In the last place-based systemic change community of practice meeting, we heard from Camille Lesforis and Dominic Ellison, who both work for social enterprises that are led by and serve communities that face systemic injustice. They shared experiences and learning about targeting the root causes of injustice and how that related to place-based work.

The discussion highlighted the importance of ensuring that people with lived experience of injustice lead initiatives that aim to target the root causes of injustice. Acknowledging the different experiences of people facing multiple barriers to justice was also noted as critical to this work. One of our speakers shared that his experience as a White Disabled man did not mean that he could understand, and effectively target, the barriers to employment faced by a Black Disabled man.

What is distinct about their approach as lived experience led organisations?

At the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living, all decision-making is Disabled-led. They target health systems and employers at a local level to advocate for rights-based care and provide services co-designed with and delivered by Disabled people to support other Disabled people to access their rights to independent living, choice and control

The Black Wellbeing Collective, takes a trauma-informed approach to targeting injustice, providing a mental health and wellbeing service that prioritises the lived experiences of the Black community to heal from racial trauma, racial bias, racism and discrimination. Specific tools they use to create safe spaces for those with experiences of racial trauma and centre Black Joy include self-care talks and workshops, creative workshops, healing circles, navigating injustice sessions and community events.

Injustice and mental models

Both speakers talked about the mental models that hold oppression and injustice in place.

Disability is socially constructed. It does not result from any physical or mental difference, but the fact that social and physical infrastructure is built to exclude difference. The mental model that holds this exclusion in place is based on the idea that disabled people have something faulty or broken that they must fix or adapt to in order to be part of society.

The Social Model of Disability argues that Disability is constructed by barriers in society. Disabled people experience exclusion and injustice due to social and physical infrastructure that is built to exclude difference. The mental model that holds this injustice in place is the idea that disabled people have something missing that must adapt to what is convenient for others. 

The idea that injustice is rooted in mental models that exclude difference can help with understanding the root causes of injustice other marginalised groups face. It can build understanding of how racial trauma is rooted in systems that are built to devalue and exclude diversity. Privilege, and on the other hand exclusion, is revealed in how society constructs things (services, products, communities) for a limited group of people.

Not recognising the internalisation of these mental models allows exclusive practices to continue.

Camille’s work in creating spaces for individuals to share experiences of trauma and engage in collective healing aims to reveal these internalised mental models and shift them. In a society where beauty products, credit rating systems, job application processes and countless other products and services are designed to cater to White people, targeting injustice requires acknowledging a mental model that racial diversity is not the ‘normal’.

We live in a world where disabled people’s right independent living and agency is often weighed up against the relative affordability of institutionalised care. Dominic believes that including disabled people in the design of services and systems is critical to move away from this – including their voices makes it harder for people to disregard their right to independence and agency.

How can place-based organisations support user-led organisations?

Place-based organisations can be effective allies to user-led organisations. Our speakers shared that taking a place-based approach can be critical in targeting justice, which is often reflected in systems designed at a local level. This does not mean that one can overlook the root causes and mental models that have led to these systems, which can often transcend place.

There can be tensions between place and justice. Place-based communities can at times be seen as homogenous groups, which fails to acknowledge the power dynamics, oppression, and injustice that occur within communities. Applying a justice lens highlights that community-led change is not power-shifting if it does not bring out the distinct voices and experiences of those experiencing systemic injustice.

The discussion pointed to the importance of place-based community organisations proactively engaging with Disabled, Black and minoritised groups to listen to their experience of a place. Recommendations for place-based organisations were to:

  • Recognise that past experiences of trauma can make building trust a challenge.
  • When services aim to support people who have experienced injustice, the right thing to do is take a backseat and allow those with lived experience to lead.
  • Approach with empathy and compassion to be guided by those who have a deeper understanding of injustice.
  • Be transparent about your position within the place and how you might be able to resource change, acknowledging that some groups are excluded from accessing those resources.

About our speakers

Camille Lesforis, Founder The Black Wellbeing Collective

Camille Lesforis is the Founder of The Black Wellbeing Collective, a mental health and wellbeing service that prioritises the lived experiences of the Black community to heal from racial trauma, racial bias, racism, and discrimination. Camille is also a freelance Community Organiser/ Project Manager/ Wellbeing Facilitator in the racial justice, social justice & wellbeing sector. Her career is dedicated to improving the wellbeing of Black and racialised communities and to encouraging collective healing from racial trauma, racial bias, and discrimination. 

Using forms of creativity, art therapy, and holistic practices, Camille holds space with charitable organisations, small businesses, and corporate companies fusing art & wellbeing to connect with others. She has worked with companies such as Somerset House, Black Thrive Lambeth, Lush Cosmetics, Too Good to Go & many others. 

In her spare time, Camille enjoys solo hikes, candle and earring making, and unwinding during sound healing sessions. 

Dominic Ellison, CEO The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living

Dominic Ellison is Chief Executive of WECIL (West of England Centre for Inclusive Living) – one of the UK’s largest Disabled People’s Organisations. Based in Bristol it provides services co-designed with and delivered by Disabled people to support other Disabled people to access their rights to independent living, choice and control. Dominic works closely with commissioners across Local Authorities and the NHS to ensure that Disabled people have the influence to shape the local systems that should serve them and develop truly person-centred services, while also using his platform to influence policy on a local, regional and national level.

Leading a Disabled People’s Organisation builds on Dominic’s background in supporting local communities to own the solutions to their own challenges and championing locally and socially owned service delivery as he has done as Chief Executive of a community-led economic development agency in East London and as prominent activist in the co-operative movement.

Dominic has lectured on building community leadership in regeneration as part of Bachelors and Masters degree courses at University of the Arts Bournemouth, University of East London and Goldsmiths University and has given talks on the subject at several international conferences. He was commissioned to advise the Mayor of Ansan in South Korea on developing a strong social economy within a major city regeneration scheme and by the British Council to develop social economy development programmes for overseas countries.