Images from our travelling exhibition…

Over the last year, the Feeling at Home exhibition has been travelling the country… here are some pictures from its journey.

Corridor wall with Feeling at Home introductory posters and 2 exhibited photographs and walls exhibition photos with 2 sofas in front, with colourful cushionsLots of colourful post-it notes with handwritten comments, for example, Music! Snuggling on the couch, I like my home to be quiet. There are also some stickers mixed in with the post-it notes of things you might find around the home. For example, a bath tub, a sofa, some plants.A pillar next an exhibition display. Someone has added crocheted hearts around the pillar.

Shalim Ali at OU conference collecting research award.

What is ‘personal impact’ in research? A spotlight on the experiences of our co-leaders and photovoice participants

In this blog, we share some of the fantastic personal impacts experienced by our co-leaders; B, Shalim and Stuart, and our photovoice participants; M and Oliver, due to their involvement in this project.

Stuart is smiling and standing in front of the feeling at home interactive board.

Impact in research

When we discuss ‘impact’, we can separate academic impact from non-academic impact. Academic impact refers to a research project’s impact within academia, for example, by publishing research papers, and adding to the knowledge within the academic community.

Non-academic impact refers to the impact of research in broader society. Impact has been defined as an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond academia. It is important that research benefits wider society, individuals, organisations, or even nations beyond the academic sphere, to achieve a meaningful and positive impact in the community.

We wanted to explore how our Feeling at Home study had improved aspects of our community, such as our skills, policies, and health.

Cartoon of a diverse group of people within a community standing together

The personal impacts of the Feeling at Home project

Here we share the positive, personal impacts that the Feeling at Home project has had for our co-leaders and photovoice participants, in their own words. These impacts have included gaining new skills, social networks, and knowledge, showing how research can impact individual people as well as communities.

B’s experience

B, who has lived experience of a learning disability, was one of the three co-leaders of our exhibitions and photovoice group. His role involved supporting people to use their cameras and facilitating the group sessions.

Has your role on the project led to any positive impact? If so, how?

B: Yes. It was the first job application I did, and my first interview. It helped me get my role as a volunteer with George Shearing Youth Club. I have more confidence with people and with helping people with learning disabilities like me. I have more confidence speaking in public (and I did this in the opening presentation at the Science Gallery). I have realised how lucky I am in my home and my support. I have met lovely new people and learned new things. I have also visited new places.

Stuart’s experience

Stuart, who has lived experience of a learning disability, was also one of the three co-leaders of our exhibitions and photovoice groups. His role involved taking photographs, supporting people with using their cameras and facilitating the group sessions.

Has your role on the project led to any positive impact? If so, how? 

Stuart: [I have learned] to take my time with the camera, sometimes my photos come out a bit blurred, so take my time a bit more. I also direct my own videos as well. Take my time with photos and figure out what to take photo wise. [It has] made me happier in myself. Used to be a bit down before but now I’m happy again. Through meeting people and having more things to do.

Shalim’s experience

Shalim is a Feeling at Home project research team member and an expert by experience, quality-checking residential living for the CQC. Shalim was also co-leader of a London photovoice group and taught individuals how to use photovoice methods to explore their ideas about home.

Has your role on the project led to any positive impact? If so, how? 

Shalim: Oh yeah, my Feeling at Home project has made so many connections with the group, the researchers, and I’m really grateful to be part of the researchers. Really handy. And I’m really, I’m really thankful that they’ve offered me to go to Finland in September. I just got my scholarship from Finland, so I’m really grateful to be part of that research and I’ve never gone to Finland.

You can keep up to date with Shalim’s activities by following Shalim’s blog.

Shalim happily collecting his award at the Open University conference.

Shalim Ali received the Alan Armstrong Memorial Prize at the Open University’s Social History of Learning Disabilities conference, 2023.


We also spoke to M and Oliver, who both participated in our photovoice groups. To learn more about the photovoice methodology, have a read of our blog post discussing what photovoice is.

M’s experience

Why did you join the Feeling at Home project?

I thought it would be interesting. Photography is something I didn’t really know how to do. The topic of home is interesting too. I didn’t really see this place as a home, but I suppose it is. It’s becoming a home now, but where I lived before was more of a home.

What have you got out of the project?

Loads of things! You know, I’ve learnt how to use the camera, I’ve learnt how to focus. It’s just been interesting… I didn’t like the fact my room was too small but I’m getting more organised in it now. The photography group gave me ideas about how to get the room sorted. I am getting myself a wardrobe.

