Things are so much better with two: What we can learn from working with eachother

Guest blog by Erin Fahey, Shaun Webster and Jai Rae

Two heads are better than one.

It’s a saying said by many and often. In fact, its a phrase that was first recorded in 1545.

Here at CHANGE we know its true; we call it co-working.

At CHANGE we employ two people to work on all of our projects, one person has a learning disability, one doesn’t, both have different skills and expertise. Why? Because two heads really are better than one. By sharing our skills and expertise we can learn from each other, support each other and create a bigger impact and a higher quality of work.

Our International Project Worker Shaun has been using the co-working model throughout his 12 years at CHANGE and has worked with many different co-workers along the way. He has learnt a lot from all of them in different ways, and they have learnt a lot from him.

In May we welcomed Jai Rae to CHANGE who is working as part of our Projects Team alongside Shaun on our international work, as well as co-delivering our employment and better communication training courses.

In today’s blog, Shaun and Jai reflect on what they have learnt from each other so far and how they plan to develop their work together going forward.



“I was a bit shy and nervous the first day Jai and I worked together but she was very friendly and open. I’m very excited working with Jai as I’m learning new skills doing drama in our presentations. When we did our first drama on Employment I felt confident as I didn’t have to learn loads of stuff, we improvised around real life situations. What I like is that we’re learning new things by ‘doing’ them, not just writing them on paper. I feel very comfortable with Jai as we both respect each other and listen to each other, we can tell each other things and understand each other. I look forward to coming to work.  Other people say we work well together and that it looks like we have been working together for a long time”.


“From the first day working together Shaun and I found we had a lot in common and shared the same passion that drama is a very powerful way of working with people.  Shaun has a lot of experience and knowledge from working on all kinds of projects and I am enjoying learning from him. When we start work on a new project we discuss ideas of what we both think may be good to include. We both really listen to each other and are able to speak openly, both sharing the same sense of humour and passion to improve the lives of the people we are working for. Shaun and I are also learning new skills together, we are helping each other learn to tweet and we are excited to be developing new training packages together. We have a great partnership, we make all decisions jointly, have equal input, and really enjoy working together.”

Co-working really isn’t that hard to do. It may take time, and it may cost money but it unlocks skills and talents in team members and gives people the opportunity to work in meaningful, fulfilling and influential roles who wouldn’t usually get the chance. It is an inclusive way of working, and a way we should all be working.

We all need support in the workplace, and we all have something to bring, whatever needs we have. This year we want to see more organisations adopt the co-working model and more people with learning disabilities, autism and additional support needs in the workplace. Together we can achieve great things.

You can see co-working in practice and hear more about the importance of meaningful employment here:  

Stamping out discrimination in Europe: Reflecting on time in the Czech Republic

After a great week in the Czech Republic, Shaun and Piers reflect on their time and the impact it has had on the social care professionals they have worked with.

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At the end of the two days of training, we can say that it was a success. The social workers and self-advocates were really taking on board our ideas about peer-to-peer support, role modelling, self-advocacy, accessible resources, parenting, sexuality and other issues for people with intellectual disabilities, supported decision-making and independent living.

On the second day we thought it would be a good idea to talk about ‘Action Plans.’ Actions Plans are a tool for helping build a person’s confidence to live independently and make decisions for themselves. The social workers from Brno were particularly interested in hearing about this tool. But we were careful to point out that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ and while an action plan might benefit some people it won’t work for everyone. Support with decision making and independent living is about taking it one person at a time. This means being flexible based on who the person is and what they want from their life. We also talked about risk taking. Shaun pointed out that people with intellectual disabilities – like all people – need to able to take risks. Sometimes social workers are scared to ‘take their gloves’ off because they’re scared they will get in trouble if something goes wrong. But we wanted to move the focus from preventing risk to protecting the right to a normal life. And that means making mistakes and growing – not being wrapped in cotton wool.

At the end of the day we asked participants for their feedback. Many people were struck by the co-working model. They said the model, as well as how we work together, was inspiring. Some people seemed surprised that it was our first time working together. Some social workers who were there said that they would go back and try to develop their own co-working arrangements.

