Financial resilience as vital tool in the cost of living crisis

Romoke, Thames Reach’s financial resilience worker, discusses her work preventing street homelessness through support maintaining finances

Financial resilience as vital tool in the cost of living crisis

Now that a cost-of-living crisis is firmly upon us, we are all thinking about managing our money better. Romoke is Thames Reach’s financial resilience worker, and she provides advice for people in a range of circumstances, ultimately with the goal of preventing street homelessness.

‘Financial resilience’ is a phrase that could potentially mean a few different things. How does it work in practice?

My role as Thames Reach’s financial resilience worker involves supporting people with resolving issues around their financial situation, which are often around benefits, reducing risks of eviction and maximising income through claiming different types of benefits. Some people I work with are facing situations that are new to them, perhaps they are coming out of hospital, so are having to claim for the first time, and need advice.

People are often referred to me through our work with the Lambeth Living Well Network Alliance, who provide mental health support, so when people are on their recovery journey and going back into work, they may need help managing their income. During the lockdowns when many people were made redundant, some turned to low-paid work, so within the Employment and Skills team we help people find more suitable and sustainable employment.

Financial resilience could also look like more structured advice, as we deliver workshops on some of the things I’ve discussed, so we can reach more people. This enables people to be more knowledgeable about managing money. We’ve had really positive feedback from these sessions, showing that they are beneficial to helping people become more independent. At Thames Reach, we work with a range of people in different circumstances, for example people in supported housing may need help with working out how to pay rent and various charges, and having this knowledge is an up-skill for when they move into more independent accommodation, so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

What are some of the common challenges facing that people you work with?

My role is based within the Employment and Skills team, so we work with people across supported housing and the [Lambeth Living Well Network] Alliance, which means people are facing issues with various things alongside their finances, such as housing or mental health.

It is the barriers that are preventing people from entering work that we need to look at, such as debt issues. It’s important to be able to provide support for the things that are causing the financial instability, so I’m able to refer to colleagues, as there is expertise to address these needs. With the cost-of-living crisis, I am receiving more referrals of people in full-time work who need advice on saving money, information on which grants might be available for utility costs, and people with families.

How are you able to support people when financial instability is causing mental health and wellbeing issues?

 Money issues and wellbeing issues are becoming more linked. When I meet with people, they are talking about their mental health in the context of having financial trouble. Sometimes people are already receiving support for their mental health, but sometimes I can refer them to services, as although they are linked, financial resilience practices aren’t a replacement for mental health support. It’s interesting that people seem to be more open to talking about emotional responses to financial situations. Being open when talking about money allows me to give the right advice; I have had feedback that people feel more empowered and in a better position to move forward once they have received some guidance.

How do you think your work will evolve in the coming months?

It’s important that I can still provide advice and reassure people through these difficult times. With the merging of benefits into the Universal Credit package, we will continue to work with other teams in Thames Reach to ensure this information is circulated. I am expecting to see changes to things such as benefits and debt management, but we are watching the situation closely so we can still give the best advice.

Thames Reach partner with Vodafone to provide free connectivity to those experiencing digital exclusion

Thames Reach have partnered with Vodafone to provide SIM cards with free data, calls and texts to people experiencing digital exclusion

Thames Reach partner with Vodafone to provide free connectivity to those experiencing digital exclusion

Thames Reach today announced it will be using free connectivity, via Vodafone’s charities.connected initiative, to tackle digital exclusion among people we work with in London. Distributed through the Employment and Skills team, connectivity packages will be given to people experiencing digital exclusion, allowing people to connect with vital resources including health services, support workers, employers and family and friends.

Vodafone’s charities.connected initiative is open to any registered charity that would benefit from free connectivity, either to improve its digital capability, extend its services or help the individuals and families it supports get online. Registered charities across London can apply for the free connectivity, in the form of SIM cards with 20GB data a month, plus free calls and texts, for six months [here].

