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There are a few ways you can prepare for an ExChange Wales event. Research the venue and consider travel times to arrive early. Study the schedule or details of the visiting lecturer or workshop leader to familiarise yourself with their expertise or to help you to prepare questions. While at an event, connect with other researchers, staff or practitioners to broaden your own areas of interest. Organise your materials – bring a pen and paper or check your technology for note-taking. Don’t forget to follow-up after the workshop: presentations, Twitter feeds, or further materials may be available. And finally: check for our next event!

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The value of LEGO as a Visual Method for Understanding Experiences of Wellbeing in Schools

Wellbeing is a complex experience to measure, define, observe and communicate. My research used LEGO as a research method to explore Wellbeing Wednesday afternoons, an initiative to fulfil the Health and Wellbeing aim for the Draft Curriculum For Wales 2022 in a South Wales Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Secondary School.

Questionnaires and interviews tend to measure the psychological impact of wellbeing over time. Yet these methods are not always capable of ‘measuring the unmeasurable’ or capturing the complex experience of wellbeing. Additionally, teenagers are often loathed to communicate, making building researcher-participant relationships important as well as difficult to navigate. So how do you get teenagers to talk about their feelings?

LEGO Build to Express was created for this very purpose – usually used in classrooms as a tool for engaging students with abstract ideas and as an intervention for pupils who may require therapy. LEGO’s association as a toy to be played with often automatically encourages participants to fiddle, build and organically create. Within the recognised format of the school’s LEGO Therapy sessions, I presented the question ‘How do you feel on a normal day and a Wellbeing Wednesday’ to a group of willing participants.

The medium allowed pupils to communicate in metaphors, as the following images illustrate.

The builder explained that they normally hate school – “I’ll be honest, I skive a lot ‘cos I don’t want to be contained, like the fence, I don’t want to be trapped for 50 minute lessons,” they point to the LEGO figure surrounded by a fence. “The ladder then is me moving through a whole lesson on a Wednesday and sticking with it because I want to, because I can do what I want instead of being told to.”

“This is me in Tutor, which I hate, on the sofa calling my mum to come and get me. I hate being told what to do by my tutor.” The teacher is depicted with a witch’s hat and broom. The builder explains the other side of their model, full of colourful bricks and LEGO figures sat around a table together: “This is LEGO Therapy which I love because we can do arty things and have music on and have fun with Sir. This is all my friends sitting round building with me.”

“Thomas was being so annoying this morning and Sir said I had to sit there for the whole lesson with him being a pain in my ear.” In contrast to the restraint the builder felt in this morning lesson, as shown on the right-hand side, they explain that on the left-hand side, “This was me after I’d had some lunch and could go to my activity away from Thomas.”

The students’ LEGO models show a remarkable distinction between the static, frustrating and confining lessons throughout the week, and the importance of agency which is apparent in Wellbeing Wednesday activities. Here they show that their ability to have autonomy over their bodies and their activities is an important feature of Wednesdays. In these moments of shared freedom, students realise that their bodies are on the curriculum and are valued as much as learning outcomes and objectives. Given this chance to self-regulate, freely interact and use the classroom for their wellbeing, they learn that schools can be holistic spaces for wellbeing.

The creativity inherent in LEGO (translated as ‘Let’s Play’ in Danish) makes for an easy and efficient way to communicate creatively in research situations. Looking to visual methods and their ability to give autonomy to participants fitted the complex and diffuse experience of wellbeing in this school. While this may not be possible in all classroom environments, research designs or curriculum reviews, it shows that accessing students’ opinions and experiences can be a fun, creative and ultimately rewarding venture.

As both a tool and a toy, LEGO blurs the lines between research and experience, reinforcing the importance of remembering who is at the centre of research questions, curriculum changes and policies, and how their voices can be heard.

Alice Abrey


DRILL Series 1: Disability research ethics – Lessons for research and practice

Introducing the Drill webinar series

In autumn 2020, ExChange Wales is delivering a series of webinars led by project partners from the Disability Research on Independent Living & Learning (DRILL). DRILL is a Four Nation Research Project which delivers the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people. The Programme is led by Disability Action NI in partnership with Disability Rights UK, Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland.

