Teresa Cairns

I am a researcher, consultant and trainer, film maker and life/oral historian.

I started teaching apprentices and secretarial students – including the first YOPS/TOPS trainees – on Tyneside in the 1970s. I later worked in the Adult Literacy Movement in London, with ex-prisoners, homeless/hostel dwellers and with Travellers; I collaborated with organisations such as the Maternity Alliance in Whitechapel to support advocacy work amongst women across ethnicities. Read more

Teresa's Recent Work

Saving Seeds


The first Seedy Sunday held in Eastbourne on the south coast of England; inspired by the succes of similar pioneering seed swaps in Brighton, and then Lewes.

This short film continues our exploration of community growing and seed saving in an urban environment.



Celebrations (In the Object, a Memory) is a short film made with a group of older residents in Woodingdean, on the outskirts of Brighton, UK.

This is the fourth in an occasional series of short films exploring the use of objects, in reminiscence work, to prompt remembering.

Some Kind of Life


‘Some Kind of Life’ is the result of working with people in Peterborough (UK) who have been, or still are, homeless.

The film explores, through personal narratives, a constellation of issues implicated in being ‘on the street’. The stories they tell challenge assumptions about what constitutes home and how people understand their own sense of belonging.

This documentary forms part of a larger Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) & Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) funded Research Fellowship in Peterborough: Places For All? placesforall.co.uk

With the Hens


Another episode in our exploration of Whitehawk Community Food Project, Standing on Common Ground, in Brighton UK.

With the Hens: On Whitehawk Hill continues our series of short films exploring people’s relationship to growing on communal land situated on the urban fringe of the city.

Seeds and Soil


Another episode in our exploration of Whitehawk Community Food Project, Standing on Common Ground, in Brighton UK.

Seeds and Soil: On Whitehawk Hill continues our series of short films exploring people’s relationship to growing on communal land situated on the urban fringe of the city.

On Whitehawk Hill: Olia and Gloria


Continuing our exploration of Whitehawk Community Food Project, Standing on Common Ground, in Brighton UK.

Olia and Gloria talk about the importance of knowing where your food comes from, that participating is more than volunteering, and the delight in an area of ‘wildness’ on the edge of the city.

Salad Days


Salad Days is a short film made with a group of older residents in Woodingdean, on the outskirts of Brighton, UK.

This is the third in an occasional series of short films exploring the use of objects in reminiscence work, to prompt remembering.



October & December: Ordinary Lives, our documentary series is broadcast on LatestTV Brighton and shared across the UK Local TV Network.
October: Under the Same Roof, exploring cooperative housing in the context of ‘home and belonging’, which resonates with developing debates around lack of access to decent and affordable housing for many people.
April-October: commissioned by East Sussex County Council to produce a series of short films about their Family Keywork programme (nationally known as the Troubled Families Initiative) for their Keywork teams and other agencies invloved.
January: Something in the Silence (an edit combining the three short films currently on our site) was broadcast on the Community Channel.
2013/14: Denis continues working with Catch 22 in Northampton on a one year Arts Council funded film project with young people defined as ‘hard to reach’, and on the edges of the criminal justice system; a continuation of the work that produced Home Ground.


September: our three short films Something in the Silence were screened during International Suicide Prevention Day.
July: working with Grassroots Suicide Prevention Charity to make three short films exploring the impact of stigma suicide survivors and their families.
June: starting work that explores cooperative housing across Brighton and Hove for CHIBAH (Cooperative Housing in Brighton and Hove). Engaging with issues around lack of affordable housing and the role of coops in meeting housing needs and building community.

April: No Place Like Home selected for Sheffield DocFest Videotheque in June.
March: final short film In Passing completed for ‘Places For All’.


December: No Place Like Home was broadcast on the Community Channel as part of their Homeless season. See http://www.communitychannel.org/featured/no-place-like-home/.
Continuing our work in Peterborough; the result will be a co-authored short film with young people living in the Foyer, exploring issues of living apart from family.
We returned to our collaboration with Creating Timelines; Celebrations is the latest short film in In The Objectcycle.
Teresa presented some of our film work on homelessness and the ethical issues involved, at a Knowledge Lab event looking at issues of film/video interpretation in research.