Denise, lead worker at Thames Reach, said: “We have always been aware that many of the people we support are experiencing digital poverty. However, the pandemic highlighted even further that many were also ‘data poor’. This meant being further socially excluded from accessing vital services such as doctors, dentists, mental health services and seeking employment opportunities. In addition, they were unable to reach out to family and friends in their time of need which led to their further isolation. We are really pleased to have received these vital resources to pass on to the people we work with who need it the most.”

Emma Reynolds, Head of Communications, Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs at Vodafone UK said: “We are committed to tackling digital exclusion.  We hope that by providing free connectivity to Thames Reach and the other amazing charities across the UK who have such an enormous impact on their local communities, we can help create a more inclusive digital society.  We urge any organisation who thinks they can benefit to apply online and look forward to hearing how this connectivity has helped.”

Vodafone’s charities.connected initiative is part of its commitment to tackle digital exclusion and connect one million people by the end of 2022.

 

-Ends-

Notes to editors

Thames Reach is a charity based in London, supporting people facing homelessness through prevention, intervention, and recovery. The charity specialises in helping people with complex and multiple needs, including mental health and drug and alcohol use. It manages a range of services, including street outreach, frontline hostels, day services, specialist supported housing and employment and skills schemes. Thames Reach’s mission is to assist homeless and vulnerable adults to find decent homes, build supportive relationships and lead fulfilling lives. thamesreach.org.uk

Vodafone’s charities connected initiative was launched in August 2021.  For more information, see [here].

For more information, please contact:

Thames Reach Communications team

media@thamesreach.org.uk

Vodafone UK Media Relations Team

Email: ukmediarelations@vodafone.com

Tel: 01635 693693

Volunteer Klarissa on art as therapy

Volunteers’ Week: Klarissa volunteers at one of our hostels, running an art group for residents

Volunteer Klarissa on art as therapy

Klarissa volunteers with Thames Reach, running an art group at one of our hostels in central London. She has been doing this since the start of the year, and reflects on what it means for residents to get involved with a creative practice, as well as what she has learned from the experience.

“I come in every Wednesday and run an art workshop in the afternoon. It’s important that I keep the structure as open as possible, so people don’t feel put off by a lack of experience or confidence in making art. The objective certainly isn’t to produce a perfect painting or drawing, it’s to have some time and space to be freely creative, in a way that feels comfortable.

“When I started volunteering, I came into it quite naïve; I was full of enthusiasm and was very amped up at first but then I realised that I’m coming into an environment where someone might be finding themselves again, they might be at the beginning of their journey. I now know that I need to take a back seat and hold the space. Being gentle and taking things slowly can be far more inviting than coming to a group where the facilitator is super happy and chirpy; it’s been a process trying to find that balance, but a very rewarding one.

“The residents are great, it’s been a wonderful experience meeting new people with new creative ideas to work on together. We’ve been able to lean into the challenges that come with being creative, the ongoing hope is to work through cycles of low self-esteem to find that all creativity is valuable and valid. It’s so easy to feel embarrassed by art-making if you’re not confident with what you’re doing, but leaning into that is a skill that we’re all trying to learn. Doing something that can free us from our daily routine and anxieties can be therapeutic in itself. Then there’s the production element of it: once an artwork has been made, it’s a real statement of showing people who you are and how you appear in the world! There is a real issue with people feeling invisible once they’ve experienced homelessness, but making art can be one way to show people how you feel, and how you express yourself. I have gotten to know people at the project not necessarily by them telling me everything, but through the art they are making.

“Having the space for making art, having a chat and being creative every Wednesday means that residents know it’s here, as something completely separate from their usual support networks and friendship groups. People come to the art group with all kinds of issues going on in their lives, but I hope to create a space where they can do something outside of that for a couple of hours. I don’t do this in the expectation that it will change anyone’s life; although I’m interested in therapeutic activites, I’m not a trained therapist, so I have to manage expectations. If it can just change someone’s Wednesday, then I’m happy.”

