Abi: Perfect. So yeah, just introduce myself again, my name is Abi. I'm a designer at New Practice and we're having this conversation through an internal project called Potluck. We're going to be having it around accessibility and engagement. So we're talking with three people from Homeless Network Scotland and they'll be giving their perspectives based on their experience in their current roles but also previous experience. the reason that we've invited you to talk with me today is particularly around the structure in which you have integrated living experts into your process. I think it's a really good example of accessibility and not necessarily in this direct disability perspective but more of a broader accessibility for a wider group of people.
Ginny: Abi could I ask a question? Could you maybe explain a bit about how you're defining a 'living expert.'
Abi: Sure so when we use the term 'living expert' or, where i'm using the term living expert, i'm talking about your particular context and also you're welcome to correct me if i'm wrong. I'm saying it to describe people who have experienced homelessness and that are integrated into this sort of structure this framework that you have at Homeless Network Scotland and it's not a term that i've coined it's a term that i've picked up elsewhere.
Peter: Expert on what?
Abi: In this context you would say that maybe expert is the wrong term. We can just start the questioning now. What do we think that would be a better alternative?
Peter: I think sometimes people can be only expert in what their road is and what their path is and it could sound as if suddenly they're an all-encompassing expert in all aspects of homelessness for me. I've got lived experience, I'm 30 years sober been to university blah blah blah but when I was in the throes of it all I was an expert in then was what was happening to me but I had experience of homelessness. I had first-hand experience of using services etc etc. I'm not being picky, I just...
Abi: No! I think it's incredibly valid! I mean, it's definitely one of the things with these terms that are coined is that they're not necessarily coined with people with lived experience so I think it's really important to pick up on these things and say actually 'experts in what?' So yeah, really important, Peter thanks for bringing that up.
Ginny: I think it's something that we've spoken about quite a lot as Change Leads hasn't it Peter? And in the fact that working with people with lived experience our aim is to get them to a point where they feel empowered to use their voice in any way that they wish to but putting a label on these people is already kind of making them separate to what we are and our past experience so I think within Homeless Network Scotland it seems like we call people lived experience who are kind of regular to the work that we do, we sometimes call them 'Volunteers' we sometimes call them 'Associates' we sometimes call them 'Consultants.' So, I think it's kind of confused even within our organisation of how these people should be referred to, if they should even have a name or a something to refer them to at all but unfortunately the nature of the work that we do we kind of do need to put them in a category somewhere because we have to prove that we are working with these people with with lived experience and so I think it's a question about why why are we doing that in the first place and who are the people that are pushing that is it the people who are commissioning us? Is it the funders? Why do we even need to make that distinction between us and them?
Abi: That's a good point. I think that for me it kind of comes up with the level of visibility. to what degree, and I think that maybe that should be down to the individual, how much do you want to share? Do you want to be sort of this person that is this figure for a group of people? and and kind of what you were saying Peter, you're only expert in your own road but does that mean someone else would be comfortable saying 'i'm a living expert in homelessness' or I guess or other situations...?
Peter: Well i'll send you a link gabby to work of the Mayday trust, who got rid of everything. They got rid of risk assessments, and got rid of care plans get rid of everything. It's a really interesting viewpoint. I'll send that to you once we're finished.
Abi: Please do yeah i think that would be really interesting…
Abi: I think people have gone into a little bit as to how they've created or they've been very sort of face to face with a variety of people. I wonder if each of you could say how accessibility and inclusivity has been has been interwoven into your practice?