Oliver’s experience

Oliver, who has lived experience of supported living got with the Feeling at Home project because he was keen to try something new and meet new people. Oliver also wanted to learn how to use a camera. He had never used a digital camera before – only on his mobile phone. He has been saving up for two years to go on holiday to Australia and is excited to use his camera and new photography skills there too.

What he got out of the project

As well as developing his photography skills, Oliver says he was interested to learn, “what helps me feel at home”. The project came at a good time for Oliver: as he plans his move into a new flat with a friend, he has been able to think about what is important to him in creating a homely place. For example, Oliver is passionate sports player and fan, and having his trophies in his room makes him feel at home – he is proud of his achievements. He also realised that he wanted to move somewhere that is close to his sporting interests and activities.


Visitors at the Brighton exhibition looking at photographs and chatting to Deborah and Tony.

Have you been a part of the Feeling at Home project or attended any of our exhibitions? If so, we would love to know about your experiences, and any impact the project has had for you; get in touch and let us know!

Take a look at our events page to see where the travelling Feeling at Home exhibition is next. Or to see the images online, visit our exhibitions page.

Two shopping trolleys, one purple and one pink next to each other on a wooden floor.
What we have learnt about home

In this blog, we would like to share the first look at our findings. We’ve read through the interviews, looked at the participants’ photos, and we’ve tried to write down the main things we’ve learnt. We’re calling these our insights.

The things we’ve learnt have led to more questions about how staff can help people with learning disabilities feel more at home… 


Moving in

When people were moved into a new home for reasons beyond their control it was hard for them to feel at home in their new place.  The feelings of loss and dislocation could last for some time.


Oh, so then the house closed down. So you didn’t want to leave that house? 
I didn’t want to. 
Were you happy there? 
Yes. It was my home. 
What made it feel like home? 
I was very comfortable. I was just happy there. You know, I had the freedom and everything.


How can we help people feel at home in a new home, and move on from mourning their old home?


Space and ownership

Homes have to work out how to give staff a space to do their work. Sometimes it can feel like they are ‘taking over’ communal spaces.

Having a staff office means that staff’s work is sometimes ‘out of sight’ and private. But this can mean that part of the home is out of bounds for residents.


Photo of poster on an office door which say in symbols and capital letters 'This office is staff only. Please knock and wait for staff to answer. Please move away from door.'

Woman sat at kitchen table in plain kitchen looking through a folder.


How can we deal with the tensions of the home being a workplace for staff at the same time as being a home for people living there?


Rules and routines

In homes where residents had more individualized support, they had more variety and spontaneity in their lives. For others, times for personal care and mealtimes depended on staff shift patterns, and any social events outside the home took a lot of planning.

Pin board covered with notices, leaflets, advice, letters, a mostly blank calendar. On a bright yellow wall.


I think we have a perception that all people with learning disabilities love routine when in reality maybe we love the routine of it all.


How can we make sure that rules and routines are really necessary and are for the benefit of the people living there?


Roles and responsibilities

Residents expressed a sense of pride when they talked about preparing food or cooking meals themselves. Some staff tried to involve residents in housework as well, but not all residents were keen to do this, and staff did not always have time to address this.

Some residents and staff had got used to a ‘hotel’ model of care, where staff took care of all domestic tasks.

Utility room, with washing machine, hoover, indoor clothes drier frame.


He will stand there when staff are cleaning his room for him, but he can’t do it, because all of them, even to do the wash, you have to … help them with everything.


How might we foster residents’ involvement in domestic tasks?



Ongoing connection through visits and phone calls was vital to residents and family members. However, staff did not always show that they understood the importance of this. Some family members were nervous about raising concerns about the support their relatives were receiving.


We have a routine we’re going to see him every Saturday afternoon now. But like we could just, we could just turn up if we want to.


I feel like the bad parent that always has to say, well, no, she’s not like that and people will always dismiss me…’you would say that because you’re a parent…and you’re just over concerned’.


How can we make sure that family members feel welcome and part of the life of the home?



Friendship, companionship and shared interests and activities with people they lived with was a crucial aspect of ‘feeling at home’ for residents.

Residents did not feel at home when they were picked on by people they lived with or could not trust them to respect their space or belongings.

Two shopping trolleys, one purple and one pink next to each other on a wooden floor.


How can we foster good relationships between residents and support them to resolve any interpersonal problems?


Self-expression and personal space

Residents’ bedrooms could be a haven of comfort and familiarity and be a place where they expressed their personality and interests.

