Skills sharing

Giving a voice to the homeless in UK

Streetwise Opera participants and Macquarie team members.

4 June 2020

Sometimes a single sentence can change lives.

When opera critic and support worker Matt Peacock read the quote, ‘homeless people are the people that you step over coming out of the opera house’ from a politician, it ignited a discussion with the people he supported at a homeless shelter. What if people affected by homelessness were in an opera? Would it challenge perception and attitudes towards them?

Matt decided to find out. Working with residents of The Passage, a homeless shelter he regularly volunteered at, he produced The Little Prince at the Royal Opera House to public acclaim.

And Streetwise Opera was born. Since 2002 it has offered weekly music workshops, developing into a program working with thousands in five cities across the UK – and has staged numerous critically acclaimed opera productions.

“People who are or have been homeless are often socially isolated,” says Bridget Rennie, Co-Executive Director at Streetwise Opera. “The creative arts are a positive way to build confidence and skills, and become part of a supportive community - improving wellbeing and building social networks.”

Macquarie has supported Streetwise Opera for over 12 years through grant funding, pro bono work and mentoring programs. In 2014 it launched the Director Program, where Macquarie Associate Directors work with Streetwise Opera participants through a series of facilitated creative workshops.

“Through the program, the Directors deal with skills disparities and challenging interpersonal situations, working with people who do not 'have' to listen to them. This builds leadership skills around collaboration and building influence,” says Bridget.

Streetwise Opera participants are also building skills: teamwork, project management and IT, as well as their creative and performance ability.

Andy Wiley, Associate Director at Macquarie in London says, “It was an opportunity to do something totally different. A chance to closely interact with people that I would not come across in everyday life. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to think about different ways to get ideas from a diverse group of people in a very foreign subject, and to then get their buy-in to a creative outcome,” he says.

Beyond the Director Program, the Macquarie Group Foundation has been supporting Streetwise Opera for 12 years through its grant funding, staff volunteering and fundraising.

The Foundation is the principal corporate funder for With One Voice, an international arts and homeless movement which was incubated by Streetwise Opera for several years before being established as an independent organisation in 2019.

Rachel Engel, regional director for the Macquarie Group Foundation in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and Trustee of Streetwise Opera, shares:

“Over the last decade we have focused on building capacity within the organisation and helping Macquarie staff to contribute through skilled volunteering, such as some of the technology team providing advice for Streetwise Opera as they moved server and developed their approach to desktop computing. Building the Director Program with the team at Streetwise Opera has been another amazing project and transformative for both Macquarie staff and Streetwise Opera participants.”

The Foundation’s grant funding has contributed to Streetwise Opera’s core services, supporting the organisation to grow and reach over 600 people affected by homelessness each year.

The Director Program has far-reaching benefits. To date 39 Macquarie Associate Directors have supported 50 Streetwise Opera participants through the program. “For some people, developing the confidence to attend regular sessions is a huge achievement. Others embark on college courses or develop small businesses,” Bridget says. “But importantly, the program helps reduce the stigma of homelessness and demonstrates the skills and values that people affected by homelessness can bring.”