Celebrating our community this Volunteers’ Week: 1-7 June 2022

Kelly, volunteer programmes manager, discusses her role and celebrates the work of our wonderful volunteers

Celebrating our community this Volunteers’ Week: 1-7 June 2022

1-7 June is Volunteers’ Week, a time to celebrate the incredible work of volunteers who bring so much to organisations such as Thames Reach. With almost 100 active volunteers in teams across London, they are highly valued in helping our work towards ending street homelessness, and are very much part of the Thames Reach community. Kelly McLoughlin, volunteer programmes manager, speaks about her role coordinating around 100 volunteers, and shares how inspiring it is to work alongside such dedicated individuals and groups.

Describe your role as volunteer programmes manager. What is it about the role that you enjoy the most?

I’m responsible for organising all volunteer activity at Thames Reach, whether that is corporate efforts or individuals, and across all our different projects and services. Part of the role is also building and maintaining relationships with organisations who offer volunteering through their staff or students. Volunteers who are currently studying at university are really valuable to us and bring a lot of energy and commitment, so keeping those relationships are important. Anything that comes to Thames Reach in relation to volunteering would come through me.

My favourite part of the role is probably being able to share in the achievements of our volunteers; having the chance to celebrate them is important, and we have a few initiatives that mark and reward their good work. Volunteers are always humble, and often surprised when they are celebrated or rewarded; sometimes they don’t realise the profound impact they have on the people we work with.

Why do you believe Volunteers’ Week to be so important?

It’s a great opportunity to have time to dedicate to reflecting on the work that volunteers do every day. As an organisation and in individual teams, it gives us the chance to share stories and successes that have come from volunteering. This year, we have created and scheduled additional opportunities for volunteers, to make sure they are able to get more out of their experience. These training sessions will be based around new themes that we are coming across in our work, such as social isolation post-Covid. We’re also planning a summer event for volunteers to come together and celebrate their hard work.

How has the landscape of volunteering changed in recent times?

We have a large and committed pool of volunteers, but since the pandemic we have had to re-assess whether certain roles can be done remotely, as quite a few people left London during this time, and while some had to isolate. We lost a volume of volunteers altogether after Brexit, as some left the country for good. However the pandemic brought about a lot of people wanting to give back to their community, and we had a great response from people continuing volunteering with us once they had gone back to work, so again we needed to be creative with the sorts of roles people could do, such as outside normal working hours or in corporate groups.

What are the different volunteering roles that people can get involved with?

They can be split into three groups depending on the interests and availability of the individual volunteer: front-line, which would be accompanying staff on outreach visits during the day or at night, or front of house and reception roles; employment, which might be skill-sharing and mentoring, or helping out with our Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) service in our Employment and Skills team; and wellbeing, which usually involves activities such as art workshops and helping combat social isolation. There are so many ways to volunteer with us, and our shared commitment means that there are so many ways that we can work together to help people affected by street homelessness.

If you are interested in volunteering at Thames Reach and working with us towards our vision of ending street homelessness, please email volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk

The journey from volunteering to employment at Thames Reach

Alex, assistant support worker in one of our homelessness recovery teams, discusses her career progression from volunteering to employment

The journey from volunteering to employment at Thames Reach

Alex is an assistant support worker with the PLACE (Pan-London Accommodation and Community Engagement) team, a service initially set up to help people find sustainable accommodation after receiving support through the government’s Everyone In initiative back in 2020. Prior to this, she volunteered with STAR (Sustaining Tenancies, Accommodation and Resettlement), a homelessness prevention partnership service within Thames Reach. She discusses the journey from volunteering to employment, and how the experience has helped shape her career.

What was your volunteering experience like, and what tasks did you do?

I started out volunteering with the STAR team from January 2021 until November that year. It’s important to do volunteering for a sustained amount of time so that people you are helping have that level of consistency. I was their Romanian-speaking volunteer, and went out on outreach shifts to locations that were known rough sleeping spots. I helped out with translation where we were looking for people with Romanian as their first language; this then evolved into shadowing support workers in the team. I helped with evaluating and following up on client progress, then helped putting together a database of services around London, so we could easily signpost for things such as immigration, legal advice, food banks and mental health.

What is your current role and how is the workload different from volunteering?

