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Background information and research - by Joe Christie (edited by Sue Williamson)




Tang Hall SMART has been working with people who have come from a background of homelessness, and/or are struggling with addiction since 2015. During that time, there have been 4 consecutive employability programmes (funded by ESF, Igen and Joseph Rowntree’s), and staff have developed their understanding of just how important it is to be patient, to refrain from judgement, to provide a structure made up of high-quality activities, and to work alongside participants to enable a strong sense of connectivity.

Tang Hall SMART has also specialised in working with young people and adults who have learning disabilities. Through a variety of courses, clubs and classes, they have enabled young people with learning disabilities to attain qualifications, and to train for a variety of job roles.

This document explores these two specialist areas in a little more depth, not just explaining Tang Hall Smart’s work and approach to homelessness and learning disability, but also delving into the research in each area.





The following research round-up and case studies will provide some evidence of Tang Hall Smart’s success in this area, showing what connectivity and the right support can do to help change people’s lives for the better.

Below is a quote from Shelter, describing the homelessness situation in England, as of December 2021:

‘More than 274,000 people are homeless in England right now, including 126,000 children, according to new research published by Shelter today. Shelter’s detailed analysis of official rough-sleeping and temporary accommodation figures shows that one in every 206 people in England are currently without a home. Of these, 2,700 people are sleeping rough on any given night, nearly 15,000 single people in direct access hostels and nearly 250,000 people are living in temporary accommodation – most of whom are families’ (Shelter, 2021).

In the introduction of ‘Homelessness and Mental Health’ the editors highlighted the figures which show that ‘20-25% of homeless people have psychiatric problems’ and that ‘homeless individuals have a higher incidence of drug and alcohol use’ (Mauricio Castadelli-maia et. al, 2022). They also emphasise that ‘rates of psychiatric disorders are shown  to be consistently higher in homeless individuals, although in some cases, psychiatric illnesses may lead to homelessness’ (ibid, 2022).

Underlining the importance of interventions on homeless youth, the section of the book on ‘Special Groups’ states ‘because HY [homeless Youth] are particularly at risk of academic derailment and social disaffiliation, homelessness can have a profound effect on their overall life trajectory and the importance of rapid interventions cannot be overstressed’.    

   According to, there were:

‘275,896 adults in contact with drug and alcohol services between April 2020 and March 2021. This is a small rise compared to the previous year (270,705). The number of adults entering treatment in 2020 to 2021 was 130,490, which is similar to the previous year’s figure (132,124). The number of people entering treatment continues to be relatively stable after falling steadily since 2013 to 2014.’ states there are many people who have addiction and are in treatment for it, also have housing issues as it describes ‘Over one-sixth (17%, or 22,493) of adults entering treatment last year said they had a housing problem’.

 Our view at Tang Hall Smart is that it is very important indeed to provide the correct blend of challenge and support to help people get back on track, into employability and help them recover. We focus on access and engagement in the first stages, believing that participating in music and the arts for example, has a real impact on mental health. The second stage is to provide a structured activities programme, individualised to suit the participant’s needs and interests. We have found that ‘connectivity’ is very important, which is backed up by Harrison:




‘In general, the more social connectivity is experienced by individuals within a group of people, the lower their levels of addiction tend to be; less social connectivity associates with greater likelihoods and realities of being addicted’ (Harrison, 2019).

Identity is another highly significant theme, and once a person starts seeing themselves as capable of ‘work’ and employment goals seem achievable, real shifts in culture can happen. According to Ficken, having a job can have a positive impact on an addict's recovery as he states in his chapter on relapse prevention:

‘The structure of having a working environment, including having a stable income to live on, seems to help clients resist slipping into past, negative behaviors. Especially in early recovery, structure of any kind in a person’s day-to-day life appears to strengthen resolve, and adds to a feeling of accomplishment and self worth’ (Ficken, 2010).

This is something we have come across ourselves in our case-study work.  Neil for example states how the structure and routine of having paid work really ‘helped’ him and gave him ‘purpose’ by ‘doing something meaningful’. Lucy also backs up this point as she says her life has ‘transformed’ due to working at Tang Hall SMART, emphasising her appreciation by stating ‘I wouldn’t be where I am now… if it wasn’t for Tang Hall SMART’.

