Despite the country being in lockdown, the 2nd year occupational therapy students, through a partnership with PIER, had a unique opportunity to work alongside six different organisations (Big Issue Dorset, BCP carers, Body Positive, Osborne MS Centre, We Are with You and EDAS Young People’s services) interviewing and discussing community services with staff leading these services and with two service users from each organisation. This allowed students to gain a unique perspective of how these community services support individuals and to develop a deeper understanding of what valued activities are impacted and how this may affect the health and wellbeing of individuals. These were powerful conversations that encouraged students to think about their role with communities and how their unique occupational lens could add value to the excellent services already provided in the locality.

Unfortunately, students were not able to carry out their projects this year which would have included working with and engaging service users in activities that they valued but struggled to engage in. However, they worked ‘virtually’ and their thoughts and ideas about what could be developed were valued by the organisations. We are looking forward to bringing new ideas forwards in the next year and making them a reality. Despite the ‘virtual’ delivery, the student experience was positive helping them to develop a range of transferable skills and to value the importance of co-production

The ability to work with organisations outside of the university enables you to work with real people. This is an invaluable opportunity to build confidence in preparation for placement. So much of our learning is based upon case studies which prevents you from practicing communication skills and establishing a true understanding of the people you work with. Additionally, you can practice these skills in within the security of your fellow students and lecturers, which helps to alleviate any anxieties. I believe it has also helped to prepare me for the complexities of practice, such as, time-management, working within a team, and learning to adapt to unexpected challenges."( OT Student)

We will endeavour to use co-production in future practice, using co-production in this project has been a rewarding experience by collaborating with the members we managed to come up with a range of activities that all members could participate in and take forward to introduce at the centre." (OT Student).

The sharing of the lived experience was highly valued by the students offering them insight and supporting them to reflect on their own communication and behaviour.

Listening to the narratives from the service users will stay with me, as their stories were really powerful and moved me." (OT Student)

I am more aware of the world around me and how a simple hello can make someone's days much better. I have learnt a lot about silent inequalities and how they can effect someone daily." (OT Student)

We were delighted to receive positive comments from the organisations and individual service users which demonstrated the developing knowledge base and professionalism whilst also highlighting their warmth and compassion.

The whole group was very sensitive to the person they interviewed regard their personal problems and had very good use of language and excellent knowledge of their field. They made me feel very at ease talking to them even regards very personal things which I often struggle to open up about shows how sympathetic they all were on an individual level. They acted in a very professional manner but still with great human and care feel to it." (Body Positive)

They were easy to talk to, took time to listen and made me feel like they were seeing me as a person first and my conditions are just a small part of who I am. I felt very safe and that they were respecting me as a person and my confidentiality was important and respected... The ideas of a service that they came back with, blew me away and made me cry."  (Body Positive)

Being part of this module has been one of the best experiences I have had during the past year, using technology rather than face to face." (Osborne MS Society)

This was a fantastic learning experience, and we would like to thank all the organisations and individuals who gave their time to support and engage with our learners to expand their thinking about their profession, enhance their communication skills and have opportunities to deepen their understanding of the lived experience for local communities.