I am now assistant support worker with the PLACE team, and have been since November, so I applied for the role while still volunteering. The project was set up to find permanent accommodation from the temporary provisions offered during the Everyone In initiative. We work with housing associations to match tenants with flats, making sure people have the support and signposting they need, whether this is mental health or substance support, and we refer to Thames Reach’s Employment and Skills team regularly too. I have my own caseload and work with people from the start of their recovery journey, and also work as part of the Keeping in Touch service, making sure people are secure in their tenancy once they’ve been placed in accommodation.

What brought you to Thames Reach?

I had been interested in homelessness for a while, and wanted to know exactly how I could help. I wanted to be able to offer direct support for people experiencing homelessness, and really contribute to the good work being done. I also wanted to see the reality of homelessness, as in London you walk past a lot of people who are street homeless but never really get the full story.

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering?

I gained a lot more than I was expecting from the experience, so I would say keep an open mind and really get involved. It really opened up different ideas and opportunities for me. The team were happy to share their knowledge and expertise with me, so don’t feel worried that you don’t know enough, because it’s definitely a learning experience. I was able to have an overview of all the things I could potentially do in the team, so felt that I was making a difference and getting a lot back.

If you are interested in volunteering with Thames Reach, check out our Volunteers page here or email volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk

Thames Reach bring homelessness prevention expertise to Lewisham

Thames Reach’s latest prevention service is focused on preventing homelessness in the borough of Lewisham

Thames Reach bring homelessness prevention expertise to Lewisham

At the start of April, Thames Reach took over the service Lewisham IHASS (Intensive Housing Advice and floating Support Service) with a new contract. The team’s work will prevent homelessness in the borough with their person-centred approach, addressing the specific needs of the individual, whether this is mental health, tenancy sustainment or drug and alcohol support. We spoke with the service’s new lead manager, Michael, who introduced their work.

Can you give us an introduction to your new service?

We are a homelessness prevention service being commissioned by Lewisham council, with referrals being made from Lewisham Housing Solutions and Lewisham Adult Social Care. The idea is to support people into accommodation and make sure it’s sustainable and suitable for them; we are floating support, so meet people where they are as opposed to a day centre functionality. The team have been TUPED [transferred] over from One Housing, who held the contract before us, so it’s a really experienced team. They all know the services available in Lewisham, so we have the contacts we need to signpost for substance support, mental health, the job centre etc. We want to make sure we are a brief intervention service; when we receive referrals, we look to contact the individual within 24 hours and invite them into the service to meet and discuss their needs.

We are solutions-focused, and look to see how we can get people into employment or training, or education if that’s what they want to do. The ultimate goal is to get people as independent as possible in order to sustain their accommodation. Our work will also include mental health support and cessation of smoking if that’s something they need help with, promoting healthy living and wellbeing, widening their networks.

How does Lewisham IHASS work with other teams within Thames Reach?

We’ll be working closely with the Employment and Skills team to help people access training such as improving their English language skills. We also have close ties with the financial resilience worker, who is really important as she helps people with upskilling, getting back into work and managing their finances better. Our EUSS (European Union Settlement Scheme) worker will also work with people who are working on their Settled status, if they need assistance with their application. As I said, we are a brief intervention service, so want to work with people for a maximum of six months. If we can identify their needs quickly, we can work better as a homelessness prevention service.

If you are only working with people for a short period of time, does this imply that support needs are generally low?

Not necessarily, we have a wide range of people that we are working with. Some have come through the criminal justice system, one person we’re working with at the moment has just left supported accommodation, which wasn’t working for them, and they’ve also come off their [methadone] script. The people we are working with may have come from supported accommodation and they need that next step towards living independently, so we are here to listen to what people need for them to gain that independence. There will be people with low needs, but also those with medium needs, and complexities.

People being referred to our service might have presented to the council as being at risk of homelessness, perhaps they need advocacy to protect their tenancies, so they may not be sleeping rough but they are having issues with their tenancy, maybe they are in arrears.

Although the service was only taken over by Thames Reach at the start of April, what are the objectives for the coming months? How are you measuring your success?