Graham: Yeah, if you don't mind I can answer that one. Okay, so there's some really basic questions with regard to that. i'm going to talk about myself personally before i'll open it out to organisations. Whatever professional role i've had the most fundamental question is 'what's the purpose of that role?' 'Why are you there?' well that seems to be so simple but the amount of organisations the amount of people who actually never spend a moment of their life actually reflecting upon that because they've applied for a job and they perceive that job to be a good job. maybe there's status. Maybe there's wages. Maybe there's ... who knows? different you know attractions to that Job but there's lots of practitioners and professionals that i've met i've encountered in my life who are good people but they never for a moment reflect actually what's the purpose of my role here? What was the purpose of this job? so, if you work in, for example, employability what's the purpose of it? well, it's to help people get a job. And in everything that you do it is really about satisfying that particular outcome. Over the years because i've got to this point in my life and I am old, just like the Mayday Trust, you realise that all the terms and all the language are just barriers. that's all they are. Now, a lot of the terms in the language are there because of very good reasons, absolutely but you know. So that question about accessibility, well, what's the purpose of the role? so once that is defined then really let's get on with it. so if it's an addiction-based project or if you're working in a prison what's the purpose of the role? The purpose of the role is to help support, guide, mentor, all of these verbs for the people who come to you looking for something from you. Something that they want. And then if you then take it just a little stage further maybe those people, maybe those individuals, are also looking for the same thing that you've got. which is the job that you do. 'Actually, I'd quite like your job.' 'Great. fantastic. Do you know what? Well let's help you get my job then!' or you prepare people to get jobs. So I guess for me the ultimate accessibility, no matter what sector you're in, is 'do you want my job?' better still, do you want my boss's job? Because then you get into the realms of, particularly for talking about people who are coming from excluded and marginalised backgrounds which I think Peter and Ginny and I are talking about, is we get them out of poverty. We get them a mortgage. The same things that we all want. We get them to a house to live in a nice area. so we talk about accessibility that they're all those things for me and without getting technical I don't see why any of that is not achievable.
Abi: That's a very good point, I think that there is an element of definitely allowing space that I feel like that's essentially giving space and allowing people, and making sure that you're not sort of gatekeeping a particular level and making sure that it is definitely about sort of removing barriers and again making sure making sure that it is accessible is achievable and people are there to support this momentum, this movement, up through the rank or to whatever destination they're looking to to get to.
Graham: Absolutely, you mentioned an interesting word there: Gatekeeping. Now Peter and Ginny will probably tell you their own stories. I can tell you lots of stories of people in organisations who do exactly that. They retain the power, you know. That's never been my thing. I'm not there to have power over people. that's just, you know, 180 degrees in the opposite direction. so you've got a bag of stuff and you give people absolute full access to that bag of stuff. What would be great is that is at some point you're then helping people come along and actually help you improve the bag of stuff that you've got by designing the bag of stuff to make even more accessible even better and again that's you know three decades ago that seems to need to be second nature. why wouldn't organisations do that? and yet there appears to be these barriers. they still are and i'm 55 years of age. That seem inexplicable to me. it should be second nature because if I can help you you can help me. what's so complicated about that?
Peter: I think there's many components to accessibility and I think one of them is if you look at the question 'why don't kebab shops open in Glasgow at eight in the morning?' and I know there's a sense of wistfulness there, but it's because the market doesn't demand it. Why then at Christmas and New Year to people in methadone prescriptions who are judged to be untrustworthy with it for 360 days a year suddenly given five days holidays for middle class workers. it doesn't rate. Why do opening hours of services tie in with the staff rather than when your having a casework team out in Rutherglen or East Kilbride which is five miles away if you become homeless and you can't access it so one thing about accessibility is timing another thing is location and for me i've always I trained as a counsellor i've always worked from a base of empathy congruence and unconditional regard for the client group. If we're starting with a ‘computer says no’ system on that it's not accessible from there. experiences I went to work managing home support for an authority i went in before I started wearing a track suit bottoms and a metro and listen to people going to the counter and get told not [ __ ] you again. so the whole approach to people coming in really matters strongly about how we work with there so there's an accessibility about what's an offer, the time, the location and the manner of the staff. and people don't work as engaging with a client group anymore they work with forms.
Abi: I think timing is a really big one for me or something that I don't really see very often talked about and I think is an incredibly important point and that kind of runs into what Graham was saying earlier.
