‘The first phase of the project indicated strongly that peer-led interventions had holistic benefits when delivering homelessness support. It was important for us to ensure that we embedded the same approach in our work, partly to demonstrate how it can be done, and partly to ensure the same all-round benefits in depth, quality and personal growth as we had learned about from partner organisations.
Iriss, as an organisation within the Scottish social services sector, needs to demonstrate the willing and ability to remove the barriers to employment for people with lived experience as much as any service delivering organisation. We think that we did that successfully, although when we reflected on our collaboration in weekly team meetings, it was clear that we all had to operate outside of our comfort zone in order to make the most of the opportunity. Our conversations tended to revolve around three issues: trust, risk and process.
Our default was to trust Alan, not to distrust him. From day one Alan had the same access to the office, email, internet and project files as us. We wanted to make sure Alan felt like a colleague working and socialising alongside us and our colleagues. Alan expressed surprise at the trust shown, and was at first unsure about how to interact in the office, particularly with staff not working on the project. In conversations, we discussed how that was a natural part of working somewhere new and something that everyone feels. We sometimes talk about whether there could have been a better way of introducing the environment and project to Alan, which would have resulted in less pressure for him.
At Iriss we work collectively, sharing the control and risks of project work between the team. We took the same approach working with Alan, although we organised our conversations about the delegation of responsibilities and tasks to be more frequently, so that any snags or issues could be addressed with the help of the whole team, and no individual would stand alone with a problem for long. This helped both Alan and us. We benefited from Alan’s unique experiences, skills, and recommendations, to guide us in the planning and execution, and Alan felt supported by always having colleagues to help if / when needed. This setup required a lot more administration and meeting time than we would ordinarily dedicate. At times we felt we were falling behind with the project execution because of it, however, we had support on an organisational level, particularly from managers, but also from colleagues stepping in to work with Alan if either of us were not around.
Externally, it still felt risky. We had a lot of expectations around the impact of introducing Alan as a peer of ours, not only a peer of people with lived experience of homelessness. Our biggest expectation was that the reception would be no different than introducing any other colleague. However, we also expected the conversations to unfold differently because of the unique knowledge Alan brought to the table. Alan navigated the external partnerships with the same charm and diligence as within Iriss. We needn’t have worried about it. However, Alan expressed that he would not like to perform any of the externally-facing jobs on his own, so we quickly learned that additional support is needed in situations where we work directly with partner organisations.
To support Alan we asked him from the beginning how he would prefer us to work together and how we could best support him. He asked for regular face-to-face meetings in which we could review progress together and agree on clear tasks for him for each day. We spent this time making sure we recapped the progress we had achieved and prioritised work still to be done.
Overall, we really enjoyed working with Alan and the new perspectives he brought to the work! It was a positive experience, not just for us on the project, but the wider Iriss team and, we hope, for those who shared their stories with us.’