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By Kahra Wayland-Larty, Associate of Just Fair

Kahra is supporting Just Fair to establish a sustainable model for the voices of lived experience to guide the work of the team, starting with developing an advisory group.

I am so proud and excited to be part of launching Just Fair’s very first lived experience advisory group.

Over six months this ‘development group’ will bring together their ideas and perspectives into a proposal for a permanent model for integrating lived experience into Just Fair’s work and decision-making.

And wow, what a group they are – six friendly, genuine and, frankly, inspiring people from diverse walks of life all over the UK. They are all so passionate about tackling injustice and excited to be a part of Just Fair’s role in doing that.

Running the first two sessions at the end of October, I was met with palpable excitement from the whole group. And it’s not just this new group who are enthusiastic, so is the whole Just Fair team. OK it’s a tiny team, but still! Nobody is treating this like a tick box exercise, there is genuine commitment, humility and willingness to test new approaches, follow the lead of lived experience and learn from missteps.

So, I’ve been thinking: what is it that is so exciting about engaging with ‘lived experience’?

Well, excitement is just the surface. Scratch below that and what you find is hope – the promise of a shift in perspective, from a focus on ‘book smart’ – in Just Fair’s case, from the literature, legislation and legal-speak of rights, to the lives, the stories, the actual meaningful impact of rights being protected, respected and fulfilled, or, as is too often the case in this particular group, not.

Bringing lived experience into the frame is humanising – not just for those ‘others’ facing injustice, but for all of us. We are the humans that human rights are for. We are the ones benefiting when international and domestic law is employed to ensure our dignity and wellbeing. And we are the ones who suffer when they do not.

And it’s the same story in our workplaces, especially when our work is social justice. Too often we’re forced to put our humanity – the emotions, the backstory, the identity that makes us who we are – to one side. ‘Professionalism’ is not emotional, it is logical and objective and measured. It is head over heart.

But justice work is heart work. None of us lives in a vacuum – we all interact with systems that will impact our rights, for better or for worse. We all have feelings about the work we do – especially, and rightfully so when our work is about injustice, and even more so when we have personal experience of that injustice. When we ask people to leave those feelings at the door – we are actually refusing to invite them in. And so many of us have felt the weight of bottling, warping or denying parts of ourselves in order to get that coveted seat at the table.

Choosing instead to centre the lived experience – the humanity – of others, feels like honouring our own. Working with these six very amazing and very normal, relatable, approachable people, my heart is full. And that’s how social justice work should feel.

Background image by Hatiye Garip