We were really pleased and we hope that in a years time we can see co-working and self-advocacy happening in the Czech Republic. Many of the participants said that they were inspired by Shaun’s work at CHANGE.

Shaun: “Including people with intellectual disabilities in paid peer-to-peer roles was the next step for the Czech Republic.  I really like working with Piers and I’d like to work together in the future because it was really comfortable. We sometimes jumped in to comment on each others presentation and our different skills and knowledge were really complementary.”

Piers: “I was really pleased with how we worked together and Shaun gave me a lot to think about – including making my slides more accessible!!”

We’d like to thank our hosts here and the training participants and we hope to do more of this kind of thing in the future. Stopping discrimination against people with disabilities – preventing hate crime and including people in all areas of life – won’t happen over night in the Czech Republic. It will take time. We hope our presentation took us one step closer to that goal.

We will post photos of our trip soon.

Your humble correspondents from Prague,

Shaun and Piers”

Reflections on Japan – Learning from each other

Following their return to the UK, Sarah and Joanne reflect on their time in Japan and the effect it has had, both personally and professionally.

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Hi, we are Sarah Marsay and Joanne Kennedy and this is our fourth blog about co-working together in Japan. We are now back in the UK!

At the end of our time in Wakayama there was a workshop day. There were presentations from participants from Denmark, Germany, Japan and the UK about including people with disabilities in employment and as part of the community. There were also some discussion groups. We talked about shadowing and peer support.

On Saturday we went to stay with a Japanese family as part of a ‘homestay’. We met the mother and daughter in the morning and went out for the day around Wakayama and Osaka.

In Wakayama we went to the fish market and the castle. We had been looking at the castle up on the hill so it was good to go and see it up close.

When we went back to our homestay house we found out that it was joined onto a temple! The father of our homestay family is a Buddhist monk.

Then we got the train to Osaka. We went to see things which Osaka is famous for in Japan. We went to a shrine. We had crepes. We took lots of photos.

We also made plastic ‘takoyaki’ in a workshop. Takoyaki are a bit like small fish cakes with a piece of octopus in the middle. They are very popular in Osaka.

Joanne, “It was a really fun day. I liked making the takoyaki and the crepes. We laughed lots.”

Then we got the train back to Wakayama and had tea in a traditional Japanese restaurant. We had to take our shoes off and sit on the floor. Our homestay family ordered lots of different things for us to try.

Sarah, “It was an amazing experience staying with a Japanese family. I would like to say a really big thank you to them for looking after us so well.”

The next day there was a formal farewell dinner with our homestay families. We also prepared our final presentation with everyone from our ‘people with disabilities’ work programme. Then we flew back to Tokyo on a plane.

The next day was our last day in Tokyo. In the morning, we went for a walk around the Imperial Palace gardens. We saw the Imperial Palace and some of the other famous buildings and statues.

In the afternoon there were presentations from the three different work programmes – people with disabilities, elderly people and youth. It was good to hear about what the other participants had been doing and what people had learned.

We got back to the UK on Tuesday 11th March.

Joanne, “This was my first trip abroad and I learned lots. It was great to learn about how charities work differently in different countries. It was also good to see people with disabilities in paid employment and being part of the community. I am inspired to do more travelling and to experience new things.”

Sarah, “The exchange programme to Japan was an amazing experience. I have learned lots about the differing position of charities in the participating countries, and about how people with disabilities are supported. I have also learned a lot about co-working and inclusive working practices.”

We hope to be able to share what we have learned about co-working and inclusion with our colleagues from NHS England and CHANGE, and with other people who are interested.

Please get in touch via

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Supported Decision Making in the Czech Republic – Making an inclusive community

This week Shaun from CHANGE is Co-working in the Czech Republic with Dr Piers Gooding, Research Associate at the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Shaun and Piers are delivering training on Supported Decision Making and independence. Here in their first guest blog they reflect on their first day.

