And the winner is ... Groundswell

Wednesday, 25 May 2016 - 6:50am

Athol Hallé writes about the project that led to their win earlier this month at the Kings Fund GSK Impact Award 2016.

Groundswell accepting their award on the night. Photograph: The King's Fund

It is Groundswell’s 20th anniversary this year and we got quite some birthday present – being announced overall winner at the GSK Impact Award 2016, an award organised in partnership with The King’s Fund for charities improving health.

This was for our Homeless Health Peer Advocacy programme (HHPA) which supports people experiencing homelessness to access health services – and we would now like to find local partners to help replicate this service across the UK.

The Award is for UK charities working in health, with 10 finalists chosen from 400 applicants invited to a glitzy do. We all squirmed as our films were premiered on the IMAX screen at the Science Museum. It was our BAFTA moment when they called out Groundswell as the Overall Winner – acceptance speeches, photos, interviews. My colleague Gerry Dickson said: “I felt like a movie star for the night!”

The prize includes leadership development training, membership of a network of former winners and a £40,000 prize (unrestricted – gold dust!). To get there was a full on process – more akin to due diligence for a merger than a grant assessment, with polite interrogations of staff, trustees, volunteers and clients. 

Our ‘Award Winning’ (!) HHPA programme offers practical support to people experiencing homelessness to access healthcare. We run health promotion sessions in hostels and day centres and accompany clients to appointments with GPs, hospitals or any health provider. Crucially the work is delivered by volunteers who all have personal experience of homelessness themselves, who are able to make connections with people that some professionals consider ‘hard to reach.’

HHPA just works – it works for clients, with good health a vital prerequisite for anything else. It works for our volunteers – remarkably 37 of the 66 people who have finished being peer advocates have gone on to paid employment. It works for homelessness services, which can be overstretched and struggle to have staff available to accompany clients to essential appointments, with key workers often reporting that they are much abler to have a positive impact with clients that Groundswell peers are also supporting. It works for health staff – who appreciate the role of peer as intermediary, enabling them to do their often life-saving work. And it works for commissioners – a Young Foundation evaluation found 42% reduction in unplanned care activity costs.

Our aim is to make the HHPA service available to everyone who needs it across the UK – by partnering with local homeless service providers. We are working with International Centre for Social Franchising to develop a Social Franchise model which would bring together the vital knowledge and experience that Homeless Link members have of delivering services across England with our expertise in delivering HHPA.

The critical success factor for HHPA is the peers. They are the heart of the service. The training and support package we have honed is designed to enable people to both give and receive support – with people using their hard earned life experience to help others. Our 20 years has taught us that more than anything people need to be needed – and taking people to a potentially life-saving health appointment can be transformative.

HHPA began as a small pilot in 2010 and is now commissioned across 9 London boroughs. To date, it has delivered over 8,000 engagements.

We are in the early stages of expanding it further, but If you are interested in learning more about becoming a HHPA social franchise partner with us, please get in touch with our Director of Advocacy Kate Bowgett on

Talk To Us

Athol Hallé


Athol has worked with Groundswell since 2003, and as Chief Executive since 2006. He is a fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs and of the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship in Social Enterprise and Cross-Cultural Dialogue.

Twitter: @ItsGroundswell

Related articles