2016 GSK IMPACT Awards: Groundswell

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  • Posted:Thursday 12 May 2016

A charity based in Vauxhall, London, that works to enable homeless people to take more control of their lives, have greater influence on statutory services and play a fuller role in the community.

The ethos of Groundswell is to include those who have lived the experience of homelessness in all aspects of its being. Through building trusting relationships and volunteering, it helps people out of homelessness. It also offers a range of peer-led initiatives, including health advocacy, which supports homeless people to receive the health care they need.

What the judges said:

By putting people touched by homelessness at the centre of its decision-making, Groundswell fully understands their challenges and can respond sensitively and effectively. Its impact is tangible and hugely impressive, responding to the complex needs of homeless people with energy and innovation.


Groundswell is based on a set of core beliefs around homelessness that believes that homelessness is society’s problem; it’s not just a problem of homeless people and the whole community benefits when we effectively tackle homelessness.

We believe there is no them and us, only us. So that’s homeless people working together with workers and services, managers, local authorities, frontline workers, the health service, everyone coming together is the only way to tackle this social problem.

People have a very low tolerance of homeless people, they don’t quite understand the issues that I can sense and I’ll say it now, everybody is only two wage packets away from losing their home.

Groundswell’s got 18 staff, about half of them are part-time and half full-time, but we also support around 50 volunteers who all have personal experience of homelessness. Recently we’ve been recruiting female peers and peers from Eastern Europe to help connect with people that we’re currently finding on the streets.

Groundswell are really tapping into this huge resource of lived experience amongst homeless people. They’re recruiting people who are still in vulnerable situations themselves – they’re mentoring them, training them, providing them with the skills necessary to engage with other patients in a meaningful way.

Groundswell did a major research study into how people move on from homelessness; it’s called “The Escape Plan.” We were surprised to find that volunteering was one of the most important ways that people moved out of homelessness.

Coming here and doing the volunteering, I felt useful, I was doing something that meant something for somebody else. Actually it’s worth getting up there this morning.

Last year, 36 of our volunteers progressed onto either further training, education or employment and ten of those people actually went on to get jobs.

Homeless people often have lots of obstacles to getting the care, even in the NHS, that they’re entitled to.
Seven out of ten of our most expensive patients are homeless people and Groundswell are an essential part of our team because they enable us to engage them and work with them.

Homeless Self Peer Advocacy is about providing practical support to homeless people to help them address their health needs and access health services.

All of us are ex-homeless people, some long-term homeless, some short-term, so when I do talk to the guys on the street, they know that I’m not just learning from a textbook.

Our Peer Advocates work across eight London boroughs and they help people to access health appointments in a very practical way – remind people when their appointments are, pick people up, pay their travel. In 2014, a Young Foundation Study into the impact of the HHPA found reduced unplanned A & E admissions, including attendance appointments, which was outward of a 42% decrease in NHS costs.

So we also run the TB Peer Education Project where volunteers support people to be screened for TB. There’s a mobile health unit which travels around and parks up outside hostels and day centres.

We do a flu jab, a pneumonia jab. We have facilities to take Hep C, Hep B and HIV.

Groundswell peers also play a role in training NHS staff, Junior Doctors at UCLH and staff at Imperial – giving them a deeper understanding of the barriers that homeless people face in accessing health care, and a greater understanding of how to more effectively lift that group.

Every day coming to work is a pleasure.

It’s made me a bigger and stronger person, and I look at other things like my other issues that I’ve got, personal issues, and it’s actually making me stand up to them as well.

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