Individuals with higher support needs did not always get the help they needed to make their bedrooms a space for self-expression.

Photo of bed with football bedcovers against a blue wall. There are shelves either side of the bed with lots of things on them.

Photo of bed with purple cover against a blue wall with one Spice Girls poster on it.


How can we make sure that residents’ bedrooms reflect their personality and interests?

Community and neighbourhood

Some residents, through their own efforts or with support from family and staff, really felt connected to their neighbourhood and the area where they live.

Others seemed to have little sense of connection to their neighbourhood and a few met with negative responses from their neighbours.


Do you ever talk to your neighbours here?
You don’t, no. Okay. All right. Do they know who you are? Do they know your name?
They don’t know who I am.


Looking out through net curtains on a window to a sunny street with buildings and cars.


How can we help residents and staff feel part of the local community?


What now?

We are now using these insights and questions to design a checklist and toolkit. We are doing this in our codesign group which is made up of care home staff, designers, experts by experience, researchers, family members and therapists. We’ll tell you more about this in the next blog post. We would love to know what you think about our insights – get in touch and let us know.

Shalim Ali: My work as a Quality Checker and Expert by Experience for Choice Support

Alongside his role as research team member of the Feeling at Home study, Shalim keeps himself busy as a DJ for Heart’n’Soul, a writer for Community Magazine, and a Quality Checker for Choice Support. Shalim has also previously worked as an Expert by Experience, contributing to Care Quality Commission’s inspections of housing and care services. Participants at our webinar last year had lots of questions for Shalim after co-presenting with Katy Brickley on Quality Checking in Social Care, so we thought it would be good to give people a chance to find out more about Shalim’s role. Here he speaks to Katy about his experiences….


Tell us a bit about what you do as an Expert by Experience. Can you describe your average day?


I’ll get a phone call from the admin team at Choice Support to ask if I’m available. Then they’ll give me a call to confirm the booking and send the information over. They also ring to book my tickets and tell me the location is and if it’s residential care homes or supported living, how many people are living there, and how many staff.


Then we’ll go into the questions in detail and then we’ll arrange a date and time to meet up with the PA who is supporting me on my check so we can go together to the home. We’ll have a discussion about who lives there and how long the inspection is going to be. We’ll also look at the last inspection to see if there are any changes. You have to look at that in case there are changes in management, care plans etc. We’re looking out for any indication of behaviour, contact with family members, how their homes are personalised, their rooms, the dining rooms, engaging with the other people who live there, looking at mess because that’s a big issue, repairs, looking at food and dietary requirements, weekly shopping.


We also oversee care aspects so looking at their files, asking the staff about updating files – which is a big thing – also looking at the training that staff are being offered, and also the staff ratio, and if it’s the same staff or if it’s bank staff. Lots of people that I’ve come across, say that their staff has changed. They’ve left or gone on long-term leave. The main issue with people who don’t like staff is how to make a complaint. A lot of people who are non-verbal, that’s people can’t express themselves, find it hard to make a complaint. That’s the challenging part. One of the questions we ask is about complaints. If you don’t like someone, if they’re verbally abusing you or mistreating you or controlling you, then you have the right to say something.


It’s a taboo question but I feel that a lot of people with learning disabilities or people who are non-verbal are still having to test the barriers. You have to make sure you’re not putting words in their mouths. And also, if you observe the manager, the way I look at it, they’ve got to have good communication skills, good listening skills, passionate about the job, motivated and keen to help the people to ensure they’re getting the right support.


How did you get into this work?

I moved to a Choice supported living home in 2016 and was living there for a couple of years. I now live in an independent living place. I didn’t know them as an organisation, but my housing manager introduced me to someone from Choice who told me about an Expert by Experience job. At the beginning I wasn’t planning to have this career, but I stuck with it, as I wanted to give something back and I’ve been doing it for 8 years now. I applied for it, did an interview, and got the job as I have a lot of experience working with people with disabilities and with mental health challenges. I was a CQC Expert by Experience, working alongside the inspectors. I learnt a lot from the inspectors, and I got support to do this. It was really interesting, I learnt how it was done. We had a set of questions that we went through. It was nice to get to know people. Now we don’t work alongside inspectors. I have a PA for every visit – they support us with travel, writing up the report. After the inspection, we go back do a brief summary, write up the report straight away while it’s fresh in our minds. This is important. It will take a couple of days to finish – it’s about 800 words on different topics. We have to reread it to check it and then we anonymise the reports so staff and residents can’t be identified.


What kind of places do you check?

