Covid-19 Stories

Community stories from people experiencing homlessness

I have heard so many people’s stories about the reality of this experience that have horrified, humbled and driven me to make sure we improve the systems and services that are meant to be there, free at the point of need, for everyone – Olivia Butterworth, NHS England


As the country looks ahead to the end of lockdown and getting ‘back to normal’, Covid-19 and the measures taken in response to the virus, continue to have a significant effect on the lives of people experiencing homelessness. 

The pandemic shone a spotlight on existing health inequalities, particularly for people experiencing homelessness who often have the worst health outcomes. To better support this group, it is important that we understand, track and include the voices of people experiencing homelessness in national and local decision-making.

With Groundswell UK, we trained and developed a national network of community reporters experiencing homelessness, who have been sharing insight into health and housing with NHS England to inform their Covid response.


At the start of the pandemic, we started working with Groundswell to help them urgently find a better way to remain remotely connected with their communities and capture the unfolding experience of those facing homelessness. 

Like so many UK organisations, Groundswell are supporting a fragmented network of individuals, many of whom face barriers to digital engagement. Yet, for a response to be genuinely informed and inclusive, it needs to be led by the lived experience and ideas of people experiencing homelessness themselves.

To do this, we used our digital platform, Radius, bringing together basic and smartphone messaging streams on desktop dashboards so communities can share insights and ideas via their mobile. This way, people experiencing homelessness can engage in a real-time tracked conversation with project leads, researchers and communication teams, enabling Groundswell, as well as NHS England, to meet them where they are.

As part of this, we recruited and trained up a network of around 20 community reporters with experiences of homelessness to send in reports via their mobile. Shared as 10 core modules, each with an interactive quiz, the training took place remotely across a 3-day period so that individuals could learn at their own pace. Everyone who completed the training received a full certificate and those who partially finished, and chose to stop, were given a partial skills certificate.

Trained in citizen journalism, using audio and video to tell a story, ethics and keeping safe, the community reporter network was then asked to document the impact of Covid-19 on their lives. As stories and insight came in, it was important that they went somewhere and didn’t just sit in a file.

With Groundswell, we then co-designed a microsite to be home to these stories, where each voice note, video clip and image is posted and shared – with their concerns and ideas for change not only guiding NHS England’s response but also reaching different media outlets and audiences.


From navigating what ‘normal’ means and the challenges of accessing period products, to feelings of loneliness and the riddles of happiness, the network has shared raw and authentic reports that illustrate the social and economic impacts of Covid-19 on people experiencing homelessness. From this, journalists, researchers and policymakers, as well as the public and the participants themselves, can access this shared insight to inform change.

As part of the project, animations were co-produced to illustrate the thoughts and ideas of people experiencing homelessness. Here, Paul relays his experience of how society portrayed people who were homeless as England entered ‘lockdown 2’ in November 2020.


This research has provided us with real time insight into the reality of what was and wasn’t working, what the issues were that we needed to focus on, and what people really needed us to address…

…We have used the monitoring reports, the diaries and stories to have some really challenging discussions. As a result, we have mobilised people to think about what they can do to make changes happen that will create more accessible, inclusive and trauma-informed services that are available when and where people need them – Olivia Butterworth, Head of Public Participation, Homelessness and Inclusion Health, NHS England


Groundswell UK


Read and listen to Covid-19 Stories

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