Breaking Down Barriers

Breaking Down Barriers

Breaking Down Barriers is a network of 30 organisations working together to improve the lives of people from marginalised communities including those from BAME backgrounds, so they have equal access to health services. Addressing health inequalities is at the centre of what we do: finding ways that health services can be shaped to become inclusive and accessible, and working with families to encourage and support them to access those services.  The Breaking Down Barriers network of organisations, working at a grass roots level, is sharing good practice and exploring new ideas to help educate, empower, and provide an evidence base to promote equity of access to mainstream health services.

The Covid 19 crisis has now starkly highlighted health inequalities in the UK and these are also one of the focuses of  the Black Lives Matter movement. The Breaking Down Barriers network is well placed and committed to contribute our expertise and support to those who are addressing the same challenges and with whom we share a mission.

Health inequalities are not inevitable and can be significantly reduced… avoidable health inequalities are unfair and putting them right is a matter of social justice.’ 

(The Health Foundation, 2020, (online), accessed on 10.06.20)

Hear from Kerry about the Breaking Down Barriers project.

Follow the link below to hear from ASUK National Development Manager, Kerry Leeson-Beevers at the Rare Disease Showcase event in Newcastle about the work of ASUK and the Breaking down Barriers project.

In 2011, The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust contributed funding towards Alström Syndrome UK’s (ASUK) Asian Mentoring Scheme (AMS). This was a three-year project aimed at developing our understanding of the needs of South Asian families, raising awareness, increasing referrals and providing access to our specialist centres in Birmingham.

Statistics have shown that there is an increased risk of a child being born with a genetic condition within families where consanguineous marriages are customary. This was explored further within the Asian Mentoring Scheme and despite the fact that we were aware of how rare this condition was, it was felt that there may be families within the UK who had not received a diagnosis. It was also felt that some families appeared reluctant to contact support groups and engage with professionals as they were often very well supported within their own families and communities. In addition to this, families often turn to seek support from religious leaders, leading to spiritual support from their practicing religion. However, this prevented children and adults having access to specialist health care, advice and support.

This project enabled us to identify these families, provide access to medical care at a specialised multi-disciplinary clinic in Birmingham, work with the whole family to ensure everyone was aware of the risks of having further children with the condition so that they were able to make informed choices about future pregnancies and to support families to learn more about Alström Syndrome (AS) to enable them to effectively manage the condition.

We worked within South Asian Communities to develop a greater understanding of diversity, culture and beliefs, the barriers and challenges experienced and to raise awareness of Alström Syndrome. Significant changes were made to the services we provided and we believe we now offer a diverse and inclusive service to all families involved. Information is provided in an accessible format, ensuring that families receive the information they need about their condition and the reproductive options available to them. As consanguineous marriages are customary amongst many South Asian families, this information can benefit entire families.

The project was a great success and ASUK initially received an increase in referrals from South Asian families due to our awareness raising campaign. Families became more aware of genetics and made informed choices about the options available to them and other extended family members.

The number of South Asian families diagnosed with AS increased significantly throughout the duration of the AMS and The Sylvia Adam’s Charitable Trust has now committed to invest additional funds to widen the benefits of this project to other organisations. Kerry Leeson-Beevers who was involved in the design of the AMS and managed the project, will now lead a new and exciting project called Breaking down Barriers.

Asian FamiliesThe aim of the project

Breaking down Barriers is aimed at facilitating patient organisations and support groups to join together and share examples of best practice. Thus developing new guidelines to highlight effective ways to support families who are at increased risk of having children with a genetic condition but who are unlikely or unable to access mainstream services. We will not only focus on South Asian families, although the information we gathered throughout the AMS may be useful to other organisations and will aid our understanding as we begin to work within different communities.

We believe that patient organisations and support groups are best placed to develop the skills needed to engage with families, particularly as they are generally the ones who have a greater understanding of the impact of living with a genetic condition.

Why is this project necessary?

There are a small number of projects around the UK focusing on working with families from diverse backgrounds. However, these are being driven by health professionals and while they may be benefiting small groups of people in specific locations, there is a clear need for a national project to benefit larger numbers of people and communities and to develop new policies and practices. We believe the success of the AMS was due to the fact that it was being delivered by people who were directly affected by the condition and therefore were able to demonstrate empathy and understanding due to their own experience of living and coping with AS.

We would like to expand this work further and include families from a range of diverse communities. Genetics is a complicated topic to understand and this project aims to identify the information and support available and will examine reasons as to why some families may not engage with health providers. Consanguinity will also be explored as part of this project and it is imperative that we do not frown upon consanguineous marriages. We will continue to stress that our primary aim is to provide families with the information they need about the reproductive choices available to enable them to make informed choices about future pregnancies and to raise important awareness of genetics.

Discussions regarding the project with patient organisations, support groups and umbrella organisations such as Genetic Alliance UK have been extremely positive and there is an awareness of the need to improve accessibility to services for minority communities and increase knowledge around genetics. We are confident that the enthusiasm that has already been demonstrated towards this project will help us to achieve our aims and will provide crucial benefit to families living with genetic conditions.

Earlier this year we invited patient organisations and support groups who provide support to families living with a genetic condition to apply to be involved in this project. The Advisory Group selected eight organisations to take part in this three-year project.

  • AKU Society (Alkaptunuria Society)
  • BBS UK (Bardet Biedl Syndrome UK)
  • EDS UK (Ehlers-Danlos Support UK)
  • ED Society (Ectodermal Dysplasia Society)
  • HDA (Huntington’s Disease Association)
  • Jnetics (Jewish Genetic Conditions)
  • SC Society (Sickle Cell Society)
  • SWAN UK (Syndromes without a Name UK)

We will work closely with each organisation examining their current practices and highlighting any barriers they feel are in place. We will be arranging workshops to share examples of good practice, inviting relevant speakers to develop our understanding and working together to develop each individual organisation. Kerry and the Advisory Panel will be available to offer advice and support throughout the duration of the project and will regularly share information and link to additional resources that may prove beneficial. Collectively, we will develop good practice guidelines which will be disseminated to a wide variety of people working within this field.

The first workshop was held on the 18th July 2016 in London and representatives from each of the organisations taking part attended (pictured below). Feedback from the event was extremely positive and there was a great deal of enthusiasm within the room. One workshop delegate gives their thoughts “Really well run and informative. Sparked a fire to push more to help more people!” It is evident that each organisation wants to do their very best to ensure they are providing good quality and accessible services to all of the individuals and families they support. We have started to identify the current barriers that exist which may be preventing people from accessing services and are beginning to explore possible solutions.

Following on from this workshop, each organisation submitted an action plan stating how they planned to develop their work and once these were assessed by Kerry and the Advisory Panel, the Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust awarded funding to support their work.

The project is evolving with the insights that each organisations brings to this project. This collaborative work has enabled further organisations to join and receive funding for their specific projects which they are developing. Currently there are 29 organisations involved these include:

ASUK would like to thank the Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust for their continued support. They are not only financially supporting the project, they are working closely with Kerry to monitor progress and plan ahead to ensure it is a great success.

Please contact Kerry if you would like any further information about this project on 01709 210151 or email

Media Reviewed: June 2019
Next Review: June 2021