Supported Living and Residential Care Homes. We have different experts checking different places… some experts check hospitals. I cover supported living because I have experience of living there. I’ve also worked checking elderly care homes. It was quite challenging emotionally which made it quite exhausting, especially as we were travelling quite far to the residence. I enjoyed going to see new places outside of London though.


How long does it take to do the quality check?

It takes a whole day! We tell the home managers what day we’ll visit, and they have to make sure staff are there to support residents. Sometimes I’ve been to places where staff are not around to support them. I find that really frustrating.


What is it like working with inspectors?

It’s really interesting. I pick up quite a lot with inspectors, they go through a brief summary before we go in. They talk me through it. And they’ll explain what they’re doing, the admin side of things. Then I look around the house – speaking to staff, clients, checking repairs are done, food etc. Inspectors wear quite formal clothes and I think it creates a barrier. It puts a lot of pressure on the staff. And also, a pressure on the residents… it’s not very relaxed. It’s so formal. They are suited and booted. It’s quite stressful for residents, I think. I don’t think it’s necessary to be so formal.


What do you find challenging about being a quality checker?

Sometimes I don’t feel very welcome when I come to the door. It can be very challenging. I want the staff and residents to engage with me. Staff sometimes think it’s their home and say I’m not allowed in certain areas. Sometimes the staff ignore me. I’m here to do the inspection, to do our jobs, trying to get the right service for these people.


What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

I’ve done some work in group homes and we’ve been really welcomed in some homes, asked to have tea and lunch. It makes me feel that the staff really do care about the people in those houses.


Shalim has recently published an article in his new column at Community Living magazine, You can keep up to date with his activities by following Shalim’s blog.


Six things we learnt from our photovoice groups

Are you writing a proposal for a photovoice or participatory photography research project with people with learning disabilities? Or just about to begin data collection? We have now come to end of our photovoice focus groups. It has been a wonderful but, without a doubt, challenging experience…

Through the photovoice groups, our participants explored what helped them feel at home where they live, and what got in the way of that. You can read more about the background of the project on  our website. We ran three groups, two in London and one Brighton, for 9 weeks. After the third session, we had a break of two weeks in which the group leaders visited each participant in their home and supported them to take photos. Each group had a group leader who was an expert by experience.

Participant and facilitator in photovoice group using communication aid, laughing.

What did we learn about the process of collecting data for a photovoice project? We put our heads together and came up with the following key tips. We hope they are of use!

1. Think about how to make the project accessible to your participants and experts by experience from the beginning

Running the Groups

Working with our Expert by Experience group leaders was key to understanding how our groups could be structured and how the information we shared could be presented accessibly. This included checking what kind of activities people find interesting and gauging how long each activity should last.


For one group, we produced an Easy Read PowerPoint presentation for each session. This was as much for group leaders to remember and follow what we had planned, as it was for the participants. This group had access to a large TV which each participant could easily see, so participants followed and engaged well with what we presented. It was particularly useful for one participant who had limited sight. We used these Easy Read PowerPoints particularly in the earlier sessions to talk about language we use to talk about images, and do group work around photo dialogue.


The other groups were happier using printed-out resources. For each group we had a set of colour A4 photos of a whole range of subjects, which we used to explain some key words we use to talk about images. These photos were collected from online photo banks such as We were keen to reflect the diversity of the groups, so we also sourced photos from In the later sessions, we also printed the participants’ photos in this large format, which they seemed to really appreciate.


We spent some time thinking about how some of the words we used to describe images (visual literacy) could be explained in an easier way, and compiled a glossary with images for each group. This was not meant to act as a strict definition, but rather be useful for participants who could read but also useful for group leaders to be able to explain easily and quickly what each term meant.



When it came to introducing the cameras to participants, we produced a simple Easy Read A5 pamphlet with key information about the camera. We chose a simple ‘point and click’ camera with a large viewing screen on the back. This was one of the simplest cameras on the market that we could find at the time. However, it still proved challenging for some participants. The ‘reviewing mode’ of the camera where participants could view the photos they had taken on their camera, seemed quite difficult for some participants to access. We spent some time going over this with people but sourced some bumpons from RNIB to make this button stand out on the camera and easier for people to press. Bumpons are small plastic adhesive buttons. In retrospect, it might have been a good idea to bring some sample cameras (including iPad and phone) to the first meeting with the participant where we could explore which one might be the easiest to use.


