27 June 2016
It’s estimated that there are more than 100,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United Kingdom, and thousands more ‘hidden homeless’ sleeping rough. According to the Homelessness Monitor, a five-year study by academics from Heriot-Watt and York universities, one in 10 adults in England alone has experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, a fifth of them since 2010.
Homelessness is often preceded by major life events, such as the end of a relationship, unemployment or leaving an institutional setting. Many homeless people have also experienced trauma and abuse. Added to this can be social exclusion, with the general public fearing or not understanding the challenges faced by homeless people.
Some agencies working with homeless people focus on social inclusion to help them integrate back into society. In 2002, former homeless shelter support worker and opera critic Matt Peacock established Streetwise Opera in the UK, offering free weekly singing workshops to people who had experienced homelessness with professional singers teaching performance techniques.
Matt Peacock MBE
CEO, Streetwise Opera
The organisation also stages critically acclaimed opera productions where its participants star alongside professionals.
Group singing is at the core of Streetwise Opera and has been documented to improve wellbeing, boost the immune system, reduce anxiety and stress, help people cope with chronic pain and lessen depression and loneliness.
A meeting between Streetwise and the Macquarie Group Foundation in 2007 progressed to a long-term, multi-level partnership. This subsequently led to:
Macquarie staff and the Foundation have contributed £480,000 to Streetwise, as well as more than 1,000 volunteer hours and in-kind support worth in excess of £50,000.
The Macquarie Choir and the Streetwise Opera ensemble also performed together during Macquarie’s 2015 Foundation Week, raising over £700 in donations for Streetwise’s work.
From a one-man start-up idea, Streetwise Opera has grown into an award-winning organisation with worldwide recognition and a 15-strong staff team.
Weekly music programs are held in homeless centres and arts and community venues across England. Participants sing and act, with specially trained professional singers teaching performance techniques to boost confidence.
The organisation also stages critically acclaimed opera productions where its performers star alongside professionals. Productions have toured worldwide from New York to Beijing and at high-profile festivals, promoting more positive attitudes towards homeless people.
From the perspective of Streetwise participants:
Source: Streetwise Opera, March 2016
Photo credit: Alan Kerr