Evaluators' experiences on our Employment Project

The McPin team share their thoughts and experiences working on the project to improve employment outcomes for the Black people in Lambeth, living with long-term conditions

Faith Amasowomwan, Davino Beckford and Achille Crawford are Lived Experience Peer Researchers from the McPin Foundation; a mental health research charity which champions the involvement of people with relevant lived experience in research.

They are members of the Black Thrive Lambeth Employment Project Working Group, as well as peer evaluators of the overall project.

Existing disparities exacerbated by the pandemic

Early last year the coronavirus pandemic changed the course of not only the year itself but also the future to come. One of the many impacts it has had is on employment. Many businesses have struggled to cope during the coronavirus and people have lost their jobs, with some being forced to work in environments that are detrimental to their mental and physical health.

Although Covid-19 may be new, Black people have been experiencing the negative sides of employment, such as higher rates of unemployment and being more likely to be in low-paid and dangerous work, for a long time now. The pandemic has only escalated this. To address the disparities in employment that Black people, particularly those with long-term mental and physical health conditions face, Black Thrive Lambeth established the Employment Project. 

Faith Amasowomwan is a Peer Researcher for McPin.

Why the Black Thrive Lambeth project means so much to us?

When we were introduced to Black Thrive Lambeth’s Employment Project, it really resonated with us as Lived Experience Researchers – so, researchers who have relevant personal experience of the subject matter. Not only would it offer us the opportunity to give back to the Black community, but it also meant a lot to us personally. At many points in our lives, we had all experienced situations where the outcomes of the project would have benefited us.

The primary focus of this project is to improve employment outcomes for Black people with long-term physical and mental health conditions in Lambeth. The idea of this is that people that fall within this group will be no less likely to be in employment than anyone else, including their White counterparts.

The project takes a community-led approach, collaborating with statutory bodies and local organisations to achieve justice by making changes to local systems, such as healthcare, education, employment, and local government.

Our organisation, the McPin Foundation, is one of the partners on the Employment Project. One aspect of our involvement was to carry out a study to investigate how the pandemic was affecting Black residents of Lambeth. We, as Community Peer and Lived Experience Researchers at McPin, partnered with The Social Innovation Partnership to draw on our personal social connections and interview our peers in the Lambeth community.

For some of us it was our first proper stab at qualitative research and interviewing research participants. Qualitative research is the collection and analysis of data from open-ended and conversational communication, rather than looking at numbers and statistics.

The importance of using Community Peer Researchers

The idea behind using Community Peer Researchers, instead of conducting the research in a traditional way, was that we believed we could get more accurate and useful information by using researchers who were from the community they were researching.

A big reason for this was that, from our own lived experiences, we knew that there was a large distrust in the Black community of research, as well as stigma around unemployment and disability. The method of recruiting through existing contacts is called “snowballing”. This method is more likely to put interviewees at ease as a shared connection helps create a strong rapport and sense of trust.

The research we performed over the summer of 2020 allowed us to really find out what the community believes are the barriers to them gaining meaningful employment, and how individuals cope with the stress of the drastic change in lifestyle the virus has created.

It also raised new questions about what Black Lambeth communities will look like after the pandemic has been resolved and how, rather than retuning to the norm, we can rebuild a better system with more support and opportunities for gainful employment for Black people.

Involving the community in funding allocation

The data we collected was put into a report and fed back to the project’s Working Group, which consists of the Black Thrive Employment Project Co-ordinators, Community and Peer Researchers, members of the community and other key stakeholders.

Together, we used our lived experience of being Black and managing physical or mental health conditions, community expertise and systems knowledge to distribute grant funds to smaller projects within the community.

This side of the project is community-led, as members of the Working Group come together to decide how to allocate a pot of £300,000 to individuals and organisations delivering projects that have the potential to improve employment outcomes for Black people with long-term health conditions.

The benefits and challenges of having dual roles

Alongside community research and being active members of the Working Group, we are also evaluators working on the Developmental Evaluation.

The aim of the Developmental Evaluation is to enable the project to proactively address any challenges as they arise, as well as place additional resources and focus onto things that are proving successful. For example, through collecting survey data, we discovered that some Working Group members found it difficult to interject in online meetings and therefore couldn’t get their point across. We fed this back and, as a group, we decided to make changes to the facilitation style, placing more emphasis on the chat and ‘raise hand’ features available on Zoom.

Everyone involved in the Black Thrive Lambeth Employment Project has personal experience or connection with the project topics, so it is an incredibly intimate space. Often, when people are so closely connected with a project, it can be especially uncomfortable for them to have an ‘outsider’ come in to observe and infiltrate their space.

In a way, this is what the Developmental Evaluation team does. We sit ‘outside’ the project team and are required to evaluate how the project team is working. Because of this, we are very proactive about making changes to accommodate the impact that our multiple roles may have on others.

However, similar to the interviews we conducted in the community, being a part of both the Developmental Evaluation team and the project team means that we can be seen as less of an ‘outsider’ as we have an already established relationship. This sometimes allows us to get more in-depth information from people, enabling us to make more relevant and meaningful assessments and recommendations, as part of our evaluation feedback to the project team. For those that see us as ‘outside’ the group though, it can also have the opposite effect.

Carrying the Employment Project into future work

As you can tell, we have had massive involvement in the Employment Project. All the new learning as we immerse ourselves has been intense, but it has also been exciting and invigorating. Not only do we feel that we are doing purposeful and progressive work in our communities, we are also gaining valuable work, life experiences, skills and networks in these roles to become well-rounded peer researchers.

We are excited to see the outcomes of the project in a year’s time, and hope to carry a little piece of the Black Thrive Lambeth Employment Project into all our future work.

Written by: Faith Amasowomwan, Davino Beckford & Achille Crawford