To reduce any work for participants and save time, we had already charged each camera, put in the memory card, added the hand strap, and changed the setting to ‘Simple Mode’. This setting was very helpful as it omitted all the extra text on the screen, which could be confusing. Although we spent some time getting used to the camera in the groups, it did take a few weeks for participants to feel comfortable taking photos, and some participants always needed support when using the camera. We gave each participant an Easy Read pamphlet to take home, where they could refer to the simplified instructions and images, perhaps with staff or family support.

2. Introduce the idea of the exhibition at the beginning

Although not all photovoice studies include an exhibition, for us, it was important to treat our participants’ work as art. As such, a key aspect of our project is the Feeling at Home exhibition, launched in Brighton in September, and then touring other venues culminating in a show in London. We see this as a fundamental way to engage the public, policymakers, housing organisations and others with the issue of homeliness in care homes and supported living accommodation – an issue which is often overlooked.

Although we lightly introduced the idea of the exhibition at the beginning, if we ran the project again, we would choose to spend longer exploring with participants what it means to exhibit work, what the goals are, and what we want exhibition visitors to think about. Many of our participants had never attended an exhibition before – something which had surprised us – and some participants were perhaps not sure by the end of the groups what an exhibition would entail. Having since spoken to other photovoice researchers about exhibitions, it seems a lack of familiarity with galleries, exhibitions, public displays is not unusual in participants. One approach to dealing with this is to have a trial exhibition within the group setting, or in a familiar environment. This allows participants to become familiar with the discourses and the cultural norms of exhibitions before faced with the real thing. And perhaps while doing so, it would provide an opportunity to think about how to make the exhibition accessible from the outset – for both visitors and the exhibitors. Producing accessible captions (this could be Braille, large print, Easy Read, audio for a combination of these), audio descriptions of images, images/works hung at a height that is accessible for wheelchair users, accessible exhibition introductory texts and images, and an array of accessible feedback mechanisms can take time and thought. Our co-facilitators, participants and advisory group members have been helpful in shaping these ideas through a continuous dialogue about what may be needed.  Shape Arts have written a very useful guide to give you ideas and resources in this area.

Related to this, is the need to consider the venue for the exhibition. Again, it was important the venue was accessible, could accommodate wheelchair users, was central and close to public transport. We also wanted to hold the exhibition in a place that already had a high footfall as encouraging people to attend an exhibition on a theme they are not already familiar with can be challenging. We are lucky enough to count Quiet Down There as creative partners, who, since the inception of the project, have been able to guide us expertly through the key issues of putting on an exhibition. This has included when, where and how to promote the exhibition, how to co-curate the exhibition (a whole new blog), how to work with local disability arts organisations and how to translate the exhibition into a travelling show to display at other venues.


3. Allow more time than you think!

We knew that many of our participants were putting other activities and interest groups on hold to join our Feeling at Home groups, and we were keen to retain participants’ enthusiasm for the project, so we planned the groups to be no longer than 10 sessions. We were conscious however that there was a lot to cover in sharing the photovoice method, including talking about what ‘home’ can mean, introducing visual grammar, practising camera skills, taking photos, and writing captions. I think all our group leaders felt that the groups could have gone on for longer, that participants were still keen to be involved, and that we could have facilitated further discussions around what a ‘homely’ place means.


Furthermore, some sessions were cancelled due to illness, train strikes, and travel disruption. Participants also missed the odd session due to GP appointments, forgetting, staffing issues. This put pressure on us to cover more in some sessions than we would have preferred to. So, our advice here would be to simply allow more weeks than you think is needed. This will also mean you have more time to build trust and get to know people’s communicative styles and access needs more. If you feel the group sessions are going well and to time, you could then have a break and spend time visiting people individually in their homes, if appropriate.


 4. Building trust 

We found that modelling the photovoice activities was helpful. For example, by bringing in photos of our own homes, displaying them to the groups and explaining how these photos showed things that helped us to feel at home and how they stopped us from feeling ‘at home’, in doing so expanding on what feeling at home meant to us as individuals. For example, a full shelf of cookbooks meant to one group leader that (finally) having space to cook from scratch meant that she had control over her food and nutrition, something she enjoyed. Home here meant agency and space to and time to do enjoyable activities.  Another image showed a sofa in front of a window looking onto a residential street. The facilitator explained that she was unable to fully relax as she felt exposed to onlookers unless the curtains were closed. Thus ‘home’ in this case meant being able to relax.