Today we ran a workshop in Prague for around 25 people. They were mostly social workers and advocacy workers. But there were also two self-advocates with learning disabilities. The group was very interested in co-working. They reported that it was very inspiring. They were interested in how we worked together. They were interested to hear that we were being paid equally and that we were contributing different skills. For example, we took turns to present on different topics. Sometimes we added some comments to each others presentations but we never took over. It was a nice balance. One of the participants said that she thought we had been working together for years. But we told them that this is our first time ever working together on training! She was very surprised and we received a round of applause. But not just that, we also got to know the training participants at the beginning of the day. We got to know the hard work they were doing in the Czech Republic to uphold the human rights of people with learning disability.

Shaun did a presentation about what CHANGE do. They were very interested in the work CHANGE does on parenting, sexuality and relationships, co-working, and independent living. They were particularly interested in co-working. Sexuality was an issue that was raised a number of times. We did a case study about a young woman who was starting a relationship. The conversation got very lively!

We also spoke about supported decision-making and how it is part of people’s human right to be equal. To make mistakes, to learn, to grow in confidence, and to self-direct their lives. Shaun spoke about his own example of ‘taking his gloves off’ and making mistakes but learning in order to grow. If you put us in a glass cage we will never be independent, Shaun said. Piers spoke about how human rights can be connected to good support by social workers. All over the world governments must move toward supported decision-making, including providing peer to peer support. Too much money is being wasted on institutions and on services that exclude people with disabilities. Instead, persons with intellectual disability need to be directing the services for them. This includes inspection of services by persons with learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities inspecting services helps to make sure that support workers don’t have too much power. Because if they have too much power, people with learning disabilities don’t have any control over their own life. At the end of a long day of work, we got some very good feedback. One participant said that this type of training was needed for other professionals, including judges and medical professionals. When we finished, we had to take a bus for two and a half hours to Brno. Brno is another city in the Czech Republic.

Tomorrow we will do it all again for 18 people. For now we are sitting and enjoying a nice cold drink and sitting down for some good Czech food. Shaun wanted to finish by saying that despite the beer he has been behaving – no pudding!! (“That is true Catherine!” he says).

Signing out from Brno, Czech Republic,

Shaun and Piers.

A Blog from Japan: Co-working in practice

Following on from their last blog, Sarah and Joanne are currently in Japan, exploring the culture, politics and co-working.

Here in their second blog they tell us about their experience so far.

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Hi, we are Sarah Marsay and Joanne Kennedy and this is our second blog about co working in Japan together.

We arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday (24th February). It was a long journey and Joanne’s first ever flight and trip outside the UK.

Joanne, “The flights were ok, but I didn’t really like landing because it was a bit bumpy.”

We met some of the other participants from the UK at Heathrow airport and on the plane. Then we met everyone else when we landed in Tokyo. There are 12 people from the UK taking part in this exchange trip in total.

Joanne, “It was good to meet everyone who was part of our trip.”

We all travelled together to the hotel on a bus. We got to our hotel at about lunchtime, and went out to get some lunch together. We went to a traditional Japanese restaurant where they didn’t speak English.

Sarah, “I had sashimi (raw fish) and rice, with miso soup, and Japanese tea. It was exciting to be experiencing Japanese culture. It was also great to start to get to know the other people on our trip.”

Joanne, “After the long flight and everything being new and different, I didn’t want to try the Japanese food on the first day. But I enjoyed seeing Tokyo and being part of the group.”

We spent the first afternoon exploring Tokyo with the other UK participants. It was lots of fun. We saw streets with lots of lights and neon signs. We saw a traditional shrine. We used the subway. We did lots of pointing and gestures to communicate as we can’t speak Japanese and most people we met didn’t speak English.

On our second day in Japan (Wednesday 25th February), we had a full day of learning and official ceremonies. We met the participants from Germany and Denmark, and introduced ourselves to them. We also learned more about what we will be doing during our two weeks in Japan.

One of the things we both found most interesting was a lecture about what the law says about people with disabilities in Japan.

Sarah, “It was great to learn about how different the law is in Japan, and especially that a law has only recently been passed to protect disabled people from discrimination. The idea of ‘reasonable adjustments’ is quite new in Japan.”

On the evening there was a chance to network and some official photos were taken of the participants from each of the countries. We also got introduced to Haruko Arimura, Japanese Minister of State for Gender Equality.

