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20 years (and more) of Shaping Our Lives

7 March 2022

As the Beatles sang, it was 20 years ago, Sergeant Pepper told the band to play, but as we celebrate 20 years of Shaping Our Lives, it was actually a bit longer ago than that our Sergeant Pepper, Peter Beresford with a little help from some friends, told our band to play.

While it’s two decades since Shaping Our Lives was formally established as an organisation, we were set up as a project in 1997. At the time there was a lot of work being done by professionals about the importance of looking at the results and outcomes of social care services.

Peter Beresford, still current co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, the late Clare Evans from Wiltshire and Swindon Users Network, and Tessa Harding from Help the Aged were concerned about making sure service users’ perspectives were included in this. With some help from the National Institute for Social Work, they were able to get funding for a 9 month project on user defined outcomes.

With a growing interest in service user involvement in social care and other services, Shaping Our Lives grew over the next 5 years and was set up as an independent organisation. And here we are 20 years later having pushed the cause of user involvement, co-production, lived experience through good times and bad.

One of the findings from that original project was that you can’t just look at outcomes or results without looking at how you got there. In many ways that sums up 20 years of Shaping Our Lives. It’s become a bit of a cliché to talk about things being about the journey, but there’s been no one great victory along the way. We’ve had successes, we’ve had failures; in recent years it’s felt too much like one step forward and two steps back.

The real achievement for Shaping Our Lives, working with many other people and organisations in the field, has been embedding people’s experiences and perspectives as part of the foundation of public services in the UK.

So for me, the celebration is still being here. We have some great new work happening, and some great new people helping to make it happen – along with old lags like myself and those who have joined in between – and Shaping Our Lives feels as relevant and vibrant as it did 20 or 25 years ago.

By Michael Turner, a member of the National User Group, who first became involved with Shaping Our Lives in 1996. Find out more about Michael and other people involved with Shaping Our Lives.