Case studies of homelessness into employment


Tang Hall SMART visited Neil in a homeless hostel for a workshop as part of their outreach programme, in 2015. Those leading the workshop came to Neil after 5 years being homeless (in homeless hostels, ‘sleeping rough’ as well as ‘sofa surfing’) and 20 years of addiction, mainly alcohol but also use of heroin and other drugs, and mental health issues including anxiety and panic attacks. At the time of the workshop, Neil was in a period of active addiction and in one of the darker periods he’d experienced in a few years (Tang Hall Smart's Approach to Employability interview – audio 2022).

 Between the ages of 28 and 32, Neil was admitted to hospital exactly 50 times, 18 of those including an alcohol detox programme which he had completed. He also had a couple of treatments in rehab. In the audio recording, he reflects how he had ‘no hope as a musician’ (ibid, 2022). He had been unemployed for a number of years and had stopped all of his musical outlets and had sold his equipment to pay for his addiction, after having ‘lost interest in life’ and he couldn’t see himself working again and was certain he would die as a result of his addiction, many years too soon (ibid, 2022).

However, this outreach workshop at his homeless hostel was the start of changing his life around. Tang Hall SMART offered a weekly session, to attend their ‘Musication’ provision, which provides music activities for people who are struggling with their mental health and other issues (Tang Hall SMART, 2022). He said he would attend these sessions but when caught up with his addiction and using drugs, he would ‘disappear’. It was clear to the team at THS that he needed more structure and more sessions throughout the week.

  Neil started volunteering during the periods of not using drugs and alcohol and was ‘doing something meaningful instead, and getting back into music…so that structure really helped me’ (Employability interview audio, 2022). This work with Tang Hall SMART and the provision really helped his self esteem as ‘the belief that was put in me that I was good enough and that I was valuable and of use to Tang Hall SMART’ (ibid, 2022).

 Neil emphasises that there were many relapses along the way (lasting for weeks or more), but the provision supported him throughout these periods emotionally and ‘not dismissed’. He progressed to doing paid sessional work with THS which led him to get a council flat. In March 2017, Neil was drug free and started recovery and signed a contract with THS for a job working with them, on the pay roll. Gradually, his hours and responsibilities grew and now, at the time of writing, Neil is a Lead Music Tutor, Business and Finance Manager, Company Secretary, and Head of Accreditations (ibid, 2022)

 Neil is also now an active musician as a solo artist and composer, he has worked as a video music producer for his own music. Neil expressed that ‘my life is completely enriched with work’ as well as having hobbies and keeping on top of his recovery. He has been made to feel like a ‘person of value’ and can now help other people in need like him. He explained that ‘life is just transformed for me’ and ‘Tang Hall SMART has been an enormous part of that’ (ibid, 2022). Neil believes that it gave him ‘an extra reason to get into recovery’, which demonstrates that having a purpose is important to someone’s self-worth and motivation to get well. Further expressing his appreciation, he highlighted that Tang Hall SMART ‘believed in’ him and that they ‘cared for me when I didn’t care for myself so much’, revealing that his life is ‘unrecognisable’ now from what it was (ibid, 2022).

‘I quite possibly wouldn’t have got into recovery if it wasn’t for Tang Hall SMART’ (ibid, 2022).


Lucy, now working for Tang Hall SMART as a Drama and Dance teacher, has been in recovery for 7 years. She was a trained West End performer, before battling with very poor mental health which led to a decade of active drug addiction and five years sleeping rough on the streets, as a ‘begger’, as well as many more nights spent sofa surfing, with nowhere to call home. When Lucy started volunteering at Tang Hall SMART, Lucy hadn’t had a job for 17 years (ibid, 2022)

In an audio recording explaining her story, Lucy reveals how she was an intravenous drug user, using drugs including heroin and crack and even injecting into her neck. She states ‘My life had been chaos for a very long time’, emphasising how much different her life is now, making a living with Tang Hall SMART (ibid, 2022). Her battle with her mental health, addiction and homelessness was worlds away from the life she had, as a West End trained performer, having since ‘forgotten all the stuff’ she’d done in training because of what she’d ‘been through’ with having a ‘breakdown’ at the age of 22 and therefore losing her career (ibid, 2022).

