Lockdown Life – bringing people together to tell stories for change

Over the course of Lockdown, we have worked with Z2K to bring together people with experience of Universal Credit and the Private Rented Sector (PRS) using online groups to counter some of the isolation of Lockdown and give voice to their views on what Life After Lockdown should look like. In this guest blog Rose Bernstein, Z2K's Tenants Voice and Campaigns Officer talks about the workshops, stories and their campaign.

When Covid-19 descended on the country and lockdown began, for many of Z2K’s clients this was a moment of crisis. Landlords issued eviction notices just in case, many people experienced delays claiming benefits for the first time, or in receiving decisions relating to existing awards, and those with health conditions suddenly found they couldn’t go out but deliveries were impossible to get, and foodbanks became overwhelmed.

In London, relying on Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to live in the private renting sector (PRS) frequently means taking a flat at or just above Local Housing Allowance rates, which for many people is a tiny, isolated room far from family and friends. During lockdown, when you can’t go out, this tiny room with a hob by the bed, becomes the entirety of your world.

As part of our Tenants Voice project funded by Nationwide Foundation, we’ve been working with clients who have been through homelessness and are now housed in the PRS. As individuals and in groups we’ve been looking at the issues they face and what would need to change to make their lives better. We took Lockdown as an opportunity to bring this together with our policy work on Universal Credit, while using these online groups as a way to counter some of that isolation people were feeling.

We brought in Jude from sounddelivery, to train us and our group on how to tell their stories online, and campaign for change. Jude had only run one training workshop online at the time, and Z2K hadn’t run groups that way at all, so we weren’t sure how it would go: at the start, we had to teach many people (including ourselves!) how to use Zoom. It was a balance between the increased convenience of joining a group from inside your home, and the difficulty of taking part for those unused to the technology.

Despite this, over lockdown Jude has run an amazing set of sessions with a total of 12 people attending across 3 months, training participants in using your phone and social media to tell stories including through:

  • video for the web
  • podcasting and audio storytelling
  • social media reporting
  • blogging and writing
  • storytelling through social media

For us this was an opportunity to amplify the voices of the people we work with directly. And it soon became clear that they had strong ideas about what the problems are and what needs to change to get better. As a result, the group put together a project looking at what Life after Lockdown should look like – developing their own material and bringing together Z2K’s policy experience with their own in-depth knowledge of the system.

Aisha, who took part in the project, found that Lockdown “has been hard”, particularly not seeing people. Mario too, says that “In the beginning it was a struggle with everything”. For Aisha, the online group has been a way to counter the isolation: “It helped me get connected with people again”.

Others, like Abeo, found that meeting people in a similar position enables you to see that “You’re not just the only one going through it… other people are just like yourself and going through the same thing you’re going through”.  Coming together as a groups helps all of us to see that the issues individuals are facing are part of a systemic problem, and one that we can fight together to fix.

The project that we developed out of the group has been focused around participants sharing their experiences, because as Jim says, “to share our lived experiences is the most important way for others to understand the situation you live in”.

Mario sums it up perfectly when he says, “people have different stories, but through their stories people might be touched and feel there is still hope for us to move on. No condition is permanent.”

At Z2K, this takes our efforts to put our clients at the heart of our campaigning on UC and PRS to the next level – we will carry on working with our clients to campaign for change in Universal Credit and the Private Rental Sector. We will continue to hold the Government to account to ensure those we work with and beyond can live with the dignity and respect they are entitled to.

About the Author:
Rose Bernstein is the Tenants Voice and Campaigns Officer at Z2K. Z2K is a charity addressing poverty in London caused by unfairness in the legal, welfare benefits and housing systems. They use evidence from their casework to campaign for change. This project has been possible thanks to their Tenants Voice project supported by Nationwide Foundation.

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