DRILL promotes coproduction and collaboration between disabled people and their organisations, academia, research bodies and policy makers. Disabled people are empowered to have direct influence on decisions that impact on their independent living, particularly in relation to policies, legislation and services.

The programme has funded 32 coproduced research and pilot projects across the UK. The purpose of the projects is to find solutions about how disabled people can live as full citizens and take part socially, economically and politically.

Webinar 1: Disability research ethics – Lessons for research and practice

The DRILL Ethics Committee is Chaired by Professor Alison Koslowski and operated by a body of experts led by disabled people from across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Its membership includes representatives from academia and leaders from civil and civic society. The purpose of the Committee is to ensure that in all areas the DRILL ethos of co-production is upheld, also to support the DRILL Programme Board, the National Advisory Groups and the Central Research Committee.

This ExChange Wales webinar, the first in our DRILL series, will involve members of the Disability Ethics Committee sharing their experience and lessons for co-production in research and practice. There will be an opportunity to ask questions after the presentation. Our thanks to Disability Wales and the DRILL Ethics Committee for making this webinar possible.

Organiser of DRILL Series 1: Disability Ethics Committee

ExChange is an all-Wales network that brings together workers, researchers and those who use services to share experiences and expertise and learn from one another. Our aim is to improve social work and social care services by creating dialogue and ongoing relationships between people with different types of expertise.

We believe that research has most impact when it is part of an ongoing dialogue between researchers, practitioners and those with direct experiences of services. As such our focus is on bringing leading researchers into direct contact with workers, managers and those who use services so that we can learn from one another. In our first year we are running a programme of more than 20 events across Wales, from large national conferences to small seminars with leading experts.

ExChange was set up by the Cascade Centre at Cardiff University, but we are working closely with Swansea, Bangor and we hope other universities across Wales. Almost every local authority in Wales is a member, as well as key charities and other organisations. We hope this will allow us to provide a range of opportunities for discussion and collaboration with an ongoing focus on ensuring that our research makes a difference. If you would like more information or to be involved, please contact us.

#BuildBackBetter: You know it makes sense, but how do you do it?

Throughout the pandemic, lockdown and now an extended lockdown in our home city. Leicestershire cares staff have been working with a range of community, council, and business colleagues to ensure nobody is left behind. Much of this activity has been delivered by small groups which have formed in response to the pandemic. The lack of red tape, rules, working directives combined with enthusiasm, motivation and human connection all powered by the internet has driven much of this. In April we suggested:

“The reality is events like the pandemic require agile organisations, that are like “speedboats” which can react and manoeuvre quickly. Local authorities and bigger voluntary groups are often like “steamships”. Once they are set on a course they cannot change quickly.”

The recent launch of the #BuildBackBetter campaign, supported by 350 business leaders, community groups and politicians provides a great opportunity to reflect and learn from this experience. As we observed in “What’s so funny about peace love and understanding “

“When our politicians reach outside their sectarian interests and start to engage with people in a meaningful way they discover the public are a huge resource of ideas, expertise, skills and lived experience that can lead to far more effective decision-making. They find that people can hold mixed – sometimes contradictory – views that do not fit neatly into a manifesto but most are willing to reach a compromise. Which is why organisations such as Compass, the RSA and others talk of progressive alliances, building bridges between people and encouraging the growth of bottom up democracy.”

In many ways the lockdown has amplified issues we were already aware off. Inequality, child poverty, food poverty, in work poverty, insecure and in some cases illegal working conditions. Work life balance, environment, run down public services, lack of affordable housing, concerns about physical health and mental wellbeing have all come under the spotlight. Whilst emphasis might vary all the major political parties are talking about “green new deals”, government action to stimulate the economy, protect the poor and why we must create a kinder and more caring society.

The murder of George Floyd in late May and the resulting protest and debates triggered by #BlackLivesMatter fed into the feeling that we are at a critical juncture. Historic injustices had to be righted, the system we currently have is grossly unfair. It systemically discriminates against people of colour whilst evading or hiding how it has benefitted from slavery, colonialism, and racism.