The group were then encouraged to respond to questions based on the SHoWed method. We had printed out some large print questions (which we had tried to simplify into an easier to read format) to prompt participants if they needed it. We then spent some time considering ‘what could we do about this situation?’. This proved effective, as participants made useful suggestions to the facilitator to make it more homely (get some nets up!). Sharing images of our homes – warts and all – enabled us to feel (to a certain extent) how it was to be a photovoice participant and to open up our home lives for inspection.

We tried to spend about ten minutes at the beginning of each session doing an ice breaker to build trust. These took a variety of different forms, from asking participants to pick a photo which told other group members how they felt that day, to simply saying what we did at the weekend, to choosing a song from Spotify – a particularly popular choice! Our sessions were then broken up into short 10–15-minute activities which helped everyone keep focused. We found that participants sometimes needed more prompting than we anticipated, perhaps due to feeling uncomfortable, so we explored working in different ways – in small groups, in pairs for example, and mixing up the groups and support staff. We also explored using written prompt question and breaking up tasks into smaller ones – so people could really focus. We tried to let people know what was planned for the group (sometimes this was shared in as an Easy Read agenda). This was helpful for both participants and group leaders and seemed to help people feel more at ease as they knew what was coming up. 

5. Good admin!

A few key administrative tasks were helpful to increase participation and avoid confusion. We found that people would sometimes forget to attend (perhaps because it was a temporary group or because breaks in the sessions understandably confused people). Group leaders got into the habit of reminding participants the evening before group sessions. We also tried to print out all the meeting dates and times on a flyer to take home, although these did change.

It is helpful to keep a record of how participants travel to the group and explore what support they will need, if any, from the facilitators. We found that some participants were independent travellers, and after a couple of sessions of travelling to the group with someone, were able to later travel on their own. Other participants had their own vehicles, while others were reliant on day service transport, which was sometimes delayed due to staff shortages, a particular issue for us due to Covid.

Often people need reminders that the group is on, will need support with taxis, directions for new staff etc.

It was also helpful to get into the habit of dealing with all data immediately after the group finished – uploading video or audio recordings, filing away any consent forms, uploading any images. Having three groups meant that we have a lot of data and information so keeping all the data together, safe, and findable has been key.


6. Making roles clear

We realised that spending some time at the beginning clearly explaining what role support staff should take would have been helpful. Some participants brought support staff with them, and we think initially support staff were confused by how they should interact in the group. The goal of the research is to hear from participants about their experiences: unfortunately, sometimes support staff became too involved and gave their opinion on how they thought the participant felt about home. Although that is of course also helpful to know (we also interviewed staff for the project), it was not the aim of these group sessions.

Therefore, we suggest really spending some time talking about this as group at the beginning, and perhaps adding this to the ground rules.

We hope our experiences have been helpful. It would be great to connect and hear how your research goes – feel free to get in touch!

photo of Stu at the Feeling at Home exhibition

Stu’s blog: my work with Feeling at Home

photo of Stu at the Feeling at Home exhibition

Stuart Leaney co-led the Brighton photovoice group, together with Tony Levitan, supporting our participants with learning disabilities to explore how they feel about their homes. Stu’s role as co-leader was really varied. He and Tony introduced the topic of homeliness through creative activities, supported people to talk about and describe images, and helped people to use the cameras. Finally, they visited each participant in their home to support them to take photos of things that helped them feel at home, and things that got in the way of it. Below, Stu tells Katy about how he got involved in the project…

I got involved in the Feeling at Home project through the Aldingbourne Trust. It’s a support service that helps people with learning disabilities get into work. I saw the Feeling at Home website and found Tony’s details – I spoke to Tony to chat about the role. A few days later I had the interview, I really enjoyed it. Tony called me and offered the job. I felt delighted and a bit overwhelmed at first. But then I spoke to my family about the job, and they helped me feel less overwhelmed. Tony and I met up at a café Nero and he signed me as a King’s College London staff member.

I really enjoyed teaching the participants to use the cameras, and to work as a team. And, seeing the finished article, the photos! I made new friends through the group too, and we still meet up now. I’ve had a brilliant time working with everybody. It was sometimes hard when everyone spoke at once, so we asked people to put their hands up and be respectful of each other. We said ‘one at a time’. Sometimes we’d have a one-to-one chat with participants to help them manage how to work together. I really enjoyed the sessions working with the artists, Quiet Down There. We worked in small groups and then came back together to share ideas about how the exhibition would look. We had different ideas so had to compromise and find something we all liked.

The exhibition looks great and has a really chilled out atmosphere. I have really enjoyed invigilating the exhibition. I just want to say thank you very much the opportunity.