She first contacted Sue Williamson at Tang Hall SMART, after a friend who worked there advised her to. She joined the team on a voluntary basis, working as a host at their Tea Dances which they took to local care homes which suited her as a former actress, model and dancer. Lucy was passionate about this cause, having experienced her father’s ill health towards the end of his life. She soon realised she was ‘good at connecting with people and I didn’t even know’ and Sue saw something in her that she didn’t see in herself. After not working for 17 years, she was offered a job for a few hours a week (ibid, 2022).

Lucy had been clean from drugs for three years when she joined the staff team. She emphasised how she ‘had a lot to learn’ and she needed ‘patience, support and tolerance’ (ibid, 2022). Up until getting a job at Tang Hall SMART, her whole focus was on her recovery. She expressed how she has ‘grown’ and ‘changed’ since she has had the support from Tang Hall SMART, highlighting that:

‘I wouldn’t be where I am now in a million years if it wasn’t for Tang Hall SMART’ (ibid 2022).

Lucy had ’12 years of chronic daily drug abuse’ before the ‘12 step’ programme helped her to turn her life around. She admitted she thought she would never work again, with having ‘no self-belief’ and ‘no confidence’ and her self-worth was ‘on the floor’. She explained how getting the job with Tang Hall SMART gave her the chance to be independent and it was a ‘big deal’. Lucy revealed how she ‘didn’t see any of the things she saw in me’, referring to Sue Williamson, the managing director. She emphasises that her ‘life has transformed’. She needed something more than just recovery to have in her life, and suggests that:

‘Tang Hall SMART was the missing link’ (ibid, 2022).


Another example of a success story of the employability and homelessness/addiction provision at Tang Hall SMART is from Mike who first came into contact with the organisation at the beginning of his recovery journey, in 2015. In an audio recording of Mike, discussing his story, Mike explains how he had ‘6 years of spiralling mental health’ and drug addiction. He goes on to emphasise that he was a ‘typical homeless person’ with a long beard with ‘unwashed, matted hair’ (ibid, 2022). To demonstrate how his life was, he states he was

‘scavenging on the ground in ashtrays for dog ends for tobacco, begging for change from passers by’ (ibid, 2022).

   He highlighted that no one would have believed that he was actually in fact a ‘skilled engineer or talented musician’ or seen as a person with loved ones. He described himself as an ‘obstacle to be avoided' (ibid, 2022). However, the staff at Tang Hall SMART saw him as a person with ‘talents and human qualities worth nurturing’. He goes on to reveal how the organisation ‘provided the space and the structure and support for the potential that they saw’ to enable him to develop and grow (ibid, 2022).

 Mike started at Tang Hall SMART by taking part in the music sessions, before joining the organisation as a volunteer and eventually having a few hours paid work with Tang Hall SMART which built up over time with more regular hours. He worked as a teacher of music production and working with the electronics which is his craft. He expresses his gratitude by stressing that the ‘staged process of supported growth was instrumental in enabling me to rebuild a life from essentially nothing’ (ibid, 2022), highlighting how important this provision was to his recovery and transforming his life.

By gaining enough belief in himself, through the support Tang Hall SMART provided, Mike returned to university and studied a Masters in Robotics and graduated with a Distinction. Now, at the time of writing, Mike works in the university sector supporting research and teaching as a ‘technical specialist’, having been promoted to the leadership of a team of staff (ibid, 2022). Mike explains how he changed his life around by stating that the organisation:

‘taught me a great deal of self-awareness, resilience, perseverance, compassion, a whole spectrum of really valuable life skills that have helped me  in not only [my] personal life but professional life…’ (ibid, 2022).

Mike closes his story by saying he wants to:

‘emphasise that I’ve been able to make this transition from a homeless drug addict to a successful and competent professional – not because I, myself, are particularly exceptional – but because I was given the right support and the right opportunities that enabled me to achieve that potential that was always there and I’ll always be grateful for that’ (ibid, 2022).




