An introduction to Thames Reach’s Social Inclusion Project

The Social Inclusion Project, as part of the Tenancy Sustainment Team, has seen fantastic results since it began in summer 2019. Lorraine is lead worker for the project, and tells us all about how the team are working to help people integrate back into their communities.

An introduction to Thames Reach’s Social Inclusion Project

After sharing David’s story, many people were inspired by his recovery journey from social isolation. As part of the Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) service at Thames Reach, the Social Inclusion Project provides a much-needed service to people moving on from street homelessness who need support in rebuilding their wellbeing and self-worth. We spoke with Lorraine, lead worker for the project, to learn more about how the service works and how it is improving the lives of vulnerable people moving on to the next stage of their recovery.

How does the Social Inclusion Project work?
We are funded by the Big Lottery and designed to work with people engaged with our Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) service, who get referred to me if they are socially isolated and would like to address this. We work to help people feel less isolated so they can start to recover from their former situation and move forward with their lives; we build their self-esteem, get them involved with their communities, and help them build support networks. The whole aim of TST is to provide people with two years of support when in their accommodation after experiencing homelessness; we are helping them live independently and move forward. Our work helps vulnerable people live happier and more fulfilling lives.

What might the support on offer look like on a practical level?
It will look different for each person; for example people who have moved to a new area will want help integrating into the community; if someone is recovering from substance use we will help them build a new way of life. People may struggle with confidence for a range of reasons, often including low self-esteem, or poor mental or physical health.

Initially, we might help them with getting outside, maybe for a walk or a coffee, or visiting local attractions, then eventually some people will want to get into volunteering or training. Referring to other services is a big part of it too, such as peer support and befriending. We have also helped people get in contact with lost friends or family.

How long has the project been running and what changes have you seen?
We’ve been going for just over a year now, and it has ended up looking quite different to what I had originally expected. I work alongside each individual’s TST support worker to make sure we’re providing the best service, in a person-centred way. I myself visit each individual once a week.

How do you work with volunteers?
We have a small team of volunteers, who are committed to one full day a week; we provide lots of training and shadowing, and each volunteer has a small number of individuals they support. Our volunteers want to work with vulnerable people integrating into communities. One of our volunteers was lacking in confidence after having a child; after volunteering she went on to get a job in a care home and is now training to be a nurse. Another member of the team is doing it as part of a placement for her social care course.

What’s your greatest success story since the project began?
I think our greatest achievement is setting up a counselling service through EVOLVE Housing for people to access free of charge. EVOLVE initially provided the service as a pilot whilst we provided the physical space. The partnership has been very successful and between the two organisations we have agreed to continue this at a very low cost. We will soon be able to offer counselling to other people using our TST services too.

Exhibition opens with artwork by members of the Deptford Reach community

Deptford Reach’s partnership with arts charity Create continues with a display of artwork at Deptford Lounge, which is publicly viewable from the street until the new year

Exhibition opens with artwork by members of the Deptford Reach community

Photographs and writing created by members of the Deptford Reach community have gone on display at Deptford Lounge, as part of a project with arts charity Create.

Participants created the artwork as part of a 12-week project run by Create, and funded by the Deptford Challenge Trust. Guided by two professional artists, photographer Alicia Clarke and writer James Baldwin, the members of Deptford Reach explored a variety of photographic techniques (including reportage and still-life) and writing styles (including monologues and short stories) in order to express themselves and find their voice.

The resulting artworks are now on public display in the windows at Deptford Lounge until the New Year, and can be seen for free by passers-by.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of the workshops,” said one of the participants. “I like to do different things with my mind, like using the camera, writing and all that. I enjoy coming here to do it because it gives me something to do instead of sitting down indoors all day doing nothing. It helps me with my mind doing different things.”

Deptford Reach’s ‘Speak With My Voice’ partnership with Create has been running 2008. The project gives vulnerable adults the opportunity to work creatively with professional artists and one another, using photography and creative writing to break down barriers, build relationships and trust, reduce isolation, enhance self-confidence and self-esteem, and have fun.

Nicky Goulder, founding chief executive at Create, said: “This important project gives vulnerable adults the opportunity to work creatively with our professional artists and one another, using photography and creative writing to break down barriers, build relationships and trust, reduce isolation, enhance self-confidence and self-esteem, and have fun. Never has this work been more important, at a time when everyone has experienced increased isolation, and it has been a privilege to enable these participants to express themselves and enhance their wellbeing over the past few months. I hope everyone enjoys the exhibition, which demonstrates their talent so wonderfully.”

Jordan McTigue, lead manager at Deptford Reach, said: “This year has seen our work at Deptford Reach look quite different. While we usually operate as a day centre, we are now providing a floating support service to ensure vulnerable people in the community are not further isolated by the pandemic. Taking part in creative projects is something we know is incredibly beneficial, and well received, towards mental wellbeing, and we’re really pleased that this exhibition with Create is taking place at the heart of the community.”

