Employing People with Lived Experience of Multiple and Complex Needs

We would like the knowledge our toolkit contains to travel far and wide, making its way into the hearts and minds of organisations across the country, and for employers to recognise the benefits of employing people who have been through hardship and continue to fight for themselves.

A toolkit for employers

Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE) has been running for eight years.  Eight years is a long time.  Over the course of the project, a lot has changed.  We have tried, tested, adapted, won some, and lost some.  Through all this experimentation, we have learnt a lot about the ‘system’, and a lot about people.  As the project draws to a close, we want to share what we have learned along the way

A major feature of the FLSE project was its employment program, the purpose of which was to employ people with lived experience of multiple and complex needs (MCN) and support them through their recovery from a work-centred perspective.  Those employed were titled Project consultants (PC) and attached to the Service User Involvement (SUI) team.  Their lived experiences varied in combinations and intensities across the spectrums of substance misuse, mental health, repeat offending and homelessness, while their duties were similar, their skillsets differed.  Those occupying the role came from a variety of backgrounds, including but not limited to design, research, psychology, biological sciences. They were also tasked with mentoring lived experience volunteers whose experiences ranged from students to city workers.

In the eight years, the project has seen many lived experience team members come and go.  The majority successfully moved on to other employment, either directly from FLSE, or within six months of leaving the project, while others were not quite at the right stage of their recovery to complete their contract.  Throughout this time, the managers and supervisors have evolved their support practices as they’ve learned what helps (and what doesn’t help) staff with experiences of MCN.  More than that, they’ve helped those staff members to harness their own skills to drive systems change forward. 

Inclusive, supportive workplaces for all

In 2021, we decided to develop a toolkit aimed at employers to consolidate what we have learned about employing people with experience of MCN.  The more we discussed the idea, the larger in scope it became.  In essence, it is a guide to help organisations foster a culture where lived experience of MCN is not only supported but valued.  It’s about creating an inclusive, supportive workplace culture that benefits employers and employees, regardless of whether they have experience of MCN or are just going through a difficult time.  Our toolkit exists to support organisations in creating that culture by providing tools, approaches and practices that help them to help their employees thrive and be successful so that they, in turn, can give their best in their working roles.

So, what does that support look like?  Having seen 41 Project consultants pass through FLSE, all with different life experience, we have a wealth of knowledge to share.  Our toolkit distils down to the overarching support themes that – although written for people with lived experience of MCN – can be applied to all employees.  Its foundation is three principles: Psychologically Informed Environments, Co-production, and Trauma-informed Practice.  Together, these concepts underpin the way people work together, how they treat each other, and how the working environment respects and reflects the (sometimes) difficult life experiences of its employees.  On the surface, they are simple to understand, but require consideration when put into practice.  It is a culture-change, so that means staff need to be on board at all levels, and it takes time and diligence to overwrite old habits, thought processes, and ways of relating.  These three principles should be applied throughout the recruitment process, supervisions, and day-to-day working practice. 

The toolkit also highlights the benefits that people with these life experiences can bring to organisations and the people working within them.  The chances are high that there are multiple people in any organisation who have personal experience or know someone close to them who has experienced addiction, mental ill-health, offending behaviour, or has either been homeless or close to being homeless.  Having someone relate to these circumstances can help with feelings of isolation and shame.  This alone can build stronger, more trusting relationships, while reducing stigma and improving wellbeing within organisations and teams.

The British Medical Association reported in their July 2016 publication (that alcohol use is prevalent among those who work, more so than those who are unemployed, and that it is a growing concern for employers.  The Office for National Statistics reported on their website that in the UK in 2020, 11.6% of absences from work were due to mental ill-health.  Criminal behaviour is not uncommon in wider society.  Violence and substance use are daily occurrences.  These intertwined issues are not confined to people with MCN histories; they apply to people from all walks of life in any profession.  Although our toolkit is designed for supporting people who have combinations of adverse experiences, it can be just as useful for people who are struggling for a single reason.  

Sharing our knowledge

We would like the knowledge it contains to travel far and wide, making its way into the hearts and minds of organisations across the country, and for employers to recognise the benefits of employing people who have been through hardship and continue to fight for themselves.

If you are an employer and would like to discuss this further or have some support around employing people with lived experience of MCN and how to do it well, then please get in touch at the contact email below by 1st June 2022. We’d be more than happy to help!