As a brief intervention service, if we can support and signpost people effectively in a short amount of time, that is a success. Making sure we have systems in place to help people is enabling us to do this well; people come to us with a range of issues, and we need to know that we can help them quickly and effectively, to avoid it leading to homelessness. We work in a person-focused way, offering really good options to people and linking them in with services thanks to the partnerships we have in the community.

Thames Reach are committed to developing and running services that directly prevent homelessness. Please refer to our 2022-2025 Business Plan for more details on how we plan to implement this, based on ongoing successes. This includes “an assertive approach that aims to identify and work with people before problems lead to a housing breakdown” and developing “existing and new relationships with London local authorities” as projects such as Lewisham IHASS are usually commissioned this way. Lewisham IHASS is the latest service to follow this plan towards our vision of ending street homelessness, and we are pleased to be expanding our prevention service.

Thames Reach Business Plan 2022-25 outlines vision for next three years

New Thames Reach Business Plan outlines the direction for our organisation as we work to end street homelessness in London

Thames Reach Business Plan 2022-25 outlines vision for next three years

We have today published the Thames Reach Business Plan 2022-25, which will set the direction of our organisation over the next three years.

The new Business Plan will see us continue to focus on three main types of service aimed at ending rough sleeping: prevention, intervention, and recovery.

Our vision

Our vision remains a society where street homelessness is ended and nobody need sleep rough on the streets. In pursuit of this vision, our mission is to ensure that every person Thames Reach supports is able to find and sustain a decent home, build supportive relationships, and lead a fulfilling life.

Our services under the new Thames Reach Business Plan

The plan outlines a number of measures by which we will judge the impact of our work. A key of indicator of progress towards the fulfilment of our vision, as outlined in the Business Plan, is the number of people who sleep rough in London. We intend to double the size of our intervention services, such as hostels and outreach work, over the course of the next three years.

We will develop and disseminate new approaches to prevention. This includes the identification of peo­ple at risk, and ways of providing support without people becoming dependent upon it. We aim to become sector leaders in this area of work.

When it comes to our recovery services, we will judge their effectiveness through the number of people successfully moving on from using these services, as they journey on towards independent living.

Thames Reach Chief Executive speaks about the Business Plan

Thames Reach Chief Executive Bill Tidnam said: ‘The 2022-25 Business Plan outlines the direction of travel for Thames Reach over the next three years. It reiterates our commitment to the goal of ending rough sleeping in London and sets out our ambitious plans to support this work; the need for a new approach to prevention; as well as our intention of working with partners to increase our impact and the effectiveness of our services.’

To read the Thames Reach Business Plan 2022-25, click here.

Tenancy Sustainment Team South are looking for volunteers

The new Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) South are looking for volunteers to help people in their recovery journey from street homelessness.

Tenancy Sustainment Team South are looking for volunteers

Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) South are looking for volunteers to help people recover from street homelessness and maintain independent accommodation across South London.

Volunteers are offered training, ongoing support and expenses. Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and learn new skills, help towards getting a paid role in the sector, or to make meaningful use of your spare time. We welcome and encourage volunteers with lived experience of homelessness, recovery, and mental health.

We offer the opportunity to work from different locations in West, South or East London, for half a day or a full day at a range of different times, including opportunities to help us on late afternoons and evenings (Monday to Friday).

Please have a look at the roles listed below. If you’re interested in applying for a role, please fill out the application form here. Feel free to get in touch with any questions at: volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk.

Tenancy Intervention and Welfare (TIW) volunteer: The TIW volunteer will support staff when clients are at risk of losing their homes or when clients need support to stay safe within their community. Some travel across London will be needed to visit clients, but full travel expenses are paid. Experience of working with vulnerable people is desirable and we welcome applications from Social Work/Social Care students (plese see below for details).

Welcome volunteer: We are seeking volunteers to support clients who are new to the TST. You will help people build confidence and make connections in their local community. This role will be a mixture of telephone support and travel around London. Good IT skills and a polite telephone manner will be important for this role.

Social Isolation volunteer: Volunteers are needed for informal support for clients who are experiencing loneliness or isolation. Support will involve helping people to be well connected to their community.

