A Day in the Life of a Thames Reach Trainee

After seven months as a trainee with Thames Reach’s programme, Laura felt confident enough to apply for a permanent role. Now working as a support worker, she looks back at her time as a trainee and outlines a typical day in the role.

A Day in the Life of a Thames Reach Trainee

Laura Mackenzie, support worker, The Waterloo Project

“The traineeship was a fantastic way to start my career in the homeless sector – you are eased into the work very gently. As a trainee, you feel like a student in the best sense. The teams I worked with were so supportive and nurturing, and they helped me grow a lot in a short time. After 7 months as a trainee, I had gained enough confidence, experience and skill to apply for a permanent job. I am now a support worker at the Waterloo Project.”

7am

“Today I am working an early shift – so I arrive at the hostel at 7am.  After making an emergency coffee, it’s time for a ‘handover’.  The previous shift run through our list of clients, letting us know who’s been seen throughout the night. Handovers are opportunities to flag any issues with clients or the building that the next shift needs to be aware of.” 

7:30am

“I do a check of the building – one of the early shift’s ‘duty tasks’. Duty tasks are routine tasks that are done around the hostel every day, mostly relating to health and safety.”

8:30am

“The hostel is quiet, and there’s nothing urgent on emails, so I take the opportunity to work on a support plan. The Waterloo Project has 19 clients – all with complex needs around areas such as mental health and substance use. Support plans take this into account, they include assessments of the client’s risks and needs, as well as relevant goals. They are quite detailed documents, but as a trainee there’s plenty of time to get to grips with them, as you only have one client.”  

9am

“I accompany my client to her 10am probation appointment. On other days I might accompany her to drug and alcohol services, court appearances and doctor’s appointments. As a trainee, there’s plenty of opportunity to see and build relationships with the many different external agencies that clients use.  Sometimes these ‘external agencies’ come to the hostel, such as our weekly nurse clinic.”

10:30am

“My client and I have a detailed ‘keywork session’ – my favourite part of being a trainee. My client and I discuss the progress on her goals and have a think about some of the things she is struggling with at the moment. As a trainee, you have time for frequent and in-depth key work sessions with your client, giving you the chance to build strong rapport and trust. Keywork sessions allow you to build essential support work skills such as empathising, effective listening and maintaining boundaries.”

11:00am

“As a trainee, I was given responsibility for the area ‘service user involvement’. Service user involvement is about encouraging clients to participate in how the service is run. This morning I am helping facilitate a residents’ meeting, where clients can share their thoughts and suggestions about the hostel.”

12am

“It is time for the ‘welfare check’ – I knock and enter each of the bedrooms to ensure clients are safe.”

12:30

Lunch break.

1pm

“Today I have an online training session on ‘Client Support and Domestic Violence.’ All trainees complete a set of Core training courses, but beyond these, there are plenty of opportunities to take on additional learning. My client is struggling with issues around domestic violence and my supervisor supported me in seeking out this specific training.”

2:30pm

“The late shift arrives, and I hand over all relevant information. On alternate Wednesdays, this is also the time we have ‘reflective practice’. This is when our team, including our psychologists, gather for an in-depth reflective discussion on one client. These meetings really show you what taking a ‘team-approach’ to challenges looks like.”

3:00pm

“Home!”

Thames Reach’s traineeship programme is open for 2021. This year’s cohort will start in May 2021, and the deadline for applications is 7 February. Click here for more information on becoming a trainee.  

Interview with Yvonne, area manager, on what it is like to work at Thames Reach

Yvonne Scott-Henry, area manager for floating support and other prevention-based services, explains the work she does and what it’s like working for us

Interview with Yvonne, area manager, on what it is like to work at Thames Reach

Yvonne Scott-Henry is area manager for floating support and other prevention-based services at Thames Reach. We chat to her as she explains her role in the organisation and how advocacy for the people we work with lies at the heart of our work.

