At The Wyatt Trust, we talk a lot about our commitment to honouring the lived experience of the community members our work is designed to help.
As a philanthropic funder, our financial support is only brought to life by the frontline services and efforts of our grantees. Though we regularly hear from our not-for-profit partners about how Wyatt’s support is making a difference in the community, it’s not too often that we get the chance to hear those stories firsthand.
In recent weeks, I’ve been humbled and honoured to hear and bear witness to the stories of lived experience that have been shared by dozens of South Australian women who’ve been doing it tough. These conversations stemmed from a SACOSS research piece commissioned that looked at poverty in South Australia. The research clearly told us that older women and sole parents are two of the groups most impacted, so we decided to invite as many members of these groups in to share their stories with us, to help design what an effective response from Wyatt could look like.
Working mostly with our grant partners, who put out an expression of interest to their clients, we weren’t sure what level of interest we’d receive. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response, which looks like it will be around 35 women, almost a fifty-fifty split of older women and single parents.
Although everyone’s story is unique, their motivation in talking to us is the same: they want to tell their story in order to help other people. At the end of the day, all they want is the opportunity to be heard.
We’re meeting these women wherever they feel most comfortable. Sometimes that’s in the Wyatt office, sometimes it’s online or at a shopping centre, but often it’s in their own homes. Being welcomed into someone’s home to listen to their personal stories, many of which include significant trauma, is extremely humbling.
As we get started, we explain that we’re looking for some specific information about their life, particularly around their experience of financial hardship, whether that’s now or in the past, and the journey they went on, the services they accessed and what did or didn’t help.
Each of these women has been so generous in their responses, sharing their life story very openly and honestly.
The interview process has been a learning exercise for me. We have two team members sitting in on each conversation. We have also been working with experts who are involved in interviewing with us. It’s been such a valuable experience, learning how to navigate these journeys where you’re having private conversations about some deeply personal things.
Each of these women is strong, resilient and resourceful. They have had to live with an enormous amount of relentless stress and have managed to get by in incredibly difficult circumstances – they really are inspirational.
For many of them, they describe their journey as simply having to put one foot in front of the other, particularly the sole parents who are consistently trying to do the best for their kids in difficult circumstances.
Humility and generosity come across from all of them – they are often putting themselves behind someone else who might need help. They usually haven’t reached out for help until things have become desperate because they feel that there’s always someone else in greater need.
Their pathways into poverty are quite varied and multi-layered. Mental health often plays into it, other times it might be family violence or drug and alcohol issues.
The thing is, what they’re asking for are basic human needs: safe and secure housing, food for their kids, and being able to pay their bills. Cost of living pressures are really high at the moment and there have been no increases in support payments since the temporary Covid supplements ended. The lack of affordable housing and childcare, and the increases in the cost of fuel are playing a part.
For a lot of these women, their situation is due to circumstances that are well out of their control and yet they still feel personally responsible. There’s a lot of guilt, shame and grief about the life they have and sometimes that’s because they once had a different life that they lost; other times it’s that they never achieved the life they thought they would.
And yet, among all the emotion there’s a lot of good humour. It’s such a strength to be able to find something to be happy about when things are dire and these women have managed to find something to be positive about among these very challenging situations.
Mostly these women are looking for hope and access to opportunities to get out of where they are. A lot of them would like to be working or working more hours.
The whole purpose of these interviews is to help us at Wyatt to be as effective as we can in our goals of eradicating poverty and challenging inequality. We want to know if we could be doing things better. How can we do more to provide exactly what’s needed? How can we remove barriers and make it easier for people to access resources and services?
What more can we do to help bring those voices forward because these women are the experts in what they need – we are not the experts in what they need.
The next step, after we’ve gone through all these interviews and identified common themes and barriers, is that we will invite all these women back in to help us design what comes next and how Wyatt can best respond to their needs. That’s very exciting because we don’t know what that will look like, but we do know it will reflect the dignity and lived experience of these extraordinary women.
Angela Meegan is a Grants Manager at Wyatt