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How Streetwise Opera is helping homeless adults

Streetwise Opera and the Sixteen’s The Passion. Photo: Matt Priestley Streetwise Opera and the Sixteen’s The Passion. Photo: Matt Priestley
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Streetwise Opera was founded in 2000 by Matthew Peacock, a former support worker at a London homeless centre, to give a voice to adults experiencing homelessness and help them rebuild their lives. Every production is a balancing act between the needs of the show and the needs of the cast.

“Behind the scenes we’re working very hard to take care of our performers,” Peacock says. “Essentially the charity exists for their benefit in increasing well-being and social inclusion. But at the same time we believe that if productions aren’t as good quality as they can be, then we’ve undermined what we’re trying to achieve in giving respect to people who have experienced homelessness. In all of our productions we try to aim for something that’s of equal artistic and social importance.”

As well as aiming for high production values with professional singers, creative team and technicians, pastoral care is also important. Streetwise workshop leaders are recruited carefully to ensure they have the skills and empathy to help people with a range of personal issues, but there are always professional support workers on hand as well.

Peacock describes the process. “The weekly workshops are run by two professional musicians who will be trained in this kind of work, including the best way of working with vulnerable adults to make them feel included, how to set up the room properly and how to structure vocal exercises so that everybody is contributing. But the other professional in the room is the support worker, who does all the pastoral care. So it’s a question of the right kind of training and then the right kind of partnerships.

“There’s less legislation around working with vulnerable adults as opposed to young people, but we follow the best-practice guidelines around duty of care, so we undertake risk assessments and we’ve got policies around safeguarding and how best to work with people who are vulnerable. We do a lot of training with our staff and also for other organisations.

“We want to be what John Bird, who founded The Big Issue, always said – a Rolls-Royce experience for homeless people,” says Peacock. “We see ourselves in artistic terms giving people an opportunity to be in a fully professional production that is as good as it can be, because we believe they deserve that.”

Streetwise runs weekly workshops in 10 homeless centres across England, working with around 500 people a year, and then puts on an opera production in a different city every two years.

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