Chris Reed on our new #HealthNow Newcastle report and using forum theatre to launch it

Today, 24 May 2021, Groundswell and Crisis Skylight Newcastle are launching our #HealthNow peer research report: Understanding homeless health inequality in Newcastle.

This research is part of the #HealthNow campaign lead by Groundswell delivered in partnership with Crisis in Newcastle on a local level.

First Published in May 2021, written by Chris Reed, #HealthNow Coordinator, Crisis Newcastle.

The pandemic has been a difficult time for many.  We started our #HealthNow project in January 2020 but were hit with the pandemic and all its restrictions and challenges in March.

We had recruited several volunteers, all with lived experience of homelessness to train as peer researchers.  Instead of giving up, our volunteers agreed to stay involved in the #HealthNow project and mobilise around our cause to improve health outcomes for people experiencing homelessness across Newcastle.

We formed a regular group of ‘Experts by Experience’ and our volunteers worked towards our goal to carry out research into the barriers faced by homeless people in Newcastle, and to use this knowledge to drive changes to the system, remove barriers, improve health outcomes, and ultimately, save people’s lives.

In November 2020, our peer researchers carried out 49 interviews, by telephone and for a small proportion, face to face in a safe environment.  It became clear that for some peer researchers, their experiences were mirrored in those of the participants.

Issues that were highlighted through the process included a lack of access due to digital exclusion, discrimination, long waiting lists for mental health support, and poor experiences gaining access to health support upon leaving prison.  You can read the full report here.  The report contains narrative relating to individual experiences, but highlight themes listed above, together with other concerning information.

Our researchers were keen to ensure impact on release of the findings, and we worked together with Cardboard Citizens, an organisation with a long history of supporting the voices of people experiencing homelessness to be heard, using forum theatre.

Using the detail in the research narrative the peer researcher, together with other experts by experience in our locality, wrote, developed and implemented a 30 minutes piece of on-line forum theatre.

This followed the story of ‘Lucky’ through his engagement with health services as he became unwell and homeless.  Participants at the #HealthNow Alliance meeting where the performance was given took turns as characters following this, enabling them to design in a better outcome.

The Alliance was attended by statutory and non-statutory agencies across Newcastle, including the local health trusts, public health, voluntary agencies, and the CCG.  Opened by the Director of #HealthNow, Jenny McAteer, and closed by the Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council, Joyce McCarty, who emphasised the value of people with lived experience being involved in designing the solutions to barriers to health care.

Here are some quotes from meeting participants:

“I’d really like the opportunity to look at these (report findings) in more detail find ways to improve and change people’s perspectives around the what the current services offer.”

“Really impressive work today, brave, funny, emotive…the characterisation of some professionals was spot on, I know we need to change and shining a light on practice is vital.”

Taking some of the point highlighted from the event, the Alliance will meet again to formulate a more detailed action plan to address these issues.  For the peers, this is just the start of our work with those agencies we’ve involved.  For some this was “challenging at times and rewarding at others…. there is a sense of perspective that something important was achieved”

I look forward to the next steps as we more forward to working alongside the peers and our Alliance members to drive systems change and support people experiencing homelessness into better health.

Download the full report here.