In partnership with the Oak Foundation, I-SPHERE offers a series of internships for early career researchers.

Chris Devany – 2019-present

Our current Oak Intern is Chris Devany.  Chris has joined us from Sheffield University where he has been studying for a PHD and lecturing in social policy.   His research is exploring the trends and connectivity in the use of psychoactive drugs and homelessness in Sheffield and Edinburgh.


In their own words, our previous interns tell us about them, their research and experience of the internship.

Megan Park – Oak Intern 2018-2019

Megan Park, Oak Intern

I’m originally from the West Midlands, but I’ve been based in London for the last few years. I have a background in law and previously worked in a legal aid practice assisting clients faced with eviction, homelessness or poor-quality housing. During my time in legal aid, I became more and more interested in the wider policy issues surrounding housing and the welfare state. I left to study for an MSc in Social Policy at the London School of Economics, where I focused on social security and inequalities.

I began researching Discretionary Housing Payments (“DHPs”) for my masters dissertation. DHPs are a benefit for Housing Benefit recipients who need extra financial assistance. They’re administered locally and (as the name implies) are made on a discretionary basis without a detailed set of rules governing their use. While the availability of DHPs has been used to justify various welfare reforms such as the Benefit Cap, some have argued that the scheme does not adequately protect vulnerable groups.

Although DHPs play this interesting role in the welfare benefit system, there is only limited information available about how they are used by local authorities. The internship has provided an exciting opportunity to improve the evidence base by conducting primary research with local authorities, housing providers and welfare advisers. I’m conducting fieldwork in three local authority areas to compare how DHPs are being implemented in different local contexts. I hope to use these findings to reflect on the wider debates surrounding welfare reform.

My experience so far has been really positive. The internship provides a great mix of being able to work independently and flexibly but also having a lot of advice and encouragement from colleagues at I-SPHERE and Oak, as well as a Research Advisory Group with an incredible wealth of experience. Through my work for Oak, I’ve vastly improved my knowledge of the housing and homelessness sector and got stuck into a substantial data visualisation project. I would highly recommend the internship to anyone passionate about social welfare and looking to hone their research skills in a stimulating and supportive environment.

Megan’s research, which was presented to the Department of Work and Pensions, is available here- DHP Final report June 2019.    Megan is now working on another research internship in London.


Lynne McMordie – Oak Intern 2017-2018

My name is Lynne McMordie and I live in Northern Ireland.  I am a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast and hold a BA and MA in English Literature.

Lynne McMordie

I have worked in the homeless sector since 2003 and have managed a range of homelessness services, including: temporary accommodation, peripatetic care and support, floating support, crisis accommodation, drop-in centre and street outreach services.  I have worked extensively with marginalised families and adults, particularly in the areas of destitution, complex needs and multiple exclusion.

I have always been interested in social research and the impact that it has on our approach to housing and homelessness; the internship represented a really exciting opportunity to further develop this interest.  I was also excited at the prospect of completing my own research project on a topic I feel passionately about, and hopefully that my research would contribute positively to addressing the needs of vulnerable homeless households in Northern Ireland.

I spent a number of years managing a street outreach service which delivered services to people who were rough sleeping.  During this time I became very aware that temporary accommodation didn’t always provide a pathway out of homelessness.  Some of those who were rough sleeping had stayed in many temporary accommodation services only to subsequently abandon their place or be evicted.  I wanted to research this topic; to find out more about the experiences of people who had a history of repeat homelessness and cyclical housing failure.  Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick and Dr Beth Watts supported me to design a research project which captured these experiences and placed them in the context of what is currently happening in the homeless sector in Northern Ireland.  The sector is committed to reviewing temporary accommodation provision and I am hopeful that this review will be influenced in some respect by the views and perspectives of those experiencing the most acute forms of homelessness in Belfast.

Lynne’s internship research was published in 2018 and is available here.  Her research has directly informed the development of a Chronic Homelessness strategy for Northern Ireland.   Lynne is now working towards a PHD at I-SPHERE.