November: Some Kind of Life  was screened during the Leicester DocFilmFest.
No Place Like Home, a short film from our latest project, was screened during CineCity Film Festival, Brighton. Based in a Thames Reach hostel in London, we tell the stories of ex-rough sleepers, people who are coming off the Street and trying to lead an ‘ordinary life’; in this film we follow Paul, who has been a rough sleeper for over 10 years, as he confronts his addictions & struggles with anxiety about ordinary everyday things.  Some Kind of Life,  was screened alongside this current work.
We filmed the 1st Seedy Sunday event in Eastbourne; part of our continuing work around issues of food growing in an urban context.

September: Some Kind of Life received its 1st broadcast on the Community Channel at the end of September, & is now in the Channel’s monthly broadcast cycle.

August: Our film, Some Kind of Life, has been accepted by the Community Channel for broadcast. We continue filming with hostel residents in 2 hostels run by ThamesReach in west London; mental health continues as an underlying issue for most of the residents.
Always Somewhere Else reached the Berwick Film Festival shortlist (theme: Pictures in Motion).

June/July: we have now edited our film footage (Some Kind of Life)  into a longer documentary, to be screened during the Peterborough Festival, at Cafe Valise, a pop-up venue presented by Metal -30th June – 6th July 2012.

May: We screened some of our film work from Peterborough: Some Kind of Life, at the Spaces of [dis]location Conference, University of Glasgow; we talked about the development of our collaborative practice & the way it’s influenced how we structure our work.
We’re currently editing our filmwork from Peterborough, about issues of homelessness, into a longer, thematically framed documentary for wider distribution.
We have also started work in London, with ThamesReach, at one of their hostels for ex-street sleepers; we’ve met some of the hostel residents, & will be introduced to others over the month.

April: We return to Peterborough to complete the homeless film work: Some Kind of Life, and to continue work with the Foyer, a hostel for young people in need of accomodation and support.

March: We are beginning work with Grassroots Training in East Brighton to develop short films engaging with community-based suicide intervention and prevention.
We are in discussions with ThamesReach, the homelessness charity, to develop work we began in Peterborough, with their projects across London.
We will be facilitating a series of participatory evaluation workshops during 2012/13 involving the CitizenPower strand of Connected Communities in Peterborough.


The Impact of Family Learning Interventions on schools and communities

This research, published in December 2010, was commissioned by Brighton and Hove Family Learning and details qualitative research into the impact of Family Learning on adults and for the production of good practice case studies that built upon the ongoing tracking work for the Family Learning Impact Funding (FLIF) programme, managed nationally through NIACE.

The purpose of the research was to consider the contribution of Family Learning programmes to:
• Continued involvement by participants in their children’s learning;
• Production of softer outcomes for participants, in particular the building of increased confidence;
• Participation in wider learning and training opportunities;
• Participation in volunteering;
• The building of greater community cohesion through the development of stronger social and cultural capital.
This research project also considered the above elements in the context of two case studies to demonstrate good practice in developing Family Learning/ School collaboration

FL in communitiescoversheet copy

Family Learning in communities[FINAL V] copy

Scattered Lives: mediated landscapes of the Self.

This paper, co-authored by Teresa Cairns and  Denis Doran, was presented at Landscapes of the Self, Evora, Portugal, in November 2010; it draws upon a number of personal  narratives from Catch22 clients involved in the UK criminal justice system, to explore mediated landscapes of identity and self.

Scattered Lives is a documentary about the work of Catch 22, an organisation in the UK that works with people on the margins of the Criminal Justice System. This work explores the shifting identities of individuals who define themselves in part through the language of the Criminal Justice System, and the tensions that revolve around the professional relationships that Catch 22 has with its client base. This work has come out of our backgrounds in a Documentary Photography practice that is auto/biographically informed, and by an Oral & Life History approach to Narrative and Identity.

The individuals we interviewed articulate their experiences within their own notions of borders and boundaries, both real and imagined, that they negotiate in their daily lives. The conflicts, emotions and experiences that inform their attitudes towards those boundaries and borders, both emotional and physical, are often spoken about in the language of the Criminal Justice System. As Eakin (1999) argues, the sense of self that we sustain draws upon, “models of identity provided by the cultures we inhabit,” that can be life enhancing or not. This individual sense of identity is embedded within concrete social experiences, (Vigotsky in Burkitt, 1991) and is reflected in the discursive construction of their narratives through movement between the life worlds of client, agency, and criminal justice system.

Scattered Lives