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Our journey into peer research as people with lived experience of temporary accommodation

  • 6 min read |
  • Posted by Casey Sailor and Robert Jones
  • On 18 March 2024

At the beginning of 2023, Justlife convened a group of five peer researchers in Brighton, funded by the Young Foundation. We wanted to establish a group that will be able to carry out peer research, and explore the use of peer research as a method for accessing first-hand community knowledge of intersectionality in Temporary Accommodation.

The group of five individuals all have different experiences of homelessness and temporary accommodation in Brighton. Working with facilitators from Justlife, an exciting research project is taking shape, which is already benefiting other projects in Manchester and Southampton, as well as a second group that is about to start up in Brighton.

Here the peer researchers talk about the process.

Our first meeting

When we first met, we were all strangers in a brand new environment. We didn’t have a common understanding of how the space should function, so we prioritised safety and comfort in the initial stages of the project.

We had each been approached individually before the first group meeting, giving us the opportunity to discuss details, voice concerns and build rapport with someone from the Justlife team.

The first session was dedicated to introducing ourselves to each other, discussing individual support needs/accommodations, informing how the group would function and also how we would handle issues within and outside the group. We created a group agreement, which we displayed on a large piece of paper with sticky notes, so it could be revised as the group felt necessary. Some of the key agreements we made were:

  • The facilitators should offer support outside of the group meetings if requested, and at regular intervals throughout the project.
  • The environment should be low pressure and friendly.
  • Our attendance was optional. Facilitators would check in on people who were absent to see if they were ok, but the group would operate on a drop in basis.
  • No intoxicants were to be consumed at meetings. Should someone be suspected of being under the influence by anyone in the group, it would be addressed privately, by a facilitator.

There were safety nets built in - trigger warnings throughout, which doesn't always happen in these spaces. However, there was also freedom to explore difficult topics.

Peer researcher

Throughout the project, accessibility was a recurring problem. It became quite apparent that lots of buildings that considered themselves accessible didn’t consider the span of disabilities that a normal person may have. This caused a lot of scheduling hassle, and ended with the facilitators vetting venues personally before booking them. In the end, Justlife adapted a space to make it accessible.

Getting going

The first phase of our research program was about training and education, building our skills. We looked at research design and ethics, led by a facilitator with a research background, and had group discussions about the issues we were going to research.

We discussed the ethics and standards around the housing charity sector, and dedicated lessons to discussing definitions of sector terminology such as ‘lived experience’ and ‘trauma informed’. This helped us reach a common understanding during more complex discussions.

At this point we would like to make it clear that, we think that any good dialogue (such as around a piece of research) doesn’t assume that everyone is viewing it with the same lens. It is far more productive to come to an agreement, than it is to push for the ‘right definition’.

There is a wide group variety. People from a huge mix of backgrounds, broad neurodiversity in the room, huge amounts of life experience and perspectives, which led to really interesting shared learning from each other.

Peer researcher

Documenting the process

During the initial stage of this project, we decided to document the process we were going through. This was to show our funders the value of our project, but we also wanted to create something to aid others who wanted to set up a peer research group; a valid research resource after this initial project is complete.

Helped by our facilitators, we produced a manual on how to set up a Peer Research Group in a safe way, which detailed the process of putting together our group and working through the first phase of the project. It is a collaborative piece of work that is currently being tested by Shared Health and Southampton University, who are using it to set up peer research groups, as well as a second group in Brighton that is about to be set up. The manual will change as they give feedback. We wish them luck.

Carrying out the research

We are now in the second phase of our project, which is conducting the research. This started with designing a research question, which took lots of discussion as we weighed up our interests against our resources and the practicalities of each topic. We drew on our real life knowledge of the town, housing system, intersectionality, and also considered logistics and ethics. This is what we decided to research:

“How can we prevent people of different intersectional identities from ending up in Temporary Accommodation?”

By intersectionality we mean the different intersecting identities a lot of us have, such as being neurodivergent, queer or from a different ethnic background.

Since we were researching in our own local area, we not only had to consider the impact of our work on the community we chose, but also on ourselves. Our actions could have a negative impact on lives or communities. We also wanted to be mindful that, since we were researching issues that had impacted each of us, we didn’t take on anything we weren’t equipped to do physically or mentally.

Switching to the second, more independent phase of the program brought forward other issues. As people’s lives changed, some peers moved on to do other things, using skills and confidence built in the group. We revisited the group agreement and reassessed our commitments for the year.

The research methods

To answer the research question, it was quite quickly decided that we wanted to be creative and do a workshop style event. During our time with Justlife, we have had experience of working at several of these events, and have seen how they provide an opportunity to directly support and engage with our research participants and make their time worthwhile.

The event will be supported by a survey which we are in the process of sending out. The replies will help decide what research methods we use at the event, and also give people who don’t have the opportunity to attend the chance to contribute. The event will happen sometime in the summer and will be an opportunity for people to share their experiences of staying in temporary accommodation. Once we have all the data, we will analyse it using our new research skills, and share the insights as widely as possible.

In summary

For a group like us with low expectations, it has been a remarkable success already. The experiences and skills gained have been enough to change each member of the group. It’s been a worthwhile year already. This project is a means of empowering and supporting a group of peers, while also benefiting their wider community. We’re positive that even the most disadvantaged people in a community can affect positive change on themselves and their surroundings with the right resources and support. And we’re not finished yet!

If you have experience of staying in TA in Brighton, and are interested in taking part in this research, get in touch on or click here for the online survey.

Have a look at the manual on how to set up a peer research group here.