Whilst many public figures got behind this and took a knee, others were more worried. Talk of white privilege and defunding the police was portrayed by some commentators as left wing extremism hiding behind BLM. As statues were torn down and demands grew for more to tumble, some saw this as an attack on the identity and history of the UK. As people marched to protect Winston Churchill statues and share Nazi salutes the one big inclusive community able to achieve consensus seemed like a distant dream.

Yet, polling found only 6% of the British public want to go back to the same economy from before the Covid-19 crisis. Instead people want to build back stronger, greener and fairer. There is significant support for BLM, if not for some of their methods. So, there are reasons to be cheerful and optimistic. I would suggest central to any change should be the “lived experience and voices” of local people shaping the agenda for how their communities develop. As we start to move forward it would be good to see a greater emphasis on:

Devolved decision making and giving more power to councils to decide how best their communities and local economies develop.

Creative forms of deliberative democracy that empower and enable local people to get involved, discuss, debate and reach consensus.

Local government, community, and business developing agile, creative teams and structures that can listen, learn, and adapt.

A nationally agreed index of happiness and wellbeing that is used alongside GDP to let us know how well we are doing.

Hard targets and KPI’s for eradicating poverty in its many forms.

There are of course many issues that need to be tackled but my strong belief is. If you can root decision making in a local context that people feel connection to and control over, you are far more likely to achieve change. Politicians, business, and community leaders need to see their shared purpose as building better communities. This is far more likely to happen if they work in open, transparent, and respectful partnerships. Where they accept, they all have much to learn from each other and the best way of knowing what the people want is by actively involving them in their decision making processes.

The pandemic has clearly shown the strengths and shortcomings of our economy and politics. We have much to be proud of but also much we can and must improve. So, lets empower communities, and use their creativity, kindness, and rooted local knowledge to #BuildBackBetter and ensure nobody is left behind.

Kieran Breen
CEO Leicestershire Cares
This blog was originally published at Vulnerability 360.

Useful links

Keeping our children safe: Training for the designated child protection lead

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Keeping our children safe: Training for the
designated child protection lead

Three sessions over three days:
04/11/2020 – 06/11/2020
09:30 – 12:30

All children have the right to live lives free from abuse and neglect but recent events highlight, yet again, how difficult it can be for so many adults to recognise, and act on concerns about the safety or welfare of a child. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all organisations concerned with children should work towards what’s best for each child.

Join us online
We are offering a selection of courses online via the Zoom or MS Teams app.

Dealing with Uncooperative and hostile Parents: Focusing on Children

09:30 – 12:30

The course will be looking at issues practitioners face in supporting children whose parents are uncooperative through Ambivalence, Avoidance, Confrontation or Violence. The issues will be explored and solutions sought so participants can go away with practical solutions to use in their practice. Issues of disguised compliance will be explored using examples from Serious Case Reviews and indicators explored for participants to take away for use in their work.

Child Neglect in Schools: Messages for interprofessional safeguarding practice

Use of secure accommodation for welfare purposes in Wales

Secure accommodations are residential homes with approval to restrict the liberty of young people who are believed to be a serious risk to themselves or to others. Many young people are placed in secure accommodation for welfare reasons and there is little sign of this practice diminishing. This troubling situation is further complicated by a scarcity of secure placements in Wales which sees many young people being placed outside of Wales or having no bed in secure care due to a lack of availability.

At present there is little research evidence of what has led to this or what can be done to improve matters. To give better insight, a recent project commissioned by Social Care Wales and conducted by CASCADE at Cardiff University explored the experiences of young people from Wales prior to, during and following a referral to secure accommodation.

A recent webinar, presented by Dr Annie Williams (research lead) gave practitioners and managers an opportunity to hear about the study. The resources from the webinar are as follows:

A Conversation on Wales’ Future

Wales faces a number of economic, political and societal challenges. From COVID-19, Brexit, the further devolution of powers, the growing conversation around independence, to sustainable development goals and the wellbeing of future generations, how Wales navigates these questions will be crucial for its future.

Join Carwyn Jones MS (former First Minister of Wales), Auriol Miller (Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs), and Rachel Minto (Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University) as they analyse the trajectories and priorities that will characterise Welsh politics and policy over the next decade, with an opportunity to add to the discussion with your own questions.

This event is jointly presented by WISERD (Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data) and Wales Centre for Public Policy.