Glasgow Homelessness Involvement & Feedback Team

| Linda Hutchinson

I’ve been working in Glasgow recently helping to set up the Glasgow Alliance to End Homelessness. At a series of meetings over the summer with the Council, providers and people who have lived experience, I was impressed by the strong and real sense of co-production. This is due to a great team of people known as GHIFT.

The Glasgow Homelessness Involvement & Feedback Team (GHIFT) is a great resource, one that “makes it easy to do co-production well”.  It is a team of people with lived experience of homelessness who work to improve engagement with people using and working with homelessness services in Glasgow in order to make these experiences the basis for strategic, planning and spending decisions.

Their presence at meetings I have attended has been pivotal. A counterbalance to the sensitivities, jargon and acronyms we bring, however hard we strive not to. They don’t play the ‘them’ and ‘us’ game; far from it as they enhance a sense of ‘we are all in this together’. And they roll their sleeves up and help with notes, creating online resources and organising the rest of us.

How it started

The origins of the team go back to about 9 years ago when a number of participation events took place in Glasgow. Run along Open Space and Open Forum lines, their agenda was set by participants attending the event and were there for anyone to express their views. Good for inclusion one may think, but they were not so good for those who were vulnerable and less comfortable with speaking out, meaning that their insights were not accounted for.

This necessitated a renewed approach to explore other ways to hear from those with lived experiences of homelessness. A partnership approach between Glasgow Homeless Network, a charity focussed on evidence and solutions to poor housing and homelessness, and Glasgow City Council began in early 2016. A survey about people’s experiences of using homelessness services was developed and a Conversation Café held in June 2016.  From this 25 people identified themselves as keen to get more involved. Fast-forward a year or so and with funding from Glasgow City Council and The Robertson Trust for a paid co-ordinator, the Glasgow Homelessness Involvement & Feedback Team is in place.

What makes GHIFT special?

I asked David Kidd, the Development Co-ordinator, what made it special. He said it was “set up by and for people with lived experience”. It is independent of providers. Previously, to get feedback or input from people with lived experience, you had to go through the providers of services to those groups. Especially for accommodation-based services, responses don’t always give you the full picture as people might feel their accommodation or support was at risk if they said something negative. GHIFT is independent of any specific service so is able to gather honest and real feedback. I was struck when David then said, “we create opportunities for people to get involved in the ways they feel best suit them. Often, the people we work with have had negative experiences of involvement and we want to make sure that GHIFT can provide an alternative to that”.

David also talked about the asset based approach. They spend time understanding people’s strengths and using these productively. Someone can take on a role that is meaningful for them and helps develop their skills and aspirations. People get support, training and networking opportunities while they themselves are helping to create better services and responses across the city. Andy’s story demonstrates how this means there are winners all round.

Andy has been involved in GHIFT from the beginning, he’d already been a participant in one of Glasgow Homelessness Network’s other projects Keys to Learn (a twelve week course centred around tenancy sustainment) and was looking for a way to use his life experiences including homelessness, to help others experiencing similar things, eventually as a paid member of staff. Andy, along with much of the rest of the GHIFT team, has experience of using a range of services. These often include the Scottish Care System, addictions, mental health, criminal justice and homelessness services. It is these shared experiences that allow GHIFT to cut through the barriers that often prevent vulnerable people from meaningful, honest engagement.

Since its inception, Andy has been involved in every part of GHIFT’s work. From designing strategies for direct engagement with people experiencing homelessness or delivering workshops and presenting the findings to senior members of the Council or Health and Social Care teams, to talking about his experiences at conferences.

It was after one of these talks at GHN’s annual conference in October this year that Andy was encouraged to apply for a paid role that had just become available with Turning Point Scotland. One interview later and he is now preparing to begin his new job as a flexible outreach and support worker. He’ll be assisting people with different levels of support needs: from low level to more complex needs, to progress from emergency and temporary accommodation and other homelessness services into a permanent tenancy.

We asked Andy what makes GHIFT special to him:

“Our participation is valued, accepted without judgement and ultimately very rewarding. Knowing that our contribution and input is utilised to help shape homelessness services for the better is priceless to me. It’s not often you can use your experience of difficult times to influence change for the better whilst at the same time also achieving better outcomes for all concerned.”

Advice to others?

When I asked David what advice he had for others who wanted to do co-production well he listed the following:

  • Start where you are – you might wait forever to find the ‘perfect’ time
  • With, not for – delivering services with people rather than for them. An equal relationship between professionals, the people using services, their families and their neighbours.
  • Create empowering environments – environments that make it as easy as possible for a person to develop the skills, knowledge and experience that leads to them feeling empowered.
  • Treat all perspectives equally – they all bring unique insights.
  • Keep trying and learn from your mistakes

David hopes that there will be national version of GHIFT in the future. And more evidence that participation and the information and ideas it generates, leads to changes. Watch this space!

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