Large yellow building

Living Memories: a project by OpenStoryTellers

Long Stay in Mendip

In thinking about our upcoming exhibition – a collection of photos of home-life by people with learning disabilities – we have recently revisited a wonderful project by OpenStoryTellers. A big thank you to them for sharing it with us.

The Living Memories project included a film and exhibition where they collected stories from former staff and residents of Norah Fry and Selwood long-stay institutions.

About fifty years ago, around 55 thousand people with learning disabilities lived in big institutions like these. They were called ‘mental handicap hospitals’ and were run by the NHS. Residents very often received very basic care, and were kept away from the rest of society.

In the 70s, attitudes began to change and slowly the ‘mental handicap hospitals’ closed down when community-based services were created.

It’s absolutely fascinating to hear and read these first hand accounts. Have a read of the exhibition leaflet: Long Stay in Mendip – Living Memories – an exhibition and watch the Youtube clip below.


Home is a verb

From time to time I get sent books written by other researchers to read and review for a research journal.  This can be a good chance to read something I might not otherwise have noticed and to read a whole book, instead of skimming online research articles. And I get to keep the book!


The book that I have reviewed is called ‘Ways of Home Making in Care for Later Life’.  It is edited by Bernike Pasveer, Oddgeir Synnes and Ingunn Moser.  The editors are based in The Netherlands and Norway, but the individual chapters are written by authors based in different countries worldwide.  The authors use different materials and research methods to think about the idea of ‘home’ in later life, including examining policy documents, looking at architectural plans, interviewing people and observing their lives, and using ‘autoethnography’ – using their own experiences with a situation or condition as the focus of their research.


The book focuses on older people’s lives, but there was a lot that resonated with the Feeling at Home study.  Here are the key ideas I took away from reading the book:


Home is a verb.

Home is not only a place, filled with things.  ‘Home’ comes about as a result of active home making.  Home making involves different people, relationships, actions and routines and is also shaped by laws, policies and systems.  In the Feeling at Home project, we have seen how residents with learning disabilities do home making by:

  • Putting on their preferred music and dancing to this together
  • Having a front door key
  • Having a space for hobbies (train set, art materials)
  • Receiving visits from family members


Home is something we hold in mind

The authors use the term ‘imaginary’ to describe commonly held ideas of home.  This does not mean something pretend or made up.  An ‘imaginary’ is something that a group of people have in mind as an ideal, ways of thinking about and talking about what home should be.  Even though we might not be able to exactly put into words what home means to each of us, we can tell stories from our own lives that evoke ‘home’ to our listeners.  Early on in the project we got together as the Feeling at Home research team to share images and stories about our own home lives.  We asked each other questions – ‘what homes have you lived in?’, ‘where do you feel most at home?’, ‘what gets in the way of feeling at home?’.


We have reflected a lot as a research team on what vision of home and expectations for home life we might share and the risk of imposing these on our participants. When I read the book I felt that the authors did not always consider how the cultural imaginary of home might be shaped by class, religion or ethnicity.  Some chapters in the book examine care homes and distinguish ‘home’ and ‘institution’ as opposing ‘imaginaries’.  As researchers we have been disturbed when our participants’ homes look or feel to us too much like a clinic or workplace, but can we assume that these distinctions have the same meaning for people living in group homes with staff support?  We hope to understand this better using Photovoice to let people with learning disabilities tell their stories of home through images as well as words.


Care, independence, and control

A number of articles in the book talk about ‘ageing in place’; the policy that older people remain in their own homes as their support needs increase, rather than moving to a care home.  The assumptions of ageing in place are that it upholds opportunities for older people to maintain choice and control in their homes – terms that often voiced by providers of residential support for people with learning disabilities as key principles for maintaining independence and autonomy of residents.  However, as the book authors point out, receiving care disrupts individual control over home making.


We have noticed in particular how receiving care in a group home can mean losing control over the way that times and routines are organized, as well as control over objects that came into their home and how they were used.  Residents taking part in our photovoice groups from one home have their last meal of the day together at 5pm as this fitted in with staff shifts and medication routines.  Our photovoice participants took photos of care artefacts that were closed off to residents – files of notes about them that they could not read, laptops and printers used by staff only.  Choosing these things to photograph seemed to us to hint at the residents’ curiosity about work practices of staff that were mysterious and unexplained.


If you can get hold of the book from your library I do recommend it.  It will be useful to researchers and practitioners, but there are interesting insights for all of us.  We might want to put off thinking, about how ageing with care in later life will work out in our own lives – this book however gave me a lot to reflect on.