Keeping In Touch (KIT) volunteer: KIT  is a telephone support service, giving clients the opportunity to informally “check in” if they need to speak to someone in the TST. Volunteers will help direct the calls and offer a low level of support over the phone. Good IT skills and a polite and friendly telephone manner are needed for this role.

Placements: We welcome student placements in the team. If you are over 18 years old, you can take part in a placement in our TST for a minimum of twelve weeks as part of your course, in teams across London. In recent years, students on social work, mental health and social science courses have gained a great deal of experience from these placements. Please send us an email at volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk to enquire.

 

An introduction to Greenwich Navigators

The Greenwich Navigators team work in the Royal Borough of Greenwich to help people recover from street homelessness.

An introduction to Greenwich Navigators

Gemma, lead manager of our Greenwich Navigators team, explains how the service is working to help people with medium and high support needs recover from the trauma of street homelessness in the borough of Greenwich.

Can you introduce Greenwich Navigators to anyone who may not know what you do?

Greenwich Navigators is a service commissioned by the council to support people who have had experiences sleeping rough. We work with people with a range of needs, but mostly medium-to-high, and complex, support needs, who have either been sleeping rough or are at risk of becoming street homeless. The team has different specialisms, for example we have an assessment worker who will work with the individual to see what support needs they have, and how best they can move on from sleeping rough; we also have an outreach support worker who works a lot with London Street Rescue, but the role sits in the Navigators team.

What kinds of support needs do the people you work with have, and how are you able to support them?

So as medium to high, or complex needs, this might include drug and alcohol issues, mental health, physical health or trauma. Generally, we work with people who have recourse to public funds, so it is easier to help people getting into private rented sector accommodation, however with SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Protocol) and ‘Everyone In’, we have been able to support people make applications for their settled status, both in partnership with the EUSS team at Thames Reach and our partnership work with Southwark Law Centre via their partnership with Greenwich council.

Have you noticed any changes in the work you do recently? Are the demographics of people changing at all?

There are definitely more people coming onto the streets for the first time, with no rough sleeping history. Usually this can mean that they have lower support needs, but what we’re finding is people are becoming street homeless who were receiving support from family or loved ones, perhaps they were shielding. With ‘Everyone In’, SWEP and Protect and Vaccinate initiatives, it means people coming onto the street for the first time are not there for a long time before being found by outreach teams and offered support.

When you are working with people with these kind of support needs, what are the housing options?

We have some Housing First provisions in Greenwich, and have had some supported housing with Peabody, which involves some floating support [visiting people in their own homes, providing support to prevent homelessness] for people in their new accommodation. We also work closely with Thames Reach’s TST (Tenancy Sustainment Team), so if they need ongoing support to sustain their accommodation as well as look after their wellbeing, they will have a support worker.

Area manager Isobel discusses her experience with the Traineeship

The Traineeship provides experience and training for a career working with people experiencing homelessness, and great opportunities for development. Area manager for hostels, Isobel McKenna, discusses her experience with the Traineeship.

Area manager Isobel discusses her experience with the Traineeship

“I joined Thames Reach through the Traineeship in 2011. Having worked in organisations before which were more focused on policy and lobbying government, I was keen to get some experience of front-line support work. I was attracted to Thames Reach as a very practical organisation and hoped the Traineeship would give me a way in to the sector. I started in Stamford Street, as it was then known, and then moved to another hostel, Graham House, for my second placement. I found the Traineeship to be a really positive experience, a good mix of being thrown in at the deep end and getting support and guidance from the people I worked with. I learnt from my mistakes and saw the creative and consistent work done by our organisation first hand, often shadowing more experienced colleagues. I was able to stay on after my Traineeship ended, getting a job in the Graham House team, and have worked in a few of our different projects over the years, leading to my current job as the area manager for hostels. I think the Traineeship is a great opportunity for anyone looking to start their career in the sector, and I look forward to seeing who applies for this year’s scheme as a member of the interview panel.”

The deadline for this year’s Traineeship programme has been extended to 20 February. Click here for more details and how to apply.