Can you explain your role?
I’m an area manager at Thames Reach, responsible for overseeing the floating support services, including Brent Reach, and the social impact bond team, as well as our two tenancy sustainment teams (TST).

What does floating support do?
We help people get support in their own home or where accommodation has been identified for them. In addition to housing, we provide support around issues including mental health, as some people will have a range of support needs. My services are preventative, so we work with people to maintain their tenancies and make sure they feel supported. We also work with people who may not be happy in their tenancies, and having previously been street homeless may still be engaged with street life. Making sure people stay housed is our main priority and we adopt different techniques to tailor this support to the client.

How do you feel Thames Reach is different to other organisations?
For us, as a service and an organisation, it is important to be actively listening and working with people, working with their priorities in mind in a way that is inclusive and builds trust so that they can achieve their aspirations. Staff genuinely share the Thames Reach ethos, and strive to operate in a people-focused manner, communicating well with those using our services and being sensitive to different life experiences.

What has it been like working for Thames Reach?
I’ve been working with Thames Reach a long time; I started as a support worker and gradually progressed into the area manager role, which is my third or fourth management post, so I’m fully committed to Thames Reach. One of the things that initially attracted me was its reputation, the way the work is person-centred, flexible, and focused on clients’ needs. The element of establishing positive working relationships with local communities and local authorities is really important too. As an employer, Thames Reach is generally a supportive organisation; I’ve always been encouraged to undertake personal and professional development. If you say you want to develop in a particular area or develop a particular skill, managers are likely to embrace that. We challenge ourselves as professionals as well as challenging others in the sector. Our advocacy for the people we work with is also hugely important. It’s definitely one of our strengths as an organisation. 

A Day in the Life of an Assistant Support Worker

Lindsey started her traineeship with Thames Reach in 2020. A year on, she reflects on her current role as assistant support worker, and how the trainee experience helped her gain confidence in the role

A Day in the Life of an Assistant Support Worker

Lindsey Shepherd, Assistant Support Worker, Martha Jones House

“Two days are never the same at the hostel. One constant however, is that shifts always begin with a handover from the previous team. This provides an opportunity to highlight any clients who we are concerned about and may need to monitor throughout the day.

“The morning is usually focused around reminding clients of their appointments and ensuring that they are supported to attend them. Although most of our work takes place in-house, we sometimes accompany clients to probation, drug rehabilitation services and to the job centre. As a trainee, I had more time available to visit local services, including day centres and support groups, which gave me a more holistic insight into how the local authority are able to support those experiencing homelessness. A lot of our role includes liaising with other agencies to advocate on behalf of our clients, so it helps to establish a rapport with them. 

“At midday every day, we enter every room to do a welfare check, to ensure that all of our residents are safe and that the building is secure. We will also do a sweep of the local area to identify whether there are any rough sleepers and report these to the outreach team. The building has an in-house surgery, so once a week a GP and nurse from the local practice come in to provide medical assistance to our residents, reducing the barriers for them to access mainstream healthcare.

“There are normally several activity groups that run in the hostel throughout the week, which trainees take a leading role in running. For example, I helped to facilitate an arts class with a local creative group called Duckie. It was a space for clients to express how they were feeling through a range of different mediums such as: dance videos, flick-through sketchbooks and joke books. We also ran a cooking group, in which we would accompany clients to the supermarket to buy the ingredients for a dish of their choice.  

“We’re a high-needs hostel, which means many of our residents have complex support needs, including difficulties with their mental health and substance use. Much of our work is therefore focused on encouraging them to reduce their dependence on drugs and alcohol, maximising and budgeting finances, preparation for employment, increasing their living skills, encouraging a meaningful use of time and addressing physical health needs.

“As a trainee I had less clients, which meant that I had a lot more time to spend with them. Ideally, we have at least one in-depth key work session per client each week. This is a space for clients to discuss any grievances and consider how to work towards their move on. Where possible, I try to have the sessions outside of the building to reduce distractions.

