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Love Letham: the power of children's participation in pursuing social justice

Love Letham is a partnership project between the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland (WEAll Scotland) and Perth and Kinross Council funded by Cattanach. The project focuses on bringing the community together to make Letham the best place it can be for children to grow up. 

a graphic with three people standing round a big writing board contributing ideas

Love Letham is more than another consultation exercise within a ‘deprived’ community. It’s about understanding, contextualising, and facilitating better conversations and on the ground action

Co-creating and co-delivering solutions in the local area that make our children’s lives better. Ensuring adults are listening, advocating and championing for the rights of children in Letham. We’re going from ‘doing it to’ to ‘doing it with’ - something Perth & Kinross Council have been huge champions of.

We’re building trust in our community, and reinforcing the views and feelings of the children to the local authority, third sector and community partners, who have been excellent every step of the way in supporting the work on the ground.

Participation is core to a Wellbeing Economy, tackling poverty and advancing human rights - article 12 of the UNCRC - the right to be heard and listened to. Participation allows us to feel dignified. It promotes fairness within our communities and enables us to build trust.

Participation is not just acquiring feedback in a consultation form. It is actively co-designing policy and co-delivering solutions. It’s giving agency back to those who need it the most.

It involves feeding back on policy and recommendations, delivering community workshops and doing skills sessions with children. Giving them their own research tools, supporting them to become human rights detectives. It is feeding back on results and bringing lived experience experts along for the journey - every step of the way. Because they are the experts.

Participation is and should be all encompassing.

The Wellbeing Economy movement is about building social justice on a healthy planet. To quote a tweet from the United Nations - ‘poverty is not just a lack of income, it’s a lack of education, food, health care, shelter, political inclusion, choice, safety and dignity’.

We are building a shared language among our community, alongside the local authority. Putting children’s rights into practice - but also understanding what they mean in a local context.

In Letham, we are working towards long term and preventative solutions - that the children feel properly reflected in and the adults want to champion. We are building a collective purpose: to put children’s wellbeing at the heart of decision making.

Everyone, including children and adults in poverty, has an important role to play in changing this beautiful world that we live in. So everyone has enough to live life in dignity and fairness.

But it’s more than listing human rights and walking away. It’s about understanding how advancing these rights will result in collective wellbeing, and the hopes and aspirations of children. Understanding what these rights actually mean in communities like Letham. And bringing as many partners and community leaders along with us as possible.

Key things that came out of phase one, when children were sharing their vision for Letham, were: a place where people don’t go without food; where everyone can access mental health service; safe spaces for play and exercise; skate parks and access to transport.

For a deprived community - it wasn’t just about money. The main word that came out of phase one was ‘safety’. It was road safety, safety from crime, safety in and out of the home, mental health safety. All kinds of safety.

And whilst phase two is still underway - underpinning our work with children’s rights is core to what we are doing. We’re building wellbeing, wealth and new systems that will play a role in tackling poverty in the local area.

And you may ask how safety is linked to poverty - it’s all linked. Poverty is multidimensional, there is no one size fits all. There’s no one policy lever that will fix this. As soon as you start to make progress in one area, a whole other area of poverty starts to unravel.

While we are still at the mercy of national and global systems - building wellbeing from the ground-up, alongside the local authority, will surely see progress. In particular, reducing local child poverty figures as well as giving every child in Letham enough to live life well and in dignity. Hopefully we will all learn something valuable along the way.

Poverty is different in every single household - it’s a completely individual experience. It’s being a single parent and having to go without so your children have what they need. It’s a child or teenager going without so they can care for a loved one with physical or mental health issues. It’s a child going without because they have a parent with an addiction. It’s a teenager weighed down by problem debt until they are 35 because mum or dad couldn’t afford university support.

A foster system that is unable to cope with the amount of children that need respite leaving kids on the streets and on their own. Youths committing crimes because income isn’t being distributed to them properly. Children unable to seek adequate mental health support so they struggle with education, getting a job and eventually are lost to the system.

We have an alarming number of what I call ‘the lost children of letham’ in our local area. Too many are living in overcrowded, mouldy houses so children seek refuge on the streets. Children end up being scared of their neighbours, or the adults in their area.

The mental health impact of living in poverty as a child doesn't end when your family income increases.

A siloed approach to tackling poverty, means that even when people are able to pull themselves out of the water - a few years later they are back drowning again. It is cyclical in nature. It’s why several approaches to fixing the problem must co-exist.

Systematic change in the form of policy and programmes on a global and national level. Adherence to international law. Commitment to the UN charters. But it also changes within communities and families in the form of participation and how they engage with their own poverty.

It is a narrative change in how we collectively understand poverty and social justice. It is challenging many of the things we know about poverty in pursuit of new ideas that are designed by those who are most affected.

Doing this work through the lens of the UNCRC wields many benefits. Because it removes poverty from one remit, one government department, one policy decision, one political party, one class. It removes it from power. It makes poverty everyone’s business, including children’s. It gives everyone agency over it. Including children. Because it is fundamentally a human rights issue.

Hollie Irvine, Love Letham Project Lead, Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland


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