Streetwise Opera

Streetwise Opera logo

Streetwise Opera uses music to help people make positive changes in their lives. Working with people who have experienced homelessness and other members of the community, we run workshop programmes across England and stage critically-acclaimed operas.

The aim of our work is to increase participants’ physical and emotional wellbeing and increase social inclusion.
Funding sources: Big Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, Macquarie Group Foundation, various private trusts and foundations, individual donors and fundraising events.

We currently work in London, Nottingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Middlesbrough, in homeless centres and arts venues.
The charity was founded in 2002 and last year we delivered 451 singing and acting workshops between April 2015 and March 2016, involving over 700 participants.

Workshops run on a weekly basis year-round in homeless centres. Our community-based programmes have a termly structure with breaks for summer, Christmas and Easter.

Description of the arts activity

Streetwise Opera run participatory singing and acting workshops. Content includes musical material from operas including newly commissioned works.

Participants are supported to join in as and when they wish.
We are ambitious in our work and place high expectations on our participants, supporting them to develop their singing and acting and deliver high-quality performances.

Details of the project participants

Streetwise Opera works with people who are or have experienced homelessness and other members of the community.
Data from the year 2015-16 shows that many of these people were experiencing or moving on from considerable challenges in their lives:

  • over three-quarters were experiencing or had previously experienced mental health issues
  • over a third were, or had been affected by a learning difficulty or disability
  • over two-thirds were affected by substance misuse issues
  • 11% were, or had been, asylum seekers or refugees or had experienced other immigration issues

Our workshops are advertised in homeless centres and people often hear about us from staff working in those centres or by word of mouth.

Project management

We have a team of freelance workshop leaders who are trained in participatory music facilitation and are all highly skilled singers and musicians. They are managed by our artistic director. In workshops, workshop leaders are also supported by a team of freelance support workers who help ensure participants’ wellbeing during the sessions.

Workshops are co-ordinated by a team of regional co-ordinators who are all based in the different regions Streetwise Opera work in. They are headed up by a Programme Producer.

We hold annual internal and external training days for workshop leaders. These events help ensure quality across our programme as well as helping develop practice within our own work as well as with others working in participatory arts.

We also work with a range of partners including Crisis, Sage Gateshead & English National Opera.
Workshops are free to participants.

All workshop leaders and support workers are DBS checked and we have a Safeguarding policy.

We collect media consent from participants to allow us to use photos of them and for them to be interviewed by the press.

Evaluation methods and findings

In 2014 we created a new evaluation framework that built on and improved our existing methods.

The evaluation of our work involves a range of methods to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. Monitoring data is collected through a range of tools including forms to gather baseline data and progress reviews which track change over time.
In addition, we carry out annual focus groups with all groups to provide opportunities for performers to describe how they feel about taking part in our groups and how this helps them.

Our data is further supplemented by feedback collected from workshop leaders, support workers and partner centres. This is particularly important as the challenges faced by the people we work with mean that many may not be aware of the progress they have made.

Findings: Based on the feedback from participants who completed monitoring forms and took part in focus groups, and supported by data provided by our staff as well as by other agencies, it is clear that as a result of our work, many performers have experienced improvements in their general well-being and have become more socially included.

Key indicators of improved wellbeing include:

  • 95% felt their mental health had improved (n = 44)
  • 85% had increased or maintained their self-confidence (n = 85)
  • 85% had improved or maintained how positive they felt about the future (n = 60)
  • 82% felt that attending Streetwise Opera sessions had helped them feel healthier (n = 38)

Key indicators of increased social inclusion:

  • 92% had increased or maintained their sense of belonging (n = 58)
  • 93% had made new friends at Streetwise Opera (n = 87)
  • 66% had increased their engagement in other activities, particularly cultural and social activities (n = 58)
  • 55% felt that Streetwise Opera had helped bring them closer to their family or friends (n = 56).

This year we have seen that these outcomes have enabled performers to achieve further significant positive changes in their lives. During 2015-16:

  • 97% of Explore performers maintained or moved into stable accommodation (n = 62)
  • 32% started or sustained their volunteering (n = 31)
  • 17% remained in paid employment (n = 48)
  • 13% started paid employment (n = 48)

Although there are limitations to our methodologies, we are confident that our evaluation demonstrates the considerable positive impact our work is having on the lives of the people who take part in it.
Quotes from participants in focus groups:

“I've had significant mental health problems in the last few years…but doing this has helped me more than all those NHS professionals ever, ever, could.”

“I came with serious trauma… By coming to Streetwise Opera, singing, and doing workshops it has transformed my life.”

Our impact is represented in our evaluation tree which is available to view and download on our website along with our theory of change:
A full impact report of our work from April 2015 – March 2016 is available at request. We would also be happy to share our evaluation framework.

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England