Written by Jake Lake, Policy, Public Health and Prevention Lead at MAC-UK

I have just started as MAC-UK’s new Policy, Public Health and Prevention Lead, and I am writing this by way of introducing myself, my role and the things I hope to achieve while here. I come to this role having worked with young people in care and with the homeless community for 7 years, and as an activist in my own time.

The position of Policy, Public Health and Prevention Lead is one that gives young people the opportunity to create systems change, influence policy and influence how policy is formed. I hope to do this by democratising policy forums; this means ensuring voices from a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds are shaping these spaces, that these spaces value those who are most affected by marginalisation and social exclusion, welcoming them to impact and shape the decisions that are being made in their interest.

MAC-UK has shown itself to me to be committed to creating meaningful systems change, and to genuinely impact services by putting power back in the hands of those who access them. This requires genuinely valuing the voices of those who access these services, either through payment or the offer of personal and professional development, and by working closely with institutions to help them identify what can be changed in the way they work. In this sense co-production is not just a buzzword for people here, it is something that permeates every decision made and requires time and work to ensure it is being done meaningfully.

In order to do this, relationship building is absolutely fundamental, and equally for me as Policy Lead the relationships I form will be invaluable to the impact we can have. There are so many young people who are passionate about systems change, it’s important that together we create spaces where young people are able to shape the decisions that affect them in their daily lives.

I can already see the dedication that my colleagues have to ensuring that power is devolved, through their work internally as well as across London; influencing how institutions function. So often in my work with young people in care, in custody and in the homeless community, I bear witness to institutions that can be experienced as alienating to those who have to access them. This is something we have to change.

MAC-UK does amazing work on the ground, and is in a position to be able to evidence that what we do works, through evidence based practice, that can command authority in spaces that value seniority or academic rigour. However our position is unique because, from my short time here, because we try to place the same amount of value on all perspectives. In this vein, it is essential, in order to achieve the things I hope to achieve, that the people who are marginalised or excluded from decision making processes, are able to take control of the levers of power, given true autonomy, control and genuine support. Something that must happen to work alongside this, however, is genuine resourcing and the alleviation of the strain of poverty. 

I view my role as Policy, Public Health and Prevention Lead, to be one that articulates the connection between poverty, social exclusion and hierarchies of power to the pervasiveness of increased mental health challenges in our society. We know, from research around the social determinants of mental health issues, that poverty and exclusion are foundational to the state of our mental health. The individual is not to blame for their mental health challenges, and should not be pathologized; we as a society must take responsibility for each other, including those in positions of power.

I am in a unique position at MAC-UK, not simply to influence policy, but to amplify the voices of people who have been historically excluded from positions of power so that those in decision making positions do not only have to listen, pay attention to what they are told, but to act upon it and fundamentally change the way these systems work. 

I feel extremely privileged to be able to do this work, and I am excited to work with a variety of young people, from MAC-UK’s projects across London, to linking up with other grassroots organisations, participating in social action, galvanising people and providing a platform for people who up until now might have felt as if they don’t have a say. 

What is that saying, we must “make the revolution irresistible.”