The visit was to look at the work that Shepherds Bush do about the none housing agenda – how they add value to the lives of their tenants and the communities that they work in by adding to excellent housing services with excellent services that meet other needs.
We looked at three projects but right from the start the day looked promising when Paul Doe the Chief Executive told us that in addition to the professional presentations from staff and consultants we would also be meeting those people whose lives had been affected by the programmes we were looking at. That just feels right. Too many associations measure their effect in development, bricks and mort and financial terms. All very good but we don’t exist to build a strong balance sheet. We exist to build strong communities lived in by strong people.
The first project we looked at dealing with overcrowding was a project that had little resonance for our circumstances back home up North but which are clearly vital in London, the South East and some other more limited areas of high demand. The programme the, InComE project, was designed to deal with the 1 in 8 social homes in London that are overcrowded because ‘kids’ are staying at home until they too get a social housing tenancy from the council. For whatever reason that is the limit of the aspiration of some young people and it was this lack of aspiration that the project set out to deal with.
Most of the 18 year olds not only didn’t have a job but had few or no qualifications either. Even if they had finding decent accommodation in London which someone on the minimum wage could afford to pay is very difficult. The programme started in Shepherd Bush Homes but now works with other RSL properties in a number of West London boroughs. It looks at the education, training and employment needs of each tenant. It provides a one bed flat for them at an ‘affordable’ rent provided that person commits to and continues a relevant programme designed to lead to work. The tenancy is deliberately not a permanent one but is available for up to 3 years because that is the time it can take to make a difference in the educational attainment levels of people starting from scratch.
The programme has not been going long enough to have been fully evaluated but we spoke to 3 youngsters who were already being helped by that programme. They were studying, looking for jobs or volunteering to get good practice on their CVs. It had helped give them independence and had helped free up room in the family home. The sad thing that we all agreed was that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with these kids. Like so many others they hadn’t had the right start in life.
The next programme was the employment and volunteering project run very efficiently by Jennette Skinner. We all use volunteers in some ways. Our tenants committees etc depend on them. But my association has not thought through the concept and practices of volunteering in the way that I saw. The project to date has helped 386 volunteers only 7% of which are SB tenants. Out of those 97 have moved into employment, 17 have become employed by SB and 56 have become active volunteers.
Again we met people whose lives were being turned around for this project. A middle aged lady who had been made redundant who now had a reason for getting out of bed as she recovered from the grieving of loss of job and loss of self-esteem. A young boy who had a criminal record who was being helped to stay straight. Both of them were doing follow up questionnaires on tenant satisfaction for SB tenants. A service that was needed but could not be afforded so there was no question of permanent jobs being replaced by volunteers. (No Big Society here then!)
The last project was one that I thought could do with some pepping up. It is a furniture recycling project which was rescued some years ago when a charity was going broke and has subsequently been expanded by SB. It collects and sells re-usable furniture from a warehouse and has just opened its first retail outlet opposite the dreadful Westfield Centre in Shepherds Bush itself. Fortunately SB and the Charity’s Board also know that it has limitations and are looking for new premises so that it can renovate furniture and move into expanded markets. Again lives were being helped both by the employment and training opportunities of the organisation and the furniture outputs going to those with limited cash.
Some people reading this will say we do all this already. Perhaps you do but this set of activities impressed because they were a fundamental part of the organisations’ ethos and business plan. Not an add on – not a wrap around but a fundamental way of looking at things.
I did have one sadness for the day. The Nat Fed had invited about 50 organisations to send someone on the study tour. Just 3 RSLs turned up! I know we are all busy but none of us should be too busy to go and look and learn. I have worked in this field for more than 30 years and I learned things from my visit. All I need to do now is to find my Chief Executive and use the words he dreads most…… “Ken do you know what I have seen?!”