Joanne, “It was great to meet the minister. She spoke good English so we didn’t need an interpreter. We got introduced because she was interested in how CHANGE works with volunteers. We told her about how we were co-workers and about accessible information. I also liked meeting the participants from the other countries. One of the Danish participants said that I was a role model for young people with learning disabilities!”

On Thursday we went on a visit to a nursery and had a lecture from the principal about how they involve their staff and local people in decision-making. Then in the afternoon we had a lecture from a person with a disability who was in charge of a disabled people’s charity. He talked about how disabled people’s user led organisations had protested to get the law changed to stop discriminating against disabled people and to enable people to live in communities with support, instead of in institutions.

After that, we checked into the National Olympic Memorial Youth Centre. In the evening, we met some of the Japanese participants who we would be working with over the next 3 days. The schedule includes discussions and presentations about policy making, how people can influence policy making and about how staff get the skills to be involved in policy making.

We have had a few very long days. Sometimes it has been very hard work, especially as we haven’t been coworkers before and Joanne is the only person with a learning disability who is part of the programme. But we are learning lots and we are looking forward to the rest of our trip.

Joanne, “I am really looking forward to the local programme, where we will go to Wakayama and visit different organisations. I am pleased that they have put all my information on green paper, which makes it easier for me to read. Although I am the only person with a learning disability, everyone from the UK group is being really supportive and the programme leaders are trying their best to make things accessible.”

Sarah, “I am learning lots – about Japan, about how different countries support and include people with disabilities, and about co working. Our UK colleagues (especially) have been brilliant at including me and Joanne in discussions, and as part of all the social activities too. I am excited to see what the next 2 weeks bring.”

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We need to be included at the beginning and forever…

A guest blog from CBM Worldwide about Training delivered by CHANGE in Bangkok 2015

CHANGE and Changes today: “We need to do action, and now!” (Shaun, CHANGE UK).

No more plastic water bottles, but jugs with water (the David effect)! Then, the most inspiring session of the week started. Catherine and Shaun from CHANGE UK, a user-led organisation of persons with learning disabilities, explained their work. CHANGE UK is fighting for equal rights and empowerment of persons with learning disabilities. CHANGE makes information accessible, easy to read and to understand. They do research, campaigns, and training on human rights, sex and relationships, parenting, on sexual abuse and disability hate crime.

Catherine and Philippa work with Suwang on the Ladder of Power

Catherine and Shaun are role models themselves. “We are Power Changers”, said Shaun.

It is important to advocate for girls, boys, women and men with learning disabilities to speak for themselves. CBM can promote this with our projects and we should invest in making our materials accessible and easy to understand for people with learning disabilities.

We discussed the power position of persons with learning disabilities within society, as they are perceived as being low on the ladder of power. In order to support people with learning disabilities to climb the ladder of power, we need to work together to open opportunities for attending mainstream schools, for work and for health. To do this, we all need to work on the following:

  • Attitudes need to be changed
  • Give voice to, and learn to listen
  • Accessing information
  • Peer learning
  • Teaching others to stand up for themselves
  • Training of parents for being good advocates and letting their children speak for themselves

Personal stories help to change attitudes. Catherine said, “Professionals like seeing us as labels and don’t see the person first”. Shaun added, “Our voices, our choices”.

Shawn and Catherine reflecting on easy-read messages

In the afternoon we put our efforts in adapting our development framework into easy- to-understand format. For example, how do we say in easy words: “Development co-operation is accessible and inclusive”?

This was a very useful exercise, since we realized that we tend to use a lot of jargon in our daily work. For information to be useful and accessible, messages need to be accurate, short, to the point, written in large font, no capitals, pale background, and include clear pictures.

Shawn and Catherine enjoy our easy read efforts

At the end of the day, all regions brainstormed on the way forward. In most regions we already started some initiatives and we need to start listening to the voice of persons with learning disabilities, develop our own capacities and facilitate situations where persons with learning disabilities empower themselves. As Mohan said, it is not that the voices are not there, “but we are not giving our ears to those voices”. We all agreed that we wanted to be held to account for making a change.

Shaun summed it up, “We need to be included at the beginning and forever. Our voices, our choices”.