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Diverse Voices: Lived Experience

James Bryson, Public Affairs Officer for PlaceShapers writes about the latest Diverse Voices session looking into the importance and value of lived experience in the housing sector.

The Diverse Voices webinar series has focused on a range of equality and diversity topics, from being LGBTQ+ in the workplace, to supporting the needs of older people. The latest session focused on working with colleagues with lived experience, or as Helen Thompson, Executive Director of Calico put it, the secret to unlocking untapped potential in service delivery.

Helen was joined by Liam Heneghan – Housing Support Worker at Gateway Homeless Project, Tegan Mulby – DFN Project Search intern, Sian Foster, Sarah Moorhouse and Alison Inman – Board member at Saffron Housing Trust and Eastlight Homes.

Gateway Homeless Project supports over 500 homeless or vulnerable individuals each year. They help people build on their strengths, develop independent living skills and improve personal resilience to nurture their health, wellbeing and future independence.

“You can’t kid a kidder, I’ve done this for the last thirty years”

Liam Heneghan’s work as a Housing Support Worker at Gateway has been informed by his own experience, having had similar challenges to those he now supports. Opening up to people about his own life has allowed him to develop a pro-actively non-judgemental environment at Gateway. By knowing exactly what the people he supports are going through, it’s easy to be empathetic, without people worrying that they are being pitied – something Liam always worried people thought of him.   

Liam also highlighted the fact that ‘lived experience’ isn’t a protected characteristic in of itself, and whilst it’s useful to have people with similar experiences the idea of utilising ‘lived experience’ to support someone is something we can all do. Everyone has been through their own challenges and difficult experiences. Using your own experiences and understanding what helped you through the hard times could just be that thing that helps the next person.

“Interns are accepted because of their differences not in spite of them”

Project SEARCH provides supported internships and employment training opportunities for people aged 18-24 living with learning difficulties and/or autism spectrum conditions. To give some context to this challenge 45% of people with LD or ASD report they would like to be in paid employment but only 6% are.

Tegan Mulby is one of the current interns at Project Search and Calico. Tegan spoke to the webinar about how this programme has helped support her into work. Despite some nerves and the 

challenges that new experiences and places pose to someone with autism Tegan has been able to support Calico on GDPR, health and safety, customer service and website improvement.

Sian Foster and Sarah Moorhouse went onto explain that Project Search does more than just support the intern but educates and challenges perceptions people may have about LD and ASD. It helps removes employer’s fear of not providing the right support by providing that education, understanding and experience. The programme leaves staff feeling empowered to offer more long-term, sustainable employment for someone with a learning disability. Something that they had always wanted to do, but never had the confidence – Project SEARCH provided that.

Alison Inman concluded the session to speak about developing empathetic services in the housing sector. Organisations who employ people who live or have lived in social housing, poor-quality housing or homelessness are going to make our services better. These people are more likely to notice problems, challenge leadership and call out things when they go wrong. Housing providers should look to embrace those with lived experience, and this will ultimately make our organisations stronger. 

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