Learning Disabilities


For people who have learning disabilities, it is difficult to gain employment, and even more so for full time paid work. Mencap, a UK charity for those living with a learning disability, suggested that The Maths and English requirements are a large barrier those with learning disabilities as the ‘Majority aren’t passing Entry Level 3 Maths and English’ and highlights that the ‘Government points to research suggesting that numeracy and reading and writing skills are “among employers most valued skills” (Mencap, 2021). The charity also points towards the lack of employment support and employers’ attitude to this group of people (Mencap, 2021). People with learning disabilities struggle to get the qualifications required and they state ‘Each year,  [there are] less people with learning disabilities doing apprenticeship participation’ (Mencap, 2021). Other barriers highlighted by the organisation suggest that there’s a lack of understanding of what this group of people can do with the correct support, ‘lack of good quality support to get and maintain employment’ and also not enough support to help ‘build confidence and skills’ (Mencap, 2021).

 An article by Madeline Rose on Learning Disability Today, suggests that another barrier that those with learning disabilities face when trying to get into employment is the recruitment process itself, highlighting a possible factor being that most job applications are done online, which isn’t as accessible for this group of people (Rose, 2022).

 Mencap points to statistics from NHS Digital which show that in England, as of 2021, ‘5.1% of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work’ (Mencap, 2021). This is much lower than the statistics revealing those with any disability and that of the general population (Mencap, 2021). Mencap further emphasises that this isn’t a recent finding, stating that ‘Unemployment has historically been extremely high for people with a learning disability’ (Mencap, 2021).

  The charity breaks it down further by expressing that ‘32% of those with the lowest support needs have a paid job’, ‘9% of those with medium support needs have a paid job’ and lastly providing the numbers which suggest that ‘Fewer than 5% of those with the highest support needs have a paid job’ (Mencap, 2021).

 The 2019 report Plans that Work: Employment Outcomes for people with Learning Disabilities identify the benefits of employment  for those with a learning disability by highlighting that ‘Getting secure paid work has significant benefits for the individual concerned, including increased financial independence and stronger social networks, as well as physical and mental health benefits’ (Hunter, 2019). There are also benefits for the employers as the report suggests that those with a learning disability tend to stay in a job for longer, take less sick leave and are often ‘reliable time-keepers’ (Hunter, 2019). It goes further to point towards other research by Beyer and Beyer (2017) which demonstrated that people who were employed with a learning disability were ‘also associated with increased staff morale, increased productivity among others, and reputational benefits’ (Hunter, 2019). Hunter further argues that helping those with a learning disability live more independently and therefore getting them into employment, is ‘associated with lower overall costs to the state’ (Hunter, 2019).



The history of Remploy is worthy of summarising at this point, representing as it did, a very different approach towards people who have disabilities.

In 1946, the Remploy Factory in Bridgend, Wales, opened to recruit the very first group of disabled workers. It was introduced by the British Government to provide Sheltered employment. An article on the Social History Society website explains the term by saying ‘ a term used to denote workplaces dedicated to employing disabled people in an environment ‘sheltered’ from the competitive pressures of the open employment market –  on a hitherto unheard-of scale’ (Holroyde, 2021). Holroyde describes how it came about by stating it was introduced alongside other parts of the Welfare State (such as the NHS),  ‘to provide a national scheme of sheltered employment, financial backed by the Treasury, and thereby positioned to provide meaningful and productive work for all those who wanted to work but were considered too ‘severely disabled’ to be able to gain and keep employment’ (Holroyde, 2021).

   Soon after, more Remploy factories were opening up around the UK and by 1952, there were 90 Remploy factories operating with the same scheme in the country (Holroyde, 2021) Alongside the work, they also provided social scenes for those who worked there (Holroyde, 2021). With time, the aims for this support changed and the goal was for those who worked in sheltered employment, could then eventually, with the right support, enter open employment. With the aim to get more of these people into mainstream employment, the factories started to close down and were replaced with branches on the highstreet. The last Remploy factory closed in 2013 (Holroyde, 2021). Holroyde (2021) adds that, ‘in April 2015 Remploy left government ownership to begin a new journey under the ownership of MAXIMUS and Remploy employees themselves’ (Holroyde, 2021).

There are some charities in the UK that support people who have learning disabilities, such as Mencap, but not on the scale and with quite the success as Remploy.


