Research Q&A: peer-led report on multiple disadvantage for Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark & Lewisham

On 1 July, Fulfilling Lives Lambeth Southwark and Lewisham, Groundswell, NPC and Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR)  launched the report for a new piece of peer research: ‘People’s experiences of multiple disadvantage in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham’.

The research provides insights into people’s experiences of multiple disadvantage, the support available to them, and navigating the system.

It is published as part of the Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham programme’s research and evaluation. Find out more about Groundswell’s involvement here.

As well as the report, a webinar and series of podcasts celebrate the achievements of experts by experience involved in the research project, and explore solutions for change.

Image caption: a photography project by the expert by experience group who guided this research, from one of the group’s regular meet ups

Charlotte (Groundswell’s Communications Officer) and Suzy (Research Manager) meet over zoom to talk about the research.

Charlotte: So Suzy what the research is about?

Suzy: It is about the experience of people experiencing what is described as ‘multiple disadvantage’. This means a combination between challenges such as homelessness, mental ill-health, contact with the criminal justice system and substance use.

It is about the connection between these experiences and the things that work and don’t work for people as they move away from multiple disadvantage.

Charlotte: Why it is needed?

Suzy: It is so clear to people experiencing these challenges that they are all connected. But unfortunately the systems designed to support people experiencing multiple disadvantage are still set up in ways that do not take into the person as a whole and how their experiences are interconnected.

However, we have a great opportunity here with research commissioned by Fulfilling Lives LSL to create change. The program identified the need for research to support the systems change priorities and capture experiences on a local level.

Charlotte: How did you go about conducting the research during the pandemic?

Suzy: Before the pandemic we had planned to do research face-to-face through surveys and interviews. Due to COVID, it was deep lockdown when we were conducting the research, so we couldn’t do this and needed to change our approach.

So we decided to do more in-depth interviews with people over the phone. We managed to speak to 41 people – which we feel is a good number considering how much harder it is to reach people.

Charlotte: What do you mean by a ‘peer research model’?

Suzy: Staff with lived experience of multiple disadvantage conducted the interviews and I think that was key in the rich data we collected. That understanding and trust developed between the researcher and the participant means people are often much more comfortable to open up.

At Groundswell two thirds of staff  and all volunteers (this includes advocates, researchers and reporters etc) have experienced homelessness before. We have the belief the solutions to challenges like homelessness, poor mental health and substance use come from those who have experienced it themselves.

Charlotte: How did you involve volunteers in the research?

Suzy: Volunteers with experience of multiple disadvantage were involved in shaping and developing this research. Although the volunteers didn’t conduct interviews, they were involved in so many ways. For example, they were key in developing and designing the questions we asked participants, in helping us recruit participants, in shaping the systems map developing as part of the project, in developing the themes for the report, in writing and drawing for the report and they were also involved in making two podcasts.

Their input has been key to this report and has really brought it to life – I hope that people feel that when they read it. Oh and they were very brave at presenting on the panel at the event last week!

Trevor's piece of reflective writing in the report

Charlotte: The research group sounds like it was really fun – what have you enjoyed the most?

Suzy: We all met on Zoom and I was nervous about it at first. I was worried about how we would be able to do all the activities online and connect as a group. But everyone threw themselves into it and really took that leap of faith. We all bonded so much and Zoom was not really a barrier in the end.

Recently we got to meet in person and work on a photography project we have started for the next phase of the project [see the image above]. We met in the park and had lunch together and took pictures and made images with objects that are important for our recovery along with flowers and leaves we found in the park using cyanotype paper.

We had a great laugh and it was really special to meet in person. Although I am apparently much shorter in real life than on zoom which is disappointing….

Charlotte: What would you say for you is the a key take away from the research?

Suzy: Ah that is a tricky questions there are so many….I think for me a big one is about transitions. When people move from one chapter of their life to another or between support – this is often an exciting but potentially challenging time for people.

People often have to change or let go of their relationships with friends and family at these points. This is why strong and trusting relationships with support workers and services are so key at these times.

There are so many more findings but for me this is something that is key but often overlooked. In response to this, transitions are a key focus of Fulfilling Lives LSL and their service delivery and systems change agenda has focused on this.

Charlotte: The report includes some really powerful quotes from participants. What quote stands out the most to you?

Suzy: I think this quote:

“The housing was more important to me than heroin, but heroin was more available than housing.”

This is a very simple quote from a participant is so sad but perfectly sums up why people use substances.

Charlotte: So it’s really important the recommendations in the report are heard and acted upon. if you had to pick one recommendation from the report which one would you pick and why?

Suzy: I think actually there is a recommendation in Stephan’s (Groundswell Research Officer) reflective writing for the report. He wrote:

“As I interviewed people it came up time and time again in many forms and guises, that, regardless of how we choose to dress it up , when you strip everything away it all adds up to the same thing – humanity – and being listened to, heard and valued.

This seemed to be the difference needed to help or challenge previous beliefs and perspectives and the catalyst to whether they were more likely to experience success or not in their journey.”

This for me is what it is all about and Stephan’s word explain this perfectly!

Charlotte: What’s next for research partnership?

Suzy: We are moving on to the next phase of the work where we are exploring how access, transitions and system behaviour could be improved. Look out for more events and maybe some more podcasts.

Find out more

Watch the webinar below!

More about Groundswell’s involvement in Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, including the full report, executive summary and podcast, is available here.