There is a growing interest in the support sector to operate Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) and to adopt trauma informed practice, but this is hard to do. In this blog we reflect on Brighton & Hove City Council’s (BHCC) PIE journey that Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE) supported with experts in this field and what we learnt from the experience.
What sparks collaborations?
After conversations between the FLSE team and BHCC about changes to language and policy seemed to stall in the face of detailed revisions and large authorisation processes, the FLSE team decided to re-group and re-evaluate priorities. We reflected that we actually wanted to support larger-scale changes beyond the immediate policy in question and that we were passionate about encouraging PIE and trauma informed practices across the service.
We shared these reflections openly with the BHCC managers and this unlocked a different mode of conversation. We were able to discuss broader principles and values of the department and we found this was a much more open dialogue, welcomed by both ourselves and the BHCC team.
What happened in the journey – ‘How about a mystery shop?’
In a meeting that followed sharing our reflections, a volunteer said: ‘how about we do a mystery shop?’ He reassured the groups that this was a learning opportunity, with an established process which had been carried out in the Hastings Housing Department to support their service development too. The BHCC Managers embraced this opportunity and a month later we were training up volunteers to carry out a mystery shop and conduct environment assessments of the housing customer service centre.
To find out more about mystery shopping please read our toolkit here. The learning from these activities was shared at both a managers’ level and with the whole department. These meetings and presentations were co-produced and co-delivered with people who have lived experiences of multiple and complex needs (MCN) and we highlighted positives as well as areas we felt could be developed. Paired with this, BHCC housing managers made time for staff to reflect on the learning and share hopes and aspirations for the Department. They wanted staff to have space for de-brief and dialogue.
The BHCC Housing Department was starting to shape its vision and plans for the future using the learning from the mystery shop and environment assessment paired with staff feedback.
Following this, the Department reached out to Dr Peter Cockersell to support with staff training in PIE and trauma informed approaches. Peter is a leading expert in this field and one of the co-authors of the national guidance on PIE. Peter worked in collaboration with FLSE, partnering with volunteers and experts by experience to design the training which was then delivered by the team. This programme saw over 100 staff participate in training across the whole of the BHCC Housing Department.
Following this, in late 2020/early 2021, the Department released its revised strategy, which included a commitment to becoming a department that operates as a PIE.
Covid-19 has obviously put all housing departments under huge strains, and we hope that as the world takes steps to recover from the pandemic that the BHCC team can have space to revisit this work and time for non-crisis activity.
What impact did this have?
Having the mystery shopping exercise and environment assessment as the foundation for this partnership, centred the voice of lived experience and helped to shape BHCC’s plans for the future around the service-user.
One volunteer who was key to shaping FLSE’s involvement in the partnership shared their reflections on this work:
“So my interest in the work was to do with the fact that the first time I was homeless I went through the system, and it was decided that they had no duty of care. So I just wanted to see if the system had changed or not.
I do think that the majority of the staff [at the council] were very open minded. The few staff members who did object at first did eventually came around after we managed to convince them that the work was about testing the system and not them.
I don’t know about all the staff, but I do remember one lady who said that as a result of the mystery shops that she had re-evaluated the way she worked, and that after it, when she was meeting with people she made sure that she had some water and tissues in case they were needed.”
Based on the learning and values of the Project, there are golden threads that run through all of our systems change work. We share these below as useful starting point for anyone looking to spark or support a journey of change similar to the one we reflect on above.
- Drivers for change: At FLSE we have found it useful to reflect on and write down what drives all our efforts and partnership work. These are a useful reminder on a challenging day about why you do the work.
- Guiding principles: We have worked to certain values, principles and practices and this has helped shape what we do as much as how we do it. For FLSE, these have been:
- Trauma-informed practice
- Naming Multiple and Complex Needs (and multiple disadvantage)
- Using project management tools to guide activity
- Building trust: Making concerted efforts to build trust between all stakeholders who need to be involved in a PIE journey or further systems change activity is crucial. We’ve learnt that this is a bedrock of all good partnership working and when we have built trust effectively, this has led to the most impactful outcomes.
Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead
For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:
Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead:
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