Alicia Clarke, Create photographer, said: “It has been my pleasure to facilitate photography workshops with attendees of Deptford Reach. Taking inspiration from some famous photographers’ work, and discussing the meaning behind images, were key parts of our workshops, and it was so inspiring to then see the world interpreted through the eyes of the participants. There were lots of diverse interests within the group and I feel that everyone found ways to express themselves, and to enjoy the work of their peers. We had so much fun!”

James Baldwin, Create writer, said: “The group chose to focus on screenwriting and adaptation, speech writing and rhetoric, monologues for theatre, poetry and song, and short stories. Across this display you’ll find the pieces of work that each writer feels represents their voice best. Like a photograph captures a single moment in time, the writer’s writing captures them on that day, in that mood, with those thoughts. A literary snapshot documenting unusual times.”


Interview with Mitchel, the emerging artist making work about homelessness

After some time spent sleeping rough, Mitchel is receiving support from Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team, and has been selected for Accumulate Art School for the Homeless. As they launch their first book, we spoke with Mitchel to find out more about his art practice and how it’s helped him move on from street homelessness.

Interview with Mitchel, the emerging artist making work about homelessness

Accumulate is an art school that has been set up especially to nurture the artistic talents of people who have experienced or been affected by homelessness. Acknowledging that this group are hugely underrepresented in all industries including the creative sector, the school is a great opportunity to access higher education. Mitchel has been receiving support from Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) – Private Rented support service, and has been studying with Accumulate; his work is featured in their new book ‘The Book of Homelessness’. We spoke with him about his art practice, the opportunity to have his work published and his hopes for the future.

Hi Mitchel, can you tell us about where your journey with art-making began?

I have been making art in one way or another for all my adult life. I started off doing graffiti and studied art at school; I enjoyed it and was good at it. When I was doing graffiti in my teens, I started off just writing my name everywhere then my style developed. I’ve done other things like t-shirt designs, then I gave up on it, I just sort of stopped doing it.

How did you start working with Accumulate?

I was street homeless for a short time, and then the hostel I was staying at started running art workshops.

The guy facilitating the workshops was involved with Accumulate. When I was introduced to them they were doing a fashion show so I went along to find out more. They told me about the book they were involved with; I showed them some photos of my art and they wanted me to be involved.

They’ve encouraged me a lot, and they’ve made me realise it’s something I can pursue. I’ve remembered that I still enjoy making art and that it opens a lot of doors, it starts conversations with people. People like art. It’s cool, I’m glad I started doing it again.

How has your art practice helped you?

It’s such a great way of expressing yourself, when I was a teenager I used graffiti as a way of reinventing myself, making up my own persona. People don’t know who you are, so you can choose how you want to put yourself across to the world. It’s a different way to communicate.

Can you tell us about the work you have featured in Accumulate’s book?

I did want to make some art about my experience of being homeless, but I didn’t get as much done as I’d like to. The book has drawings I’ve done about that time in my life, like a picture of me when I was running out of a shop, drawing things happening to me. Snapshots of my time being homeless; it’s not a linear story. Other artists have so many interesting stories in there, I learnt so much about the different reasons and stories why people are homeless. It was quite humbling to meet all these people who have come from such terrible things, it made me think a bit more about why people are on the streets. When you’re homeless you tend to hang around with people with the same issues as you so you don’t always hear about these different situations. The whole thing has been enlightening and humbling. It’s got a couple of famous people who have contributed to it too, including some comments from Colin Firth.

Can you talk a bit about the support you receive from Thames Reach?

I was connected to Thames Reach for support after I moved out of a hostel, so they’ve been helping me in my new accommodation. It means I have someone to check in with me, making sure I’m doing what I need to do, it’s been really helpful to make sure I’m not struggling. At the moment they call regularly to see if I’m alright. They will help with transferring drug support service, anything around additional support needs, making sure the progress I’ve made will still work at my new place. It’s easy to let appointments and other things slide and end up struggling, so they have been really helpful in that way.

Where are you now on your journey? What’s next for you and your art?

I’ve been housed recently, just before the pandemic, for the first time since becoming homeless last year; I was in a hostel from June 2019 to February. Accumulate raises sponsorship from companies for scholarships to go onto access courses in design and digital media at Ravensbourne University London, and I got one this year. Things are going a lot better now. I’m not using drugs anymore; in October I decided to do a full month without drinking, drugs or smoking, so things are going good. I’m trying to concentrate on the course at the moment, it’s giving me lots to keep busy with.

On the course so far I’ve learnt about data visualisation, about displaying information, now we’re doing a second project on a fashion magazine app, so we did a photoshoot, we all made garments. It’s all been great fun.

The book is available to buy on Accumulate’s website, where all contributing artists receive a percentage of the proceeds.