I am still reconsidering my whole life as a result, and I’m very glad of that.

Feeling lost and disillusioned after these experiences, I stumbled back into an agency role at Thinks (after a short stint in market research – despite needing a rest from social purpose, ‘sell more stuff’ is a very boring objective) where I pushed boundaries in deliberative engagement and honed my skills in applying behavioural science to qualitative research, with a little top-up in delivering mixed methods research too. Then, in early ’24, the ‘verse presented me with an amazing opportunity; to facilitate the evaluation/learning programme for big local – a radical programme that gave 150 communities £1mil to spend as they saw fit. Um, yes please.

Alongside this, I have been doing yet deeper work on myself – accepting the limitations of my body and exploring how my array of conditions impact my work and my life, and how I want to change. And(!), last one – I have finally found a way to scratch the itch that’s been at the back of my mind since I delivered the Climate Adaptation Dialogue for Defra, an MSc in Sustainability and Behaviour Change at the Centre for Alternative Technology – an incredible place full of beauty and radical thinking.

Who knows where this will all lead, but my focus now is largely aligned with answering three questions;

1. How can we enable communities/ourselves to self-organise in meeting our own needs?

2. How can we build a more sustainable way of living, that is worth living?

3. How can I contribute to making society better, while ensuring my own wellbeing too?