“The traineeship was a gentle introduction into working in the homeless sector. I was able to shadow at many of Thames Reach’s other projects including hostels, outreach and floating support. This gave me the opportunity to develop my understanding of what services are available and to decide where my skills would best fit in before applying for a job.  My manager is really supportive and encouraged me to focus on what I’m interested in. I had expressed an interest in working with women, so she has allowed me to take the lead in this area. I have attended multi-agency meetings on prostitution, outreached sex workers on the streets and will run a women’s space once the lockdown measures have ended.

“The benefit of working in a hostel is that you can work very closely with clients within their own home and can therefore follow their development closely. It also means that you always have your team by your side. We have bi-weekly Reflective Practice sessions as a space to discuss any challenging situations we have faced and to decide a collaborative approach of how we can best support a client. Ironically, the most rewarding part of the job for me is seeing people leave. Martha Jones House is only intended to be a temporary solution to rough sleeping and prepare them for their next chapter.”

Thames Reach’s traineeship programme is open for 2021. This year’s cohort will start in May 2021, and the deadline for applications is 7 February. Click here for more information on becoming a trainee.  

A Day in the Life of a Support Worker

Jamie Shovlin, Support Worker for the Rapid Response team, discusses his daily routine at Thames Reach

A Day in the Life of a Support Worker

Jamie Shovlin, Support Worker, Rapid Response 


“I normally start around 6pm with shift planning, which I do from home. This involves looking at new referrals that we’ve received through Streetlink for the areas of the city I’ll be covering that night. I’ll also check the previous night’s shift to see if there are any follow-up actions from that need to be factored into the shift. I’ll put the referrals into a plan on Google Maps and move them about to find a route that gets to as many people as possible on shift. Around 7:30/8pm, I’ll pick up my volunteer and head out, using a Zipcar located close to home.

The most satisfying thing is ending people’s homelessness there and then on the night, on the street. In truth it may be ultimately very short-term as the challenges of keeping people from returning to the streets are many, but the immediate relief and people’s reactions to it are very satisfying. I also enjoy working with skilled, diligent and sensitive colleagues and volunteers, who give their time and energy to ending street homelessness. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge is engaging people who’ve been out on the streets for a long time. They may be sceptical about what you can offer, may have had bad experiences in the past with services, may be struggling with substance abuse and health issues. It’s difficult to build a bigger picture of the type of care and approach that might benefit the individual if they won’t engage with you on any level. But we try and work out the best way to offer that person support.

The work is fundamentally very independent in practice but only works in substance as part of a larger team. We put out a number of shifts each night across London and are in constant communication with each other whilst on shift. If one of us is in a difficult situation, there are a number of colleagues who can help. We often work directly with each other and talk over situations and exchanges that were challenging. Each worker has a different approach and will have different advice and support regarding each situation.

It starts with the planning, the layout and idea of the shift. After a while you get to know areas and are able to guess where and when people are most likely to be found. Then there’s searching for people and if finding them, working out the best form of support. Ideally we can take them to an emergency shelter but sometimes this isn’t possible, so we have to offer alternative support and reassurances that we are trying to help them away from the streets. I think trust is one of the biggest aspects of this work – the person you’re speaking with has to believe you have their best interests at heart. You have to clear and honest with people even if means delivering news they don’t want to hear. Then there’s the reporting of each shift and encounter which should be clear and concise, so that colleagues can see what work you have carried out and know what the next step of action is.

The scale and dedication of the outreach services makes Thames Reach unique. We’re covering such a large area with such a dedicated workforce. Colleagues are from a broad range of backgrounds, and that influences their connection to the work and how they do it. This contributes to the service’s dynamic and robustness and makes the challenging tasks at hand that much more achievable.”

Thames Reach are expanding and have roles available across London at a range of levels. Experience is not necessarily required as full training and support is provided. There are opportunities to work flexibly or part-time around other commitments, which allows a range of people with different experiences to work together to end street homelessness.