Over the past 3 years, Thames Reach has successfully created an organisational culture change that enables the organisation to employ current and former service users across all teams and functions. Through the Giving Real Opportunities for Work (GROW) Project, Thames Reach has exceeded its target of 10% of its workforce having an experience of homelessness by 2007. This has been achieved by:
Identifying and overcoming the organisational barriers that previously prevented the employment of current and former service users, including: revising employment policies and procedures and changing staff attitudes from an ‘us and them’ to an ‘us and us’;
Developing routes into employment for service users including a volunteering scheme and traineeships.
Aim of the National GROW Programme
The aim of the National GROW Programme is to change the culture of the homelessness sector in England so that it fully embraces employing service users. Thames Reach is being funded by the CLG, and supported by Homeless Link to deliver a bespoke consultancy service to homelessness organisations and consortia across the country. The Programme is focusing on the largest homelessness organisations before moving on to other smaller charities across England.
What can Thames Reach offer?
From October 2008 through September 2010, the National GROW Programme is offering a range of support to organisations, including:
- Preparing an organisation for change; principles behind service users employment,
- Benefits and challenges of employing service users;
- Benchmarking service user employment and developing monitoring systems;
- Identifying and overcoming organisational and regional barriers;
- Getting staff on board and addressing resistance;
- Changing HR policies to enable direct recruitment into current vacancies;
- Effectively managing potential conflicts of interest, sickness rates, relapse, dual roles;
- Developing routes into employment including: service user volunteering schemes and traineeships;
- Addressing financial and resource issues.
A service user who is employed in the homelessness sector is transformed from someone who is most often thought of as dependent, needy and incapable, into someone who is enthusiastic, responsible, economically independent, tax-paying, and making a significant contribution to the lives and wellbeing of others. As they transform themselves, so the organisation they work for goes through a parallel transformation – from being an out of touch business with low expectations and an overdeveloped sense of ‘us and them’ to a service user-focused entity with high aspirations, greater flexibility and responsiveness and more effective service delivery. This process of change, in which service users can become leaders, is tremendously exciting and models all that this sector can be.
Organisations employing service users recognise the financial and reputational gains but it is the increased effectiveness in service delivery that stands out the most. Employing service users,
- Provides role models for other service users and staff;
- Develops a set of talented and knowledgeable new staff;
- Increases the diversity of staff teams to better reflect the communities they serve;
- Demonstrates to service users, staff and strategic partners that their organisation is sincere and successful in its mission.
The homelessness sector now has a golden opportunity to lead by example, and to demonstrate to other sectors that employing homeless people is not only possible, but beneficial. There is potential for many more jobs to open up for some of society’s most socially and economically excluded people.
The need for a National GROW Programme.
The time is right for this programme. In addition, to the gathering momentum within the sector, as evidenced by the highly successful national conference on employing service users in the UK homelessness sector, Making the Extraordinary Ordinary, ending worklessness is at the heart of the Government’s social policy agenda.
The National GROW Programme rises to this challenge, and closely complements the Places of Change agenda through its focus on:
- Involving service users in the development and delivery of services;
- The development of well-trained, motivated and effective staff;
- Enhancing the capacity of staff to engage residents in meaningful activities, through shared experience as service users.
It also meets the requirement of Public Service Agreement 16 aimed at reducing social exclusion during the period 2008-2011 through employment opportunities and housing provision.
In addition, it will help to meet the Government’s target of full employment by 2020, and strongly supports the aim of moving people from the streets and into work, as outlined in the updated draft Rough Sleeping strategy. It also supports initiatives set out in the Government’s ‘New Deal for Welfare: Employing People to Work’ Green Paper and subsequent Bill; and the DWP’s 2007 guidance, ‘In Work Better Off’.
For more information:
If you want more information about service user employment in the homelessness sector or the GROW Programme, please contact Kath Dane, National GROW Programme Manager at email@example.com or on 07968957731.