Anne Rathbone is Senior Training and Consultancy Manager at Boingboing and PhD student at the University of Brighton, specialising in co-production. Boingboing was shortlisted for the NCCPE Engage Awards 2016 in the Working in Partnership category.
The notion of community - and specifically the chance for young people to find their place within community – is writ large in Anne Rathbone’s professional life.
She grew up in a deprived inner-city area of Manchester in a family where no-one before her had extended their academic career beyond secondary school. But Anne’s academic story would turn out very differently to those of the people around her in those early years.
Anne, it transpired, was academically gifted – sufficiently bright to gain a scholarship to a leafy private school and all the opportunities it could bring. It would be hard to describe the transition to an elite school as a curse, but neither was it an easy journey, particularly socially.
“In my teens, I led a double life, really,” says Anne now. “I grew up feeling as though I didn’t fully belong in one place or the other.” It was a signal moment, one in which she began to understand, from a wholly individual perspective, the notion of what it might be like to feel excluded and out of place.
Anne volunteered at an older people’s residential home during this time and it cemented for her the personal value of helping others.
“It must have impacted on my world view,” she says, “because even at university I was always involved in student community action, getting students involved in the local community. I can’t remember not having a strong sense of the power of community action in a sense of belonging.”
The then-traditional Milk Round – a beauty parade of potential employers who visited universities each year in the hope of attracting the brightest and the best into their workplaces – left her cold and so she headed south, to Buckinghamshire where she took the position of Co-ordinator of a group called Aylesbury Youth Action, co-ordinating young people’s involvement in community action. During this time, she completed part time then full time youth worker qualifications.
Youth worker qualification
During this period, the Department of Education was funding a national project putting health education co-ordinators – or drug education co-ordinators, as they were known at that time – into schools. Ready to make a career in youth services, Anne qualified as the Government began to pilot the same model in youth services and she landed a job co-ordinating a national pilot encouraging and training youth workers to take on drugs education as part of their role with young people.
She says of that time: “I became conscious of my skill as an enabler and facilitator. I would have been a terrible teacher, but I was a really good enabler, working with people to help them identify how to do things their way.”
Giving people a voice
Inspired by the writings of Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, whose book Pedagogy of the Oppressed advocated working with people in a way that is relevant to their own lives and circumstances in order to raise their consciousness of their own political and social circumstances, Anne’s experiences began to shape an idea that was developing in her own mind about people not having a voice in things that affected them.
Looking back, she recognises that those teen years of feeling out of place were also playing their part in shaping her future.
“I don’t have a strong physical link to that period in my life,” she says, “but on a psychological level there probably is a sense of me fighting for the voice of that other self.”
Other roles followed: she worked with the HIV unit run by Islington council in London managing the young people’s services before becoming a commissioner for alcohol, HIV and drugs services, identifying and then purchasing services to meet need.
An academic framework
A long period working as a freelance consultant followed and it was here that Anne realised what she really wanted was to be able to put an academic framework around what she was doing in practice.
She discovered that the University of Brighton had a strong intent around community need and supporting research for community benefit and decided to study for a PhD.
At Brighton, she became involved in the Boingboing initiative, which was a finalist in NCCPE’s 2016 Engage Awards. Boingboing works with children, young people, families and adults who are exposed to disadvantage and inequality, using resilience research and techniques to help them cope and find a voice. Many people involved in Boingboing are academics or practitioners who also have current or historical disadvantage of different kinds, making it an ideal place for Anne to belong.
Among the many amazing things that Boingboing does to support those who need it, Anne is particularly proud of a game which was initiated by her co-researchers who are young adults with learning disabilities, based on Snakes & Ladders. The game aids people in identifying mechanisms that enable them to be resilient and to better cope with situations in which they find themselves. Co-produced with staff and students in the University of Brighton’s Arts School, it goes into commercial production soon.
Anne says: “The most wonderful gift to me has been for them to come up with that game. It’s been field-tested now and will be available to help other young people learn about resilience and in terms of real-life impact from a research project, that’s huge.”