Ian Harrison, Engagement and Co-production Worker

For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:

Andree Ralph, Co-production and Engagement Lead:


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Open letter to MP Maria Caulfield re. The ‘Women’s Health Strategy: Our Vision’

In 2021, the government called for input on the Women’s Health Strategy with the following key themes:

We fed into this consultation with experts by experience, front line workers, the service user engagement team as well as the systems change team.

In January 2022, the new Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy has been published and we are pleased to see a local Member of Parliament- MP Maria Caulfield, leading this initiative.

We now are keen to share our reflections on the recent Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England by publishing the letter we have sent to MP Maria Caulfield in response to the publication on the 7th March 2022. And we hope to get an opportunity to discuss this further.

Open letter from Fulfilling Lives South East to the ‘Women’s Health Strategy: Our Vision’ publication

Subject: Women’s Health Strategy: Our Vision 

Date: 07/03/2022

Kate Jones, Engagement and Co-production Worker
MichaelaRossmann, Systems Change Officer michaela.rossmann@sefulfillinglives.org.uk
Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead- rebecca.rieley@sefulfillinglives.org.uk

Sue Westwood, Expert by Experience
Victoria Hensley, Engagement and Co-production Worker
Contact details: Rebecca Rieley & Michaela Rossmann, Fulfilling Lives South East – BHT Sussex,144 London Road, Brighton, Sussex, BN1 4PH


Dear Maria Caulfield,

We are a local charitable project who are keen to share our reflections on the recent Women’s Health Strategy and are pleased to see a local Member of Parliament leading this initiative.


The Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE) Project started in 2014 and is funded until July 2022 by the National Lottery Community Fund, and operates in Brighton and Hove and East Sussex, as one of 12 projects across England. 

We are funded to:   

(a) provide intensive support for people experiencing multiple disadvantage,   

(b) involve people with lived experience of multiple disadvantage at all levels and,   

(c) challenge and change systems that negatively affect people facing multiple disadvantage.  

We have highlighted six themes that have arisen from our work to date and within each theme we have further identified several Commitments for Change – changes that we believe will help improve support systems and services for people with multiple and complex needs.    

One of our core themes of our  Manifesto for Change is addressing Health Inequalities. 


Multiple and complex needs (MCN) are persistent, problematic and interrelated health and social care needs which impact an individual’s life and their ability to function in society.  They are likely to include; repeat street homelessness, mental, psychological and physical health problems, drug and/or alcohol dependency, and offending behaviour. People with MCN are more likely to experience violence and abuse, including domestic violence, live in poverty and have experienced trauma in childhood and throughout their lives.


How we are feeding into the Women’s Health Strategy- Consultation: 

FLSE has fed into the open call for evidence for the Women’s Health Strategy as a collaboration between the Systems Change Team and the Service User Involvement team. Together, we have used case studies, experts by experience and data from our project to inform the below recommendations:

A) Women’s Voices:

FLSE would like to see the healthcare system change to a more inclusive, trauma informed and collaborative system, where women don’t feel stigmatised when seeing professionals. Ideally, specific women’s only spaces are created so that taboos (such as sex work) and re-traumatising experiences are minimised. We would also like to be given a choice of being seen by female professionals instead of male professionals.

Our experts by experience feel that being listened to by a professional is crucial, but there’s a difference between being listened to and actually being heard.

Women experiencing MCN feel underrepresented and sometimes ignored or belittled. There are currently lots of gaps and barriers when trying to provide a person-centred health service. 

In contrast to the 96.9% of women who shared their own experience via the online consultation, our client group also faces digital exclusion and we feel that their voice has been left out.

We are happy to see the acknowledgement of stigma and taboo in the new Vision document but we strongly feel that trauma informed training needs to be rolled out across the healthcare system, not only in connection with Violence Against Women and Girls specific services/aspects of the healthcare system.

B) Healthcare Policies and Services:

Our clients and experts by experience would like to see a more flexible appointment system and walk-in clinics for women experiencing MCN. One of our experts points out that ‘GP surgeries should ditch using Covid as an excuse for failing of health services. We need a new approach and start again.’ The real issue for our clients is accessibility. This can’t be overlooked. If you can’t get through the GP’s door, then health outcomes won’t be improved.

We appreciate that ‘Ensuring equitable access to services and reducing disparities in health outcomes’ between women is now on the government’s radar and geographic disparity and women with disabilities are mentioned.