Ginny: Yeah, kind of mirroring things that both Peter and Graham said especially within the All In For Change Team, language is a massive thing that we come upon in terms of making things accessible because a lot of the language that's coming down from policy is very unaccessible. so it's kind of working out how we can find a middle ground and a language that everybody speaks. Environments, I agree with they're just so important especially since lockdown and the fact that everything's gone on to zoom we're all trying as much as possible to keep people engaged and able to be included in these conversations but it's never going to be the same as meeting one to one and in person so i'm really interested in coming out of lockdown are we going to go back into the environments that we were using before or now that we've embraced digital is that going to be a help or is it going to be a hindrance or... but the the power of communities and the fact that for acceptance to work and inclusivity to work you need more than just the services and the normal support systems to be in place you need you need wider society to be inclusive and accepting and also in terms of funded projects and commissions currently everything's very outcome-based and that whole thing about the fact that it takes time and we need to give time the outcomes-based set-up doesn't reflect that time that we we need to give so so often things are rushed when actually we just need to allow it to things to develop in in the speed that they they need to develop rather than kind of pushing anything because when we push things nothing ever really works in my opinion.
Peter: I think that's a really good point about timing and there's another thing there about in this culture we tend to look at things linearly so things are either much better if they're more or much better if they're less so if you enter a drug service they're under pressure to reduce rather than to stabilise and allow time for people to develop so I think you're right timing and linearity are also big factors as well.
Abi: It's very multifaceted there's lots of different points to consider and I think that miss out on some key key demographics or miss out a whole group of people because you're not considering one element one aspect that may be timing that maybe location thank you that was a very well-rounded answer...
Abi: Going more into the framework of Homeless Network Scotland, could you talk to me about how integration of living experts exists?
Peter: To our credit when I started with Glasgow Homeless Network at the time, when you were in the office you would not know who the volunteers were and who the staff were. Everybody had shared access to the door going in. I know that sounds trivial but when I worked in the Falkirk Community Hospital I set up a room outside for a peer educators to come in and work with people entering treatment and we had a dab radio and a standard lamp and I gave them the key code to the door and the psychiatrist went and got an emergency joiner to change it. So things like entering the door might seem trivial to us, but it can be a huge step when you went in the building. It was embedded in every part of our work the role, the voice of lived experience. We were very lucky we had a service called Navigate which was a peer advocates who were taking people along to homeless assessments. They were an integral part they used the same desk as us, the same computers, the same kitchen, they have their own meetings regularly without staff being present and their voices were listened to and affected coming in. We also made sure that nobody was worse off for coming and it's great for me and you to be getting paid (x) whatever but people are having to travel so we've been big steps in to make sure every person gets travel even if they stay next door. Every person would get a lunch. And the way we engaged with people was their experience dictated the way the service went. It was honestly eye-opening, jaw-dropping and marvellous to see it first. it's changed in a different way as we've evolved into different partners, different ways of working, as Ginny said we're now working with associates consultants etc but my early was just wow and that's from somebody with lived experience who went to from getting told when I got my first job, 'Do you get paid the same as the rest of them?' what a change.
Abi: I think that definitely speaks to themes I picked up when i'd read the all In For Change pdf and there are lots of different points throughout that are highlighted that I think are great advice on how to kind of build into your practice and you know we use the term engagement but any sort of face-to-face roles. Themes of stigma, being flexible which I think have come up in in what you were saying there. it's equality the idea of equality and making sure that the structure allows for that which is a great example of how other organisations potentially could integrate people with lived experience into their own practice
Graham: So seen when you think about that, at the moment the example that Peter gave, i'm lucky i've got some compatible examples. See when you actually break that down, actually everything away, what actually does it involve? it involves some simple human interactions. Who's potentially going to walk through that door for the very first time? what do they see? How do they want to be welcomed? what would be important? They're simple human interactions that's all that they are. Again, trying to strip away complexity it's taking the time to care. that four letter word care. One of the most important words. actually we just I care about this I care about how what people see when they walk through my door. I care about how they're welcomed. I care about how they're feeling no just because it's part of my job. Not just because it's in my job description because that's who I am as a person that's who Peter is that's who Ginny is that's that's who the organisation are because they're full of people who care. Again, that's not that difficult to achieve and yet it seems to be. It's a really difficult thing and we talk about structures and all that stuff and frameworks. Actually do you know what? it begins and ends with human beings who actually take the time to care. Whether you're buying a hamburger, whether you're buying a car or whether you're accessing addiction services or employability services or homelessness services or whatever bloody service. Actually, I like that person, he listened to me. She cares about me. All good organisations should be built on firstly and lastly human interactions. that seems to have been lost in the drive for frameworks and and all these other things. because then because you can build structures and organisations that support people who care then the organisation then cares for the people who care. Beautiful. That's absolutely fantastic. But it is absolutely, it's about do we care about the people who walk through our door and if we do then that's the type of service that Peter talked about and more potentially.
