Acts of love and kindness: developing new cultures of social support

Forging new cultures of care and compassion within community work, in which individual contributions are valued and make a difference.

Acts of love and kindness: developing new cultures of social support

The Challenge

In the fields of community, health and social work you expect kindness, care, love and compassion to be a cornerstone of practice. Where professional practice becomes focused on targets and outcomes, this is not always the case. 

Contemporary community-based health and social care services have become an outcome based professional practice, using a culture of targets, and the promotion of methods of intervention that seek to manage risk, identify need, ration resources and provide systems of care management. Our research began because we observed the damage caused by the move away from a person-centred and relational approach, to a more focused case management risk assessment model of practice.

The Approach

Since 2014, Hill and Laredo have been involved in research, which examines the ways in which person-centred and relational approaches improve the resilience and well-being of vulnerable communities, for example, the homeless, street sex workers, refugees and migrants. The research contributes to changing professional practice and improving outcomes for socially marginalised individuals, families and communities. Early work focused on the need to develop a distinct practice, which we named ‘Streetwork’. 

‘Streetwork’ draws upon the principles of direct care and social support. It is an act of being present with someone, supporting them from the position of kindness, love and social solidarity. It is a process, which sees people as human beings, not as targets, outcomes or risks to be managed. As a methodology ‘Streetwork’ is grounded in a practice of working with clients on their own terms. The methodology is simple, it is to remove the social care worker from the office and administrative process and place them alongside the service user, providing direct care and support, helping them develop and nurture confidence, direct advocacy skills and promoting the acquisition of improved social and material resources.

The Impact

The body of our work has helped to forge new cultures of care and compassion, in which individual contributions are valued and make a difference.

In the Yorkshire region more than 300 undergraduate and postgraduates social and community workers have been trained in this new methodological approach. Globally, work with international NGOs in Turkey, Sweden, Cambodia and Australia, and Catalan Professional Associations is influencing a re-shaping of health, community and social work policy and practice.

Changing Practice

Early research developed the idea of ‘Streetwork’ as a distinct and innovative practice, which brought together a range of supporting professions. 

  1. We have developed a model of care, based around concepts of compassion, kindness and inclusion. Funded by the Erasmus+ programme; we established a European platform of academics, practitioners and researchers drawn from the University of Barcelona (Spain), Charles University Prague (Czech) and HvA (Netherlands).

  2. Through the Intensive Programme we created an innovative training package that the consortium delivered to a mixed group of European students over a three-year period, having a significant impact on the training of future generations of professionals. Through this work with students, practitioners and academics we developed both theoretical and practice capacity.

  3. As a result of this work, and because of our approach to youth and community work we were invited to work with the Associació Catalana de Professionals de les Polítiques de Joventut (AcPpJ), to develop new policies which foregrounded a Streetwork approach. This international collaboration provided for a new range of undergraduate and post graduate courses that have been developed at Leeds Beckett University. These courses have shaped 200 undergraduates into community work practitioners who are directly working with a range of social and community services.

Cultural Change

In a challenging care context with limited resources, the importance of practice skills and relational support based on kindness and clear communication has become an asset in supporting behaviour change in professional practice and developing positive helping relationships. Our research and teaching and learning in Streetwork and working with social crises has had a significant impact locally and regionally.

Our publications and networks have supported practice change at the most important level, with the service users. In 2015, we organised a national conference to disseminate our methodology. The ‘Putting People First: Developing Cultures of Best Practice’, in 2015, brought together grassroots care workers, academics and NHS Chief executives to explore how we engage and work with people in a kinder more supportive manner across health and social care services. The importance of this forum and further symposia under this umbrella was to begin a shift in attitudes and promote cultural change at an organisational level. 

The research has also informed and developed models of communication skills for community based social work and social care workers. Through their work Hill & Laredo have trained over 300 post qualification social care workers across Leeds and Wakefield in new communication methods such as motivational interviewing to promote a kinder more relational approach to practice.


Our work has supported a number of global initiatives, working with a combination of local youth groups, NGOs and statutory partners. Dr Erika Laredo has developed international training, best practice and cultural learning platforms with global partners in Europe, Asia, Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the recent projects, Win-Win (2015-17) was an Erasmus+ project which was designed using our innovative Streetwork methodology. The project was based on ideas of integration and the increased participation of refugees and asylum seekers in sports, specifically focusing on women, with the aim of empowering them by an increased uptake in sporting initiatives locally with host communities in the UK, Sweden and Italy. In 2017 Win-win was awarded first prize, in V Convegno Nazionale Cultura & Società No Profit in the category Cultura Socialità Tempo Libero per il Benessere della Persona I, (a national competition for NGOs in the field of health and well-being) in recognition of the successful approach towards social inclusion and enhanced community cohesion. The approach modelled in this project has now been successfully adopted across all three partner cities, Leeds, Lund and Palermo, and a range of other urban areas where we have Erasmus partners.

Building upon our international impact Dr Erika Laredo was involved the designing the theoretical model of inclusion upon which the Leave No-one Behind Erasmus+ project is based. This project, worked with all levels of social inclusion; young people from lower socio-economic groups, disability, refugees and migrants, and those with educational and behavioural issues. It included partners from South Korea, Cambodia, Turkey, Sweden, Australia and South Africa. Dr. Laredo authored report best practice guidelines which was disseminated to all 7 global partners and published on the internet.

Contact Dr Erika Laredo

  • Culture and applied social sciences
  • Study With us

    Study for a research degree at Leeds Beckett and you'll join a thriving academic community in an inspiring and supportive environment. The Graduate School supports our increasingly active postgraduate research community and encourages students to make a difference to the university’s research culture and environment.

    The Graduate School
    Study With us
  • research with us

    Leeds Beckett University can conduct research on your behalf to help you to implement change and realise your business potential. Validating your ideas with academic evidence can be an essential part of winning contracts and fuelling business growth.

    Research for business
    research with us