We are, however, concerned that women experiencing MCN, or multiple disadvantages, have not been named as a population category itself. It is often difficult for our clients to make appointments with GP surgeries by a certain time and day, which is exacerbated by feelings of not deserving help. In our experience, especially in Eastbourne since the closure of the walk-in clinic, it is extremely difficult to get through to GP surgeries, and if so, many of our experts by experience report difficulties ‘getting past’ receptionists who can appear to act as gatekeepers.

We welcome the life course approach of the vision document but feel that links between services are missing, especially when it comes to some of the potential links between the Mental Health Act, Mental Capacity Act, the VAWG Strategy and the Women’s Health strategy. We would like to see resource being directed to link us these strategies at a national level.

Our recently published mortality report shows that our clients experience on average at least 7 long-term health conditions which can lead to early deaths. We need policies that are fit for purpose and interconnected. We also call for a joined-up approach between support services within primary and secondary healthcare but also the third sector.

C) Information and Education

In our experience, women experiencing MCN are linked in with a variety of systems and services: the prison system, alcohol and substance misuse services, adult social care, domestic abuse and the physical and mental health services. The one commonality though is women are left feeling that these systems operate in isolation and information is not being shared.

This is two-fold:

  • Information about the clients is not being shared across services effectively and our clients need to consistently repeat their stories which can be re-traumatising;
  • Health information is not being shared between services and systems. Trusted relationships, such as key workers, might be outside of the clinical healthcare system but are crucial to provide support, information and education to clients.

We appreciate that there is an acknowledgement of education and training for healthcare professionals on specific physical and mental health issues being needed in the Vision, but we would also like to see training on trauma informed approached and a less siloed approach between physical and mental health as well as the wider NHS services, adult social care and the third sector.

D) Health in the workplace

FLSE has employed a total of 41 individuals with lived experience of MCN, through its employment programme. You can read our findings from the employees’ perspective here and the employers’ point of view here.  

We would encourage greater attention on supporting the health and wellbeing of those with experiences of multiple and complex needs in the workplace and see this support as an enabling factor, helping people with lived experiences re-enter the workplace as well as supporting their health and wellbeing.

E) Research, evidence and data

Due to the high complexity of clients, we call for an open-ended, tailored and individualised approach. We believe that the healthcare system unfortunately is not always prepared to support women who experience multiple and complex needs or reach out and include them in research studies. FLSE would welcome a new, more collaborative and inclusive way of working to enhance the reach of research because historically women experiencing MCN have been under-represented in data and research.

Our project’s Research and Evaluation Officer has produced a toolkit to support researchers with practical advice and tips on applying the principles of trauma-informed practice to their research activities, specifically running focus groups, one-to-one interviews, and service observations. It is suitable for evaluators, researchers, service leads, commissioners, or anyone who would like to find out more about the experiences of people who may have been affected by trauma. This can be found here.


In our experience, the key to providing better healthcare to women experiencing MCN is accessibility and flexibility. This is also supported by the King’s Fund ‘Interventions to tackle health inequalities need to reflect the complexity of how health inequalities are created and perpetuated, otherwise they could be ineffective or even counterproductive.’

FLSE is based in Brighton and East Sussex which means that our clients have worse health outcomes due to coastal inequalities, than in other areas as explained by Chief Medical Officer Prof.Chris Whitty’s annual report 2021.

Nonetheless, we hope that our contribution to the call for evidence for the Women’s Health Strategy will contribute to a better system for women experiencing multiple and complex needs.

That is why our best hopes for the Women’s Health Strategy are that:

  • Multiple and complex needs is recognised as a population category in itself, alongside disabilities and minorities.
  • There is recognition that some of the listed priorities (such as gynaecological health) can be traumatising or re-traumatising for women who have experienced certain forms of abuse and women experiencing/who have experienced MCN. As a result, high quality trauma informed training needs to be provided to all healthcare staff (incl.GP receptionists) and that the training includes the voices of lived experience.
  • The different strategies (such as VAWG, Mental Health Act, Mental Capacity Act) are linked together and find a systemic way to collaborate more efficiently.
  • The life course approach to include social determinants of health, as well as more joined up working, so that we move away from a focus on singular health issues, towards more joined up approaches to complex health conditions such as coexisting conditions mental ill health and substance use.

With kind regards,

The Fulfilling Lives South East team


Michaela Rossmann, Systems Change Officer

Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead

For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:



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