Abi: Ultimately when someone feels like they are able to access it it's empowering and that's incredibly important to be considering when we're creating any kind of i don't know product or service as you said whether you're serving served hamburgers or you're in a clinic it's important to feel like a person…
Abi: So stripping it down face-to-face interactions with people in a professional environment let's say so we've got this idea of of caring but is there anything beyond that that's important to consider or is or is it just that fundamental I care for you you feel valid?
Peter: Your environment also has to demonstrate that at the same time. i notice banks are moving now to people leaning on counters and settees and pads and moved away from the the glass barriers and sometimes we put barriers and I was doing work a way out of the area and I went in and all I could see in the front door of a building was warning notices. How many people have stopped dealing drugs because a notice was up saying 'don't deal drugs.' What's wrong with putting welcome? One thing we did which I thought was marvellous, we had the Navigate Change front area, proper couches standard lamps etc etc but there was a 'Welcome' in the door and there was a sign that we put up saying 'if we haven't offered you a drink within 15 minutes please remind us.' How about that for hand and power back? i notice explaining 'ring the door but we honestly will be with you as soon as we can' and I think the whole layout of a building is fundamentally important as well for accessibility. People will describe it 'what's that like?' and they say 'oh, they're really nice to give you a cup of tea. People don't say 'i'm not thinking of referring to Abi's project, i'm not keen on that adaptation of their assessment.' ! You know, I think there is an element for the building as well that has to come in to demonstrate that you're informed in the way of working.
Abi: Absolutely. I think one of the interesting themes, I guess, that you've just brought up there Peter and Graham's brought up previously is the idea of power and who's got the power why have they got the power and how we can make sure that people who are being invited into these professional environments, comfortable environments etc who've got the power and how can we feel like the people who are essentially sort of asking for a service or asking for a product feel like they are the ones who hold the power.
Peter: I think the one big example for me is as a parent going to parents' nights in the school and the teacher sitting in a huge big swivel leather chair and handing you a chair 18 inches high. A kid's chair! And expects you to sit on that. Classic case.
Abi: That's a great example and just reducing that. It's a very it's a very visible way of reinforcing this idea of who's in power I think that's a great example, thank you.
Graham: I mean, mainstream education is… I mean I have said this before, If you were if you were designing a business in the 21st century to educate young people you wouldn't design a school. You just wouldn't. And if you work in mainstream education and any I mean I worked in mainstream and non-mainstream I have a daughter with special needs. Mainstream education, that culture is so strong the perseverance you know the just the reluctance to change. You know, and again that power dynamic in classrooms is, it's just incredible that dynamic is reinforced every single day by those examples that you just described. You know and it's just insane! When we talk about feedback, you know and we talk about evaluations and the things that we do and the jobs that we do right now. again, we have we construct all manner of, you know, bits of paper and documentation and compliance and all the things that fund us and everybody else asks us for but if you go and you ask people 'By the way, what do you think about that homeless Network Scotland?' they will tell you 'Oh, I really like them.' 'Why do you really like them?' 'Because, you know what? They listen to me.' or give you or if you say 'What is it you dislike about them?' 'Well you know such and such and it's the exact same thing in education, mainstream education. 'Who's your favorite teacher?' 'Oh, mr so-and-so.' 'Why?' 'because he's human. I can talk to him.' Do you remember Rate-My-Teachers? Remember that a few years ago? Somebody created a website called Rate-My-Teachers so all the secondary schools all the primary schools and they gave their teachers ratings. It's fabulous now by the way I tell you that anecdote because it's just an anecdote but it's applicable to so many organisations. Feedback is not only to to be welcomed it's to be loved is to be embraced regardless of whether the feedback is challenging, whether it's tough, whether it makes you look at yourself and reflect upon yourself, because that's the best feedback. See if you care, then you'll do something about that feedback. That's what separates the great organisations from the ones that are just mediocre or the ones that are crap.
