Interview: Jane McGrath, West London Collaborative

| Greg Watson

We interview Jane McGrath of West London Collaborative, a community-led consultancy working across the UK to co-produce better and braver solutions to local health and social care challenges. You can find out more about Jane’s work here.

Tell me about what you’ve done:

WLC have recently facilitated an event called ’24 hours in urgent care’ in collaboration with the community and the local Mental Health Trust. The Mental Health Trust had recently undertaken a lot of work to try to improve the experience of people going through urgent care but they needed to involve the people themselves and this event created the space and mechanism for this.

We worked with The People Speak who are a creative, technologically minded art collective who are skilled at enabling conversation and debate out of the people. The development of the project began with the creation of a set of six stories or case studies which would be used to test out the new urgent care pathway. These stories were of people with different diagnoses who needed help at different times of the day and people had an opportunity to finely tune them through social media. This made them more real.

The event was staged over a day. The stories were brought to life through actors, social media and technology; local sites were projected on the walls and the audience became the actors (e.g. the local GP, the community mental health nurse). The audience led the progress of each character through the urgent care pathway, solving problems as they went – highlighting blockages and barriers or processes that worked.

They were supported by an expert panel who were able to provide alternative options where needed. As a result, the commissioners and providers of urgent care adapted their provision to reflect some of the findings and they were inspired to develop a crisis café.

Who has been your greatest inspiration or influence?

John Lydon because he embraced the idea of disruption and looked at the world through a different lens.

The best thing about what we’ve done is…

We’ve managed to create a community-led and owned consultancy. This means that the people who work for us, no longer volunteer their time as people with lived experience, but are treated equally as paid staff and receive a consultant market wage.

What has been the biggest or best mistake you have made?

Getting the balance right between leading an organization and sharing power. It is sometimes difficult to get this right  – it is not always easy to lead and cascade power out to the community at the same time.

Did anything surprise you during the project?

We underestimated how easy it is to misinterpret language. We soon realised that, unbeknownst to them, the commissioners and providers were misinterpreting each other and coming from different angles. The commissioners thought they were commissioning one thing and the providers thought they meant something else. Therefore, we had to spend quite a lot of time navigating our way through the confusion and politics.

What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of doing something similar?

To think about engaging with the community as early as possible and to use social media but not exclusively. Don’t be afraid to question and interrogate things that appear to be set in stone because we have learnt that things can be undone.

What’s next?

We are currently in the process of setting up the Lambeth Doing Union which is a mechanism to support the community to join in in different and disparate ways. We want to go beyond the idea of sick or well people and include everyone. We will also be focusing on the involvement of local businesses, e.g. Dulwich Picture Gallery providing a space, the paintshop providing materials, etc…

Where can we find out more?

For more information about the Lambeth Doing Union, you should contact Certitude and anything else related to WLC, feel free to contact me at

Tell us your favourite quote…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson)

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