I’ve always found the “who are your competitors?” question an odd one working in the charity sector.
Often posed by well-meaning consultants or in reference to a strategy process, it seems to jar with the social missions of the beyond profit sector. Of course we will inevitably compete for resources with similar charities, but aren’t we all trying to achieve the same goals? Doesn’t that mean we’re allies, brothers from another mother?
Stranger still perhaps is the concept of villains. The organisations about which, under hushed breath, our colleagues in the sector mutter “we don’t like them”. Coming into the homelessness sector I’ve heard a bit of this. At the Homeless Link Conference the brilliant Carol Matthews, Chief Exec of Riverside - one of the largest Housing Associations in the land - made no bones about the fact that many of the attendees might not like their Housing Association brethren anymore. Whilst we may think they’ve sold out, they think they’ve reinvented for the time. Would we really do any differently if we were them?
If the Housing Associations are the wolves in sheep’s clothing of this world then Local Authorities’ Housing Options team are the big bad wolf. The perceived paper pushing gatekeepers, seemingly delighting in people’s anguish and not doing what they legally should do.
I’ve been thinking a lot about partnerships since I started at New Horizon too. One of my first reflections was that we - our staff and organisation as a whole - can’t do this alone. The more we do together the more chance we have of success, something we know only too well from running the London Youth Gateway partnership with London Councils and other leading homelessness organisations.
The more we do together the more chance we have of success. So wouldn’t it make sense to embrace all the players in our world rather than see some as useful and some as antagonists?
Phil Kerry, New Horizon Youth Centre's new CEO
Early in my time here at New Horizon I had heard a lot about what Southwark Council’s Homesearch Team had been doing over the last four years to transform their service. It is services like these across Local Authorities that are often cited as failing the young people we support and so I wanted to spend time with them to understand the pressures they are under and how what they do complements or conflicts with what we do at the centre. Brilliantly Southwark welcomed me in for a day with them yesterday to shadow their team and offer feedback for how they could improve. In itself this refreshing openness to feedback is something we can all learn from and it’s what has led their team to being a trailblazing Borough for it Homelessness Reduction Act implementation. In their own words they are getting better all the time, but still have a lot to learn.
There’s also a lot we can learn from them too and I wanted to reflect on three things that struck me from the day:
Value of lived experience – so many of the people I met on the reception and triage teams had themselves been homeless at some point and many of them also had experienced an often poor service from Southwark Council in the past (it was also nice to meet one young man who’d been to New Horizon in the past too, now doing well flourishing in a career). This meant that they had a deep rooted belief in making the service better for people who, like them, had a moment of bad luck that had led them to walk through the Homesearch door.
Empathy – because so many of the staff had lived experience there was also a pervasive sense of empathy throughout the service. Everyone I met seemed to genuinely care and want the best for the people they were working with. This was far from a façade put on for me and them, but seen in the interactions behind closed doors when the team worked out the best course of action for those they were supporting.
Continual learning – although Southwark are seen as a progressive housing team they are far from complacent. They wanted feedback from me on the day, they continue to invest in training for the team and recognise that there is still much more they can do to get better. As Hemmingway said, “There’s nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Massive thanks go to Ian, Nathan, Dominic, Sharon and Miriam for welcoming me into their team for the day and showing me what they do. You are all heroes to me.
Our doors are always open for organisations that want to come and shadow us. We would love your feedback too.
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