“It’s about…believing our own words”: Bringing together the voices of care experienced people

07 May 2024

Rebekah Pierre is a care experienced writer, author, social worker, and editor of a new anthology, ‘Free Loaves on Fridays: The Care System As Told By People Who Actually Get It’, which brings together stories, essays, poems and letters by 100 care experienced children and adults. In this conversation with CELCIS, she discusses the process of developing this anthology and how she hopes the book will help shift the narrative of care experience.

A couple of years ago, after writing about my own lived experience of the care ‘system’ in England for a national newspaper, I was approached by a publisher. They wanted to know if I’d be interested in editing an anthology bringing together the voices of care experienced people and, if I’m completely honest, my first reaction was “no”. There’s so much rejection in the care community and the publishing industry already and, in my mind, an anthology risked being something that could potentially be too limited or which couldn’t include everyone who wanted to participate. As I started to type back a politely worded email to turn the role down, I had a thought: if only we could have ‘no rejection’ policy, where anyone who met the criteria and wanted to take part could, an anthology could be a great thing to do. I took a chance and decided to ask the publisher, they thankfully agreed and the rest, they say, is history.

Free Loaves on Fridays: The Care System As Told By People Who Actually Get It was published a few weeks ago and throughout the entire journey of creating the anthology, care experienced people have been at the heart: from the 100 care experienced children and adults aged 13-68 who contributed their writing, to care experienced people behind the scenes who designed the front cover, undertook sensitivity reads, the two charities to which the proceeds of the book will be donated, and our supporters. Underpinning the whole concept was the notion that, while hearing about any one lived experience is always welcomed, we’re never going to understand the care ‘system’ if we only ever hear the experiences of a select few people. The only way to begin to get a broader perspective of something is to bring together as many diverse voices as possible, so from the very beginning, that was our guiding force.

Flipping the script and controlling the narrative

As we wanted to include as many different voices as possible, it was important to ensure that everyone involved had the time to slow down and approach the book in the most considered, purposeful way possible. In addition to the ‘no rejections’ policy, contributing to the anthology was open to everyone, whether they had writing experience or not. This meant that we couldn’t just approach people who were already in the publishing space, so we used social media, reached out to every Children in Care Council in England, and spoke to grassroots charities who were working with care experienced people to get the word out to anyone who was interested.

When it came to the vision of the content and its format, we knew we’d need to have some longer essays due to it being an anthology, but other than that, we aimed to have as little ‘red tape’ as possible to ensure our authors had freedom to write in the format they wanted. There were very few rules - all we asked was that people wrote on a topic of their choosing that was loosely centred around care. This turned out to be a really important part of the process; so many care experienced people are often on the receiving end of other people’s reports and assessment letters and we rarely get be the author of our own experiences, so having a platform to do that and to determine whether that reflection be a poem, an open letter, or a story, can feel much more authentic to the audience, and also be therapeutic for the author. In this sense, the process of writing became about flipping the script of the care ‘system’ on its head and believing our own words rather than being the subject of other peoples’, as we so often are.

Finally, the no rejection policy meant that we had to be open to the number of people who would want to contribute. Although a typical anthology usually consists of around 10-12 stories, we didn’t know whether we’d get more or less than this. Thankfully, the response was brilliant – we had so many contributions from people wanting to share their real, authentic experiences who hadn’t ever considered writing before and in the end, 100 voices was a huge (and purely coincidental!) number which came together perfectly. Our authors are from an incredibly diverse range of different backgrounds, cultures, and class, and include everyone from poets to Paralympians to business people and school pupils, many of whom hadn’t ever considered writing before and are now proud to call themselves published authors!

What next?

Since the book was published, we’ve had such an outpouring of positive feedback, particularly from the social care workforce – which my background is in – that has been incredibly heartening to see. Our hopes now are to first, educate and inform the public about what care is and the people at the centre, and second, that the next generation will see themselves represented in bookshops. When I was younger, so many books that featured care were either centred around caricatures or portrayed care experience very negatively, in everything from the writing and tone to the imagery used. The experiences of myself and so many other care experienced people were never fully explored or represented, and amongst the general public, the impact of that can still be felt today, whether it be inaccurate stereotypes or simply not having an awareness or understanding of what care experience is. While this book aims to be something very different to that – a celebration of the lives, hopes and successes of care experienced people – we need everyone to be allies to help continue to shift the narrative and put the voices and perspectives of people who have experienced care into the mainstream.

Thirdly, and I guess most importantly for me personally, is the hope that the book and the experience of being involved can be a springboard for our authors and contributors to do whatever it is they want to do in life - and smash some glass ceilings along the way! I’ve already heard from many of our authors about how having a platform to do something that would usually involve having to navigate multiple different barriers has increased their confidence and led to new opportunities. It’s wonderful to know that, although the book brought together so many different voices and perspectives, we will forever be united in print in a way that gave people a choice about the way in which their stories are told, and an opportunity to tell those stories in their own words. This is just the start of a wider conversation about care, and I can’t wait to see what everyone does next.

‘Free Loaves on Fridays: The Care System As Told By People Who Actually Get It’, published by Unbound, is available now. Profits from the book will be donated to the charities Article 39 and The Together Trust.


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

Commenting on the blog posts: sharing comments and perspectives prompted by the posts on this blog are welcome.

CELCIS operates a moderation process so your comment will not go live straight away.

Loading Conversation