Abi: It's also a very good example of something that is unwilling to hear feedback and change and i think that that is also incredibly important when we're talking about accessibility it's about flexibility. It's about adapting, it's about changing and that goes back into the idea of of caring. Who's got the power? All of these kind of different themes that came up throughout our conversation so far.
Graham: I was involved in a project a few years ago, it was a brand new secondary school that was being built in Port Glasgow and they had this revolutionary idea in the West of Scotland of having a joint campus between a non-denominational school and a roman catholic school and of course the kids were like they were ‘'fantastic!' the kids loved the whole idea, young people because it was the friends from the local community and we're going to the same building okay cool so that's fantastic. And one of the a design aspects that they were thinking about was do we have young people come through the same front entrance into the building? and the young people say 'yeah! we want to come to the same front door' and the parents and the local authorities and the churches said 'no we can't have that' so in 'Port Glasgow and in St Stevens High in Port Glasgow they have a joint campus, it's a beautiful building, they share classrooms, but the catholic kids go in one door the non-dom kids go in the other door. It's insane! It's insane so yeah that you're absolutely spot on Abi. All about the power and the control and the gatekeepers and you know... but the people who actually use the service are not in the slightest bit interested
Abi: nor are they the ones feeding or in this case feeding back into the process that ultimately is affecting them and about them...
Abi: Ginny, you were talking earlier about you may not have enough time to potentially give a process justice. I think that when we're talking about timings and and creating relationships and caring, that does take time it takes more than... we could go back and say a single interaction can mean a lot to people and I think that's important to bring up as well... but what are the main things that we consider when we've only got one or two interactions with someone?
Peter: Like most of the things like this there's always good practice there and I think working in addictions when often people are coming into services and just being stamped, filled in forms and out and we introduced brief interventions. Where we regarded every conversation as an opportunity. We're carrying out at the moment interviews with street drinkers or we were before march, interviews with street drinkers and we always tried to put a positive spin rather than saying 'you filled in the form, that's great. Here's your tenner.' We would say, 'Is there anything we can do today? Anybody you would like us to speak to? Anybody can get in touch with?' and I think Graham said earlier, you're assessed within 20 seconds. So the first 20 seconds are crucial in your approach etc etc When we've done needle exchange by law you were only meant to ask for a name a date of birth and a postcode. Didn't matter what it was. I've had Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse etc but I always said my name's Peter. Put my hand out. It's taking these opportunities. Every intervention is an opportunity.
Ginny: I think it's about making sure that we've got things in place so that the time spent with an individual is spent on their needs talking to them building up those trusted relationships so we know that something like peer-to-peer support talking to someone who is currently going through experience that is going to build up a better relationship than someone like me going and engaging straight away. If services can only provide x amount of time with an individual then things need to be in place so that that time is really spent on the things that are important rather than faffing around also about this whole thing about people having to retell their stories to each service that they go into how can we create a system that that story doesn't need to be repeated. That trauma doesn't need to be repeated and we can start from a good place and from the next place so that person doesn't have to keep on going back to the starting point before they can move forward. So is it to do with shared shared data within services so that people have done the ground work before they even get to the point of spending the time with the person? That's so limited because of restrictions of resources and things.
Abi: That reminds me, the idea of people retelling their story, I see it and we discuss it in our practice because part of my job is I go into communities and sort of talk to people but unfortunately something that is or can be rife throughout this process is a consultant agency can go in and they'll have this conversation. Then the funding will stop. Next year funding will start again, a new consultant agency, not even the same, may go in have very similar conversations. And it's the idea of exhausting a community and breaking down the trust in the process is actually a lot of what potentially you might be doing as a new consultant agency. Building up the trust Learning, teaching people about the process. Ensuring that people begin to have faith in the process once again. I think that that is an incredibly important part of what we do but and what you were saying Ginny there is, or what i'm kind of taking from it, is the background that needs to happen before to allow you to have the conversations to allow you to come with all of the resources, the knowledge, to build people's trust and for you not to waste time.