What is photovoice?

Photovoice* is an important part of the Feeling at Home project. You might be wondering what it is all about.

The clue is in the name! Photovoice is a research method where people tell their stories, share their experiences and work towards improving their lives through photography.  This method was created by two researchers called Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris in the 1990s.  They were doing research with women in rural China and decided to use photography with their participants so that women could capture and reflect on key issues in their everyday lives.  Since then, photovoice has been used as a research method with many other groups who may struggle to get their voices heard by policy makers and in the political arena.

Photovoice — Frequently Asked Questions

Why use photography?

A key principle of photovoice is that ‘images teach’.  Photographs can show aspects of people’s everyday lives that are hidden or overlooked.  The person taking the photo can focus on what is important to them and document this for others to see and take note of.

Is photovoice suitable for people with learning disabilities?

Yes.  The approach works well with people who might otherwise struggle to use words to explain what is important to them.

Do participants get training to take photos?

Yes.  When people come together in photovoice groups the first few sessions focus on how to take photographs, understanding the ethics of taking photos in shared and public spaces and including people in photos.  We also practice ‘reading’ photographs – understanding how photographic techniques can be selected to tell a more impactful story, and reflecting on how photos can affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

What cameras do participants use?

We give each participant an easy to use ‘point and shoot’ digital camera.  This is theirs to keep.

How can people with higher support needs be involved in photovoice?

Some people might not be able to handle a camera on their own.  For them, taking photos will be more of a shared project with the person, a supporter and a researcher joining with the person, following their verbal and non-verbal indications of what they are interested in to guide decisions about what to photograph.

Photovoice is identified as ‘participatory action research’ (PAR).  What does this mean?

In our project the participants do not just take the photos and then hand them over to the academic researchers to make sense of.  The process of interpreting and making collective meaning from the photos is co-produced by the participants and the researchers in a collaborative process in the photovoice groups.  The focus is on identifying the participants’ priorities for change – deciding what elements shown in the photographs need to be improved.

How can photovoice projects influence policy and practice?

An important part of the Feeling at Home project will be a public exhibition of the participants’ photos. Participants will decide on a caption for each of their photos to help viewers understand what the photograph means.  We will invite policy makers, practitioners, and other service users and their supporters to the exhibition which will also be open to the public and will travel to other sites around the country.  The power of the exhibition will be the way it provides a view into the everyday living environments of people with learning disabilities – spaces that are usually ‘hidden’ behind closed doors. People who come to the exhibition will have the opportunity to add their own responses to what they see and think about what changes need to be made.

In our project the outputs from the photovoice groups and exhibition will be resources for residential support staff and policy makers to help them bring about the changes that our participants want to see in their lives.

How can I find out more about photovoice?

We will be completing a review of research that has used photovoice with people with learning disabilities as part of the Feeling at Home project.  You can find a list of photovoice research articles in the Resources section, but a great place to start is this article by Linda Liebenberg.  If you want to talk to us about your own photovoice project, please get in touch!

*In this blog I am talking about photovoice, which is a research method increasingly used in health and social care research.  I would like to distinguish this method from the trademarked name used by the PhotoVoice charity ( which provides training and undertakes community projects using this approach.  They are a fantastic organisation and we are very grateful for the training and advice they have provided to the Feeling at Home research team.

Would you like to take part in the Feeling at Home research project?

Our Feeling at Home project examines what helps adults with learning disabilities living together with other group home residents to feel at home where they live. We will use a participatory photography method called Photovoice. This makes it easier for people with learning disabilities to let us know through photos and captions what makes them feel at home where they live. And also what gets in the way of this. We will have a public exhibition of the photos to share the messages of the research.

Have a look around our website for more information about the project

Who can take part in the research?

  • Residents with learning disabilities in London and Brighton: If a resident wants to take part, we will give them cameras and help them take photos in their homes. We will talk about the photos together in a group and plan the exhibition together.
  • Resident support staff: We also want to interview support staff about this topic.
  • Family members of people with learning disabilities living with other group home residents: We want to talk to parents, siblings, and others to hear their views about what they think helps their relative feel ‘at home’.

Please share this blog post through your organisation and with your networks, and anyone you think might be interested in taking part in the research.

What to do next?

If you would like to take part or know residents or staff or relatives who might be interested:

  • Contact us directly for more information.
  • We can come and talk to staff teams or residents individually or in a group.
  • You can share our participant information videos. These are in Easy Read format and help explain each step of the research.


For any questions, contact Katy email or phone 07791 071850.