Tang Hall SMART and  ‘Learning Disability’


Tang Hall SMART has been working with those with learning disabilities since 2014 with its first provision, an inclusive rock school club where participants could learn instruments and sing and make music together. Further down the line, we started to offer an accredited course, SoundSMART, where adults with additional needs and/or learning disabilities could choose to work towards RSL Level 1 or 2 in music. At SoundSMART, participants can develop their music skills, write their own songs, and develop an understanding of the professional music industry. Some of these participants have progressed to working on their employability skills with us, to prepare them for future job roles. From the research above, it is evident that getting people with learning disabilities into some form of employment is important for the individuals themselves (independence and financial independence, mental health etc), bringing benefits to employers, and for the wider society.


Tang Hall SMART Videos

A good example of what those with learning disabilities can achieve and what they get out of it is the ground-breaking music video and documentary of the creative process by Tang Hall SMART in ‘Hip Hop Shake Up! Challenging Stereotypes of Disabilities’ and the documentary in ‘Hip Hop Shake Up Documentary Challenging Stereotypes of Abilities’ on YouTube (Tang Hall SMART CIC, YouTube, poster 2020). This video shows participants in groups to write lyrics for their hip hop rap, create MC names and work on artwork ideas, facilitated by the music leaders. They rehearsed their own raps and filmed a music video which is in the first video mentioned above. In interviews at the end of the documentary, the participants can be seen saying they got a lot out of the project, really enjoyed the singing and dancing, playing the instruments and the social aspect of the activities (ibid). One participant said it was challenging but he tried, which suggests how music and connectivity can help those with learning disabilities achieve what they want with the right support and guidance in developing their skills, even if they weren’t sure how well they would do (ibid).      

Jonny, a participant with Down Syndrome, in seen in this video, rapping. Since the video was released in 2015, Jonny has continued to attend Tang Hall SMART, and has developed so much, both personally, musically and professionally (he is now supporting sessions for those with addiction and/or homelessness). A teenager in the videos, he has developed into a very caring and talented young man who likes to help other people with disabilities and other vulnerabilities.


Roots and Routes


Back in 2017, Tang Hall SMART collaborated with the University of York’s Music Department with a project fusing the music of Javenese Gamelan and Rap called ‘Roots and Routes’. Together, over several months, with the children from some of Tang Hall SMART’s provisions, they devised two pieces and the group performed them at two concerts, one at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall at University of York as part of the YorkConcerts series, and the other as part of Hull Festival in Hull City Hall. The frontman was Jonny, mentioned above, an amazing rapper who has Down syndrome. (It could be argued that Jonny is possibly one of the best rappers with Down syndrome in the world!).


Education Results


In the Summer of 2022, Tang Hall SMART celebrated the incredible achievements of our Level 1, 2 and 3 learners with learning disabilities who were awarded their exam results, like many of other young people in the UK. These are qualifications are equivalent to GCSE and A Levels. Rebecca, who has down syndrome and went to a special school before joining us, is a fantastic drummer and she came away from the Summer Term having passed her RSL Level 3 Subsidiary Diploma for Music Practitioners (Performing). This is equivalent to 3 AS Levels. She is now studying hard for another Level 3 Music qualification (worth another 3 AS Levels) alongside doing job coaching with one of our mentors, working towards her goal of being a Disco DJ.

Another student, Ewan, has Williams Syndrome (a rare genetic disorder) and he also passed his RSL Level 3 Subsidiary Diploma in Music. As another exceptional drummer, Ewan has now progressed onto our employability programme and is now training as a support assistant in the hope to one day become a music tutor himself.

John is a learner with Autism and a learning disability. He has been coming to Tang Hall SMART for many years, having originally gone to Applefields School, has gone on to achieve numerous credible qualifications with us in music, having started with Level 1, and has now passed his Level 3 Music Diploma too. He is a keen vocalist, who has sung everything from musical theatre numbers to Rock and Pop and even rap music. As well as working on his vocals, he has also progressed brilliantly as a pianist and songwriter and in recent years has learned to read sheet music and gained a merit in one particular unit where he demonstrated an understanding of complex music theory concepts which University students would be proud of! John has joined the others and is now a trainee too, developing his employability skills, supporting the teaching of a range of music sessions at Tang Hall SMART.

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