Placement with Shelter UK

Barclay Bram Shoemaker, PhD candidate in Area Studies, University of Oxford

Description and purpose of the placement

I helped to scope out a large qualitative study into the lived experience of Temporary Accommodation in the UK, which is an underlying and lesser explored structural issue in Britain’s housing crisis. In 2004 Shelter conducted the largest qualitative study into TA ever conducted, and I was responsible for planning out and testing different methodologies for how to conduct that survey again in 2021 given all that has changed in the intervening years. Key issues I had to explore were how best to get the survey to respondents (would this be a paper survey, as in 2004, or digital?), how to ensure local authority support, and how to better involve service users in the methodology and data collection process so they felt fully represented and spoken for (and not simply spoken about). I conducted focus groups with service users and with local authorities, and contacted Shelter hubs around the UK to understand what the most pressing issues around TA were in each region. 

Setting up the placement

I cold emailed Shelter, St Mungo’s and Mind speculatively. Both St Mungo’s and Shelter responded to my email positively and after an interview with Shelter I felt they were the best option. It was their decision to get me to scope the TA project, as it was something they had wanted to do for many years but had not had the resources to do. They were therefore very grateful to have a funded researcher that could take on all of the work that the scoping process required.

My research is into mental health so I was interested in working with an NGO that had some link to that. I chose Shelter and St Mungo’s because housing is a structural issue that in the UK particularly compounds people’s mental health issues, but is a force that is not particularly well understood or explored as a psychological concern. I believe strongly that housing is a human right and that the impact of the government’s poor housing policy is written large on the bodies and psyches of hundreds of thousands of broken people

Benefits and challenge of the placement

Considering that this project was conducted in the pandemic, it was all done digitally. As such in terms of building long lasting relationships with people at the organization it was difficult because we had no physical contact and no opportunities to build rapport outside of completing the tasks of the project (i.e. no ability to get to know colleagues over coffees during break times or eating lunch together etc). Zoom is not especially conducive to relationship building. 

However, the project for Shelter was a success. My final task was to help write a funding application to ask for funds from Trust for London to be able to actualize the study in 2021. This funding application was successful, which means they will be able to conduct the largest survey into TA ever. This will be an extremely important report and hopefully have real policy implications going forward. 

This was the email that the head of research, Hilary Burkitt sent everyone upon hearing that the funding was successfully applied for: 

“And we’ve also just heard we’ve won the funding from Trust for London for the research into temporary accommodation. This provides us with an amazing opportunity update our evidence base on an issue that’s right at the heart of the housing emergency and one of the biggest pieces of research we have undertaken in years. Huge well done to Jenny, Hannah, Barclay and everyone else who has championed the idea and been involved in putting together a convincing bid.  So excited that we can do this!”

This shows that the research was clearly of value.

Advice for other researchers

Find a project that is important to you and make sure that you can show value. Be humble; although you are an ‘expert’ in whatever your field is, you are not an expert of the corporate culture or particular concerns of whatever group you are collaborating with are. Offer a set of tools to the organization but allow them to show you how they want them wielded. You will learn a lot.