Alumni Profile – Shumela Ahmed

Shumela Ahmed has been part of the Stirling community since 2013 when she completed her access course. She went onto complete a BA (Hons) in Journalism Studies and Politics and a PGDip Tertiary Education with TQFE. Shumela is a Co-Founder of the Resilience Learning Partnership (RLP) and spoke to us about the impact of their work.

What brought you to Stirling, and what makes you keep coming back?   

I’d moved to Dunblane from Glasgow, and my best friend said to me, “You’ve got a uni just up the road, you really should try an access course”. After that, it was inevitable I was going to do the undergrad. I then did the Teaching Qualification in Further Education as a postgrad. I was taught by amazing academics who were also involved in the access course, people like Kevin Brosnan, so there was no other option for me! The education and the campus community meant that, for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of belonging, something I had never felt anywhere before.  

Image of the Resilience Learning Partnership building.

Can you tell us about  the Resilience Learning Partnership (RLP)?  

I always describe RLP as an organisation with a dual purpose. Our first purpose is to provide learning, development and training services for professionals across health, criminal justice, social care and education. How we do that is our second purpose. Our facilitators, educators and project leads all have lived experience as well as the relevant academic or professional required. Where people might not hold those qualifications yet, we’ve found innovative ways of working with them to gain those skills.  

Trauma informed policy design consultation is a growing area of work for us. We co-authored the National Trauma Training Plan with NHS Education for Scotland and we work with organisations to implement those recommendations and requirements. It’s a huge piece of work which will take years to be fully realised, but it’s so significant to be starting this journey.  

We show people with lived experience that they are more than their experiences, and that they don’t have to be defined by them. Lived experience is being used in more meaningful ways. Take the Care Review – I sat on that, and it was a really different way of undertaking a review. There were 140 care experienced people involved, 14 working groups, each co-chaired by someone with lived experience and a professional, and sometimes by a professional with lived experience. This movement is growing and is so much more than just participation and consultation – we’re way beyond that. This is true co-production.  

A volunteer showing empty boxes ready to be assembled.

RLP are introducing the TIER programme this year – what’s involved in that?  

TIER stands for Trauma Informed Education and Recruitment, a six month programme, one day a week. It’s completely co-produced by me and eight other facilitators – seven of which are third year Stirling students! These are students with lived experience. We’ve co-produced this based on our own experiences of being adult returners, and the barriers we faced along the way. Our goal is for participants to either have a place at Forth Valley College, on the Stirling access course, or they’re in employment or further training leading into meaningful employment. We’re working with these institutions and Clackmannanshire Council to do this. We’ll have 12 people in each cohort and we’re supporting them with their self-discovery, aspiration and ambition.  

Why are you so passionate about trauma informed services?  

Trauma informed services bring down those barriers of engagement. It’s so important for people in roles such as medical receptionists, cleaners in schools or maintenance for housing associations and local authorities to have an awareness of the impact of trauma. How they interact and communicate with people using their services changes if they have trauma awareness. For instance, when someone presents at reception shouting and swearing, we don’t think “What’s wrong with them?”, but “What happened to them?” This simple shift removes so much judgement.  

A man holding a Craft Kids box with arts and crafts materials inside.

The Crafty Kids initiative has been a real lifeline to local families struggling to keep kids entertained, motivated and creative this year. Can you tell us about more the impact?  

As the pandemic hit, we could see organisations supporting people with food. I spoke to the team about doing something similar with crafting materials for children. We spoke to Clackmannanshire Third Sector Interface, and the Chief Executive, Anthea Coulter, supported us with start-up funding. From there, it snowballed! We gained coverage on social media, local and national media, and we pulled in more funding.  

Our base has a nice big space where we were able to safely socially distance and assemble the boxes. An army of volunteers come forward to help with delivery – mainly people on furlough – and we found another unintended benefit. Our goal was to drop off the boxes, but we started so many conversations and connections with people who were isolated. This meant we could plug them into other services like foodbanks and financial support. 

We’ve delivered 3,300 boxes so far. Crafty Kids’ growth meant that people could start to get paid for their time. Very quickly we started giving four people part time work. Organisations started coming to us asking for boxes for young people in their area. This makes it a sustainable model – we give away a box for every one we sell.   

What have you read that you’d recommend to us?  

I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure anymore, but I love audiobooks! The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is a phenomenal book, and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate is amazing. I’m listening to The Body by Bill Bryson right now, and it’s brilliant! It picks up on the growing evidence of links between psychological trauma and the physical impact on people. It’s not just about the psychological impact, but the health implications –heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and other physical ailments.  

For more information about Resilience Learning Partnership, please visit their website or their YouTube channel.

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