What it means to be an expert

Whenever a group of ATD Fourth World activists get together, something happens. At the end of a residential working session designed to help activists to discover each other – beyond ATD Fourth World – we had a list of amazing actions, all performed by people who had been written off…called lazy scroungers and benefit cheats and scum by politicians and the press.
When everyone was together one participant said: “We need to get this message out there“. So began a journey.

Working with a photographic artist an exhibition of portraits were created, but the reach was limited. Further portraits were taken, accompanying texts were written “in our own words” and participants gave their images a title. This became the book and new multi-media exhibitionThe Roles We Play: Recognising the Contributions of People in Poverty

In discussions about how best to use this work and how to reach a wide public, it was decided by our group to take our work on the road.
We started a process in which the participants would take the book and exhibition out to a variety of venues meeting the public face to face, in community centres, libraries, universities.
Along the way it was decided to work with other anti-poverty groups, to give their members a voice too. This needed to have a title that was inclusive of new people, all of whom had knowledge, experience and expertise of the realities of poverty.
While politicians, researchers and academics may have ‘book learned ‘and other acquired knowledge of poverty, those who had lived experience were the real poverty experts – great title we thought and began to expand beyond London, to other parts of the UK.

These panels of Real Poverty Experts reveal to audiences a diverse route into, and lived experience of, poverty and an opportunity for audience members to meet and talk to the panel, take part in workshop and discussions, and often over refreshments, in a less formal environment.
The feedback from these sessions has been very positive and as a group we feel we are getting more confident and support each other a lot.

The journey that begun some years ago has been a learning curve, building confidence and skills for participants, widening ATD Fourth World’s network of organisations, including new people, all while influencing others to rethink their attitudes to people living in poverty.
Don’t think though that the journey is over, if it was we would not be here today. Every journey is a series of steps and now we need to think about the next steps forward.

Last week we had another residential working session at Frimhurst Family House to discuss as a group: What does it mean to be a Real Poverty Expert, how we feel about the term and what questions we have.
One participant said: “We have a lot of lived experience in this room, years of living in poverty… years of making ends meet… years of bringing up our children well… years of resisting and struggling through… we have a lot to be proud about and to stand up and speak about. Yeah we are experts!!”

An Audience with the Real Experts on Poverty is a project led by individuals with an experience of long-term poverty and social exclusion in the UK, supported by ATD Fourth World and link with other anti-poverty organisations.
The project will stimulate constructive and inclusive public debate about the portrayal of people who experience poverty and social exclusion in the UK. It will provide opportunities for people living in poverty to develop their capacity to speak out from direct personal experience and lead the debate as experts.
The project aims to challenge contemporary society’s views on poverty and social exclusion. It also aims to recognise the positive contributions people in poverty make in society outside of paid work in order to counter the pejorative language and imagery so often used in the media.
The project aims to create public spaces where people in poverty lead the debate contributing through first-hand experience, collective knowledge and expertise. Public workshops and panel discussions will explore the multi-dimensional nature of poverty. This will create spaces for real open dialogue between people in poverty and the public shedding light on misconceptions present in society today.
People with first-hand experience, collective knowledge and expertise of a life in poverty are developing this new strand of action. They will lead in the design and delivery of interactive ‘poverty awareness’ workshops, public panel discussions and multi-media presentations in diverse settings.
In addition to developing the links already created with universities, schools, community groups, professionals, academics and practitioners, the project seeks to build networks and collaborate with grass root and community based organisations across the capital and nationwide recognising others who stand up and speak out on poverty and social exclusion.

By Moraene and Dann
ATD Fourth World