Supporting people with lived experience
to change hearts and minds on poverty

25 October 2018 by Alana Avery

“With On Road Media, there’s a very different way of working. First of all, before even talking to a journalist, all of us people with lived experience of poverty have had time to build our own peer support network. We understand more how the media works and we’ve gained confidence to speak to journalists.” Patricia, an ATD Fourth World volunteer, speaking with On Road’s Alana in the House of Lords recently.

A spokesperson’s network with a difference

Our Talking About Poverty pilot programme, supported by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, began in January this year and supports a small group of people with lived experience of poverty to engage with the media on their own terms.

Coming mostly from JRF’s Poverty Truth Commissions across Scotland, Salford, Leeds, West Cheshire, as well as from organisations like Expert Citizens in Stoke-on-Trent, and ATD Fourth World in London, and building on their local campaigning – we bring a dozen people together once a month for media-focused peer support and media skills workshops.

Documentary filmmakers such as award-winning Jezza Neumann and Daisy-May Hudson have visited the group, to share learning on how the media works and their work on poverty with people with lived experience.

The group after a Cosmopolitan interaction

Karla, a member of our group told us:

“Journalists must have a difficult job dealing with listening to stories [and] not being able to do every story they hear, going home at the end of the day impacted by stories – wow – they must carry a whole load of emotion but have to control it.

So they are kind of like us; they want to highlight the issues of the world…they want viewers to feel what they see and hear and they get the extra worry of getting the story right or they get a bad name and judged as a journalist. Hats off to them for doing what not everyone dares to do.”

Interactions with journalists that shine a light on poverty

ATD Fourth World share The Roles We Play with Cosmopolitan journalists

Central to On Road’s work across all our projects is the work of moving journalists on an emotional and human level through conversation and mutual understanding. Since the project kicked off, we’ve been holding informal, friendly and off the record “interactions” with different groups of media professionals.

Each session is carefully tailored for the journalists and we support our group to share their expertise and stories focused on poverty and low incomes in their own way, and on their own terms.

Amina who has taken part in interactions with Cosmopolitan and the BBC said: 

“…the work we have been doing with ORM has definitely made me feel more confident with speaking to journalists.”

Others told us after interactions it was “good and encouraging to know that ideas are researched so well/thoroughly”, and they’ve benefited from learning how the media works:

Because of having [a] better idea of how they work [and] form content, I know that I can actually bring up ideas that can influence content.”

The aim of these interactions with senior media professionals is to change how we talk about poverty by giving journalists the chance to meet face to face with a diverse group of people who are feeling the impact of poverty in the UK on mental health, who know how benefit delays and sanctions are forcing people into destitution, who say it’s not right that 1 in 14 Britons are forced to use food banks, and who know what it’s like to feel the rising tide of in-work poverty.

After we met with Cosmopolitan magazine journalists, the Senior Digital Writer Cat Harvey-Jenner told us:

“The conversations sparked ideas that I can now explore in more depth – very thought-provoking.”

And a senior journalist from one of our meetings with the BBC said:

“The session reaffirmed that people should be at the heart of any story [we] cover – who better to tell these experiences!”

Tour of the BBC

Sparking positive media coverage

Lots of the outcomes of the interactions (features, documentaries, soaps) happen over the long term but we also get to support members of the network to take part in news coverage along the way. This month, we supported two members of the group to be interviewed about feeling “boxed in” by Universal Credit for Jackie Long at Channel 4 News and The Times.

Ros Wynne Jones covered the APLE Collective’s campaign in the Daily Mirror and spoke to a member of the group, who worked in a Job Centre when the new benefit system came in and then had to claim Universal Credit herself:

“It’s not better for people, it makes things worse,” she says. “I don’t think politicians would survive a week on Universal Credit, let alone a full year.”

For us, it’s not only about sparking positive mainstream media coverage, as vital as that it is but also supporting the group of experts by experience to create their own content. Throughout the week around the 17th October, groups across the UK were campaigning to #SolveUKPoverty and #EndPoverty.

Joining the #povertytakeover, our group released several short videos about what being locked in poverty looks like in the UK for 14 million people. Created during a mini digital skills workshop, they spoke about Universal Credit, post-industrialisation in Catrine, Scotland, food poverty, poverty in school, and questions for British society’s future.

Speaking in the House of Lords

On 17th October, the World Day for Overcoming Poverty, Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE hosted a panel discussion in Parliament about meaningful participation by people in poverty.  We joined ATD and other groups like Addressing Poverty with Lived Experience (APLE) Collective, to discuss our Talking About Poverty project.

“We all have friends in the group now…”

Our peer support group feel less alone in their local activism or campaigning now. They have opportunities to choose when is a good time for them to share their story; to think about their boundaries when working with journalists; and to understand why they’re sharing their expertise and to what gain.

We also help them to understand the needs of journalists, and how they work, whilst supporting them to never feel under pressure to always “tell their story”, helping them to practice telling the parts of their story they are comfortable with, and to know in themselves when and why they should share their personal experiences. This equips them with the tools to work with journalists, by knowing what to ask them in order to prepare for interviews and be supported throughout the process.

Why is this so important? Because the resilience they develop through On Road’s structure with peer support, self-care and opportunities to engage with the media, supports them in their daily lives, reducing isolation, building confidence and importantly, a community of activists that can work together to change the narratives around poverty in the UK. 

As Patricia said in the House of Lords so movingly:

“We all have friends in the group now. I like seeing the group regularly to catch up on what’s going on for the others. We encourage one another. We can keep our spirits up together when things are hard…”

The pilot with JRF continues into 2019. Find out more.