Graham: There's both in the micro and in the micro level here at this and Ginny's absolutely spot on and that you know if you have, as Peter says, you know there is a limit to obviously what you can do but what certainly an an old guy like me is that you know just if there's an element of trust but if there isn't then it's just being completely honest with someone saying 'listen, here's what I can do today.' 'Here's a limit to my power today, I promise what I won't do is I won't just let you walk out of the building without me doing something else to..' if it's a person who then going and accessing another service, '..before you go on let me pick up the phone and i'm going to organise that appointment for you.' So I mean simple things like that at a micro level your spot on. The reality is is, in areas of Glasgow and in particular so, East End of Glasgow projects that are on the funding disappeared two decades ago and then there's been various other iterations of those projects different organisations have come along. So, if you ask local people on the ground they won't have the faintest idea. 'Oh yeah, that used to be an addiction-based project..?' and that unfortunately is just life as third sector organisations you go from year to year and I know this is I know we're all shaking our heads here because we all know this that's just because we are at the behest of politicians and then there's also this horrible situation where you get to a certain age and you're doing things that you did two and a half decades ago although it's called something different, by the way i'm not cynical about that, i'm not, sometimes good ideas are good ideas, and they have a good idea last year and a good idea a decade ago and we can still use them but there is that about where we repackage things and the realities is that is that there's just not enough money around
Peter: That's my national insurance number. Go round a room full of people with lived experience and they'll all be able to tell you that number without thinking. I doubt i've used it once in the last 10 years but it's ingrained in me. Ask your colleagues at a meeting what it is and they won't. And people become known by postcodes people become known by national insurance numbers I always say is it more important to know that I would rather have my depo injection in my room rather than the office because it had memories of when I was in hospital? Is it more important that you know I want my daughter involved in every aspect of my care because she's my absolute rock than knowing if I was in a special school?
Graham: Obviously, I mean again I mean it says today's not the conversation for it but the reality is is that is that the political landscape you know that over the last yeah 25 years where everything has a price but nothing is of any value. You know i'm old enough to remember where we things like what we call 'Social Inclusion Partnerships' so that's areas of Glasgow and other areas in Scotland that were designated particularly areas almost like areas of Africa that did famine relief. You know, i'm not using that metaphor lightly. So we'll flood the area you know. That area will get more resources now in the one hand you can say that's a great thing of course because these are communities that have been deprived and excluded and whatever words you want to use for x amount of years. How can that not be a good thing? but the other thing is that 'By the way you live in an area of social inclusion..!' 'What? Do I? I thought it was a deprived area?' 'Yeah yeah yeah, it's the same thing... I think it's a typing error?' i grew up in one of those you know I got the East End of Glasgow. i've worked in one for 20 years you know I don't live in one now so I guess i'm no longer socially excluded. You know that way, Abi, so when you leave all of that stuff in things become you know what should be quite simple and straightforward become very complicated. And then we design services for those areas. Okay that becomes probably even more complicated because it should be the local people who should be designing and commissioning those services. Sorry it's got it's nearly lunch time and i'm on the politics..!
Abi: No! [laughs] I think that's a good place I think to sort of round off... i think that we've hit big broad themes that are incredibly integral to to accessibility and and creating these face-to-face scenarios Interactions. Kind of boiling it down to - things becomes accessible when the people who are providing the service are caring about the people who are coming through those doors and care that they leave it feeling better than they did coming in.
Graham: Spot on.
Abi: I think rounds up a little bit of what we've been talking about. Does anyone like to say anything before I finish recording?
Peter: Just to say the power of a few words when you meet somebody for the first time. 'Hi, I'm Peter would you like to be called?'
Ginny: I think that was a drop the mic moment! [Laughs]
Abi: yeah absolutely...