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From Stoke to Seattle

VOICES seattle

By Steve Barkess, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES


My adventure is soon to begin…

In a few days’ time I will be traveling to Seattle to take part in the transatlantic exchange to learn about how they support people who are homeless and take steps to tackle this as a wider issue. My focus will be on the lived experience aspect of this, as this I think, would be a good place to start.

I suppose my research topic is quite specific as I am sure everyone who has been successful in being selected for the exchange is. Whilst doing my research on how people are supported in the US it became apparent that a lived experience and community approach is paramount for much of the support offered to individuals. I was also really interested in the dedicated approaches to peer specialist role within the support sector and the way this is managed.

So why did I focus on lived experience?

I have a strong belief that people with lived experience should be employed within services at all levels. In the UK it is not uncommon that people with lived experience are turned down for roles within services due to lack of experience and knowledge of the sector or service delivery. This is not only detrimental to services but places those with lived experience at a disadvantage within the employment sector due to a lack of recognition of how powerful a person’s experience can be in regard to supporting others in recovery.

This exchange will allow me to better understand and illustrate the need for directly employing people with lived experience and support our Expert Citizen group to take this further and continue to influence, both locally and nationally.

Within the US, 47 of the 50 states each have a recognised certified programme and platform that’s allows people with lived experience to be recruited within support services. Although within the UK those with lived experience are often employed, this is very rarely a pre-requisite to a paid job role. I would like to research this further to understand how this could be developed and implemented by local authorities, statutory and non-statutory services and how this could be brokered within a geographical area such as Stoke on Trent. I would like to use this opportunity to investigate and explore the following areas:


  • What pathways are available to people with lived experience to be placed in strategic, board member and/or decision making roles?
  • How is this managed/brokered to support services or outreach services?
  • What evidence is there to suggest/support that the ‘Peer specialist’ role has an effective and positive contribution to overall service delivery?
  • What have been the challenges faced by organisations to ensure that ‘peer specialists’ are supported in their role and how do they support further development?


I am have been placed with an organisation called ‘All Home’. Not only do they embed lived experience within their organisation they are the lead for the Seattle continuum of care and bring together groups of all kinds which include non-profit, federal, faith based and philanthropists together to tackle the issue of homeless in king county. Having spoken to my hosts already I am really looking forward to meeting them and sharing our experiences of working and what we can learn from one another.

Well guys from this point on I will be keeping you up to date on my blog which you can find here: https://alwayslearning28216514.wordpress.com/

I will be documenting my learning and highlights of Seattle and its people over the next few weeks so be sure to check back for updates!

Our partners at Expert Citizens have recently had the privilege of hosting Jessica Mckown all the way from Pennsylvania, click here to watch a short video of Jessica speaking to Darren Murinas about the efficacy of coproduction.

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