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 Thames Reach’s Social Inclusion Project

The Social Inclusion Project, as part of the Tenancy Sustainment Team, has seen fantastic results since it began in summer 2019. Lorraine is lead worker for the project, and tells us all about how the team are working to help people integrate back into their communities.

An introduction to Thames Reach’s Social Inclusion Project

After sharing David’s story, many people were inspired by his recovery journey from social isolation. As part of the Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) service at Thames Reach, the Social Inclusion Project provides a much-needed service to people moving on from street homelessness who need support in rebuilding their wellbeing and self-worth. We spoke with Lorraine, lead worker for the project, to learn more about how the service works and how it is improving the lives of vulnerable people moving on to the next stage of their recovery.

How does the Social Inclusion Project work?
We are funded by the Big Lottery and designed to work with people engaged with our Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) service, who get referred to me if they are socially isolated and would like to address this. We work to help people feel less isolated so they can start to recover from their former situation and move forward with their lives; we build their self-esteem, get them involved with their communities, and help them build support networks. The whole aim of TST is to provide people with two years of support when in their accommodation after experiencing homelessness; we are helping them live independently and move forward. Our work helps vulnerable people live happier and more fulfilling lives.

What might the support on offer look like on a practical level?
It will look different for each person; for example people who have moved to a new area will want help integrating into the community; if someone is recovering from substance use we will help them build a new way of life. People may struggle with confidence for a range of reasons, often including low self-esteem, or poor mental or physical health.

Initially, we might help them with getting outside, maybe for a walk or a coffee, or visiting local attractions, then eventually some people will want to get into volunteering or training. Referring to other services is a big part of it too, such as peer support and befriending. We have also helped people get in contact with lost friends or family.

How long has the project been running and what changes have you seen?
We’ve been going for just over a year now, and it has ended up looking quite different to what I had originally expected. I work alongside each individual’s TST support worker to make sure we’re providing the best service, in a person-centred way. I myself visit each individual once a week.

How do you work with volunteers?
We have a small team of volunteers, who are committed to one full day a week; we provide lots of training and shadowing, and each volunteer has a small number of individuals they support. Our volunteers want to work with vulnerable people integrating into communities. One of our volunteers was lacking in confidence after having a child; after volunteering she went on to get a job in a care home and is now training to be a nurse. Another member of the team is doing it as part of a placement for her social care course.

What’s your greatest success story since the project began?
I think our greatest achievement is setting up a counselling service through EVOLVE Housing for people to access free of charge. EVOLVE initially provided the service as a pilot whilst we provided the physical space. The partnership has been very successful and between the two organisations we have agreed to continue this at a very low cost. We will soon be able to offer counselling to other people using our TST services too.

Interview with Mitchel, the emerging artist making work about homelessness

After some time spent sleeping rough, Mitchel is receiving support from Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team, and has been selected for Accumulate Art School for the Homeless. As they launch their first book, we spoke with Mitchel to find out more about his art practice and how it’s helped him move on from street homelessness.

Interview with Mitchel, the emerging artist making work about homelessness

Accumulate is an art school that has been set up especially to nurture the artistic talents of people who have experienced or been affected by homelessness. Acknowledging that this group are hugely underrepresented in all industries including the creative sector, the school is a great opportunity to access higher education. Mitchel has been receiving support from Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) – Private Rented support service, and has been studying with Accumulate; his work is featured in their new book ‘The Book of Homelessness’. We spoke with him about his art practice, the opportunity to have his work published and his hopes for the future.

Hi Mitchel, can you tell us about where your journey with art-making began?

I have been making art in one way or another for all my adult life. I started off doing graffiti and studied art at school; I enjoyed it and was good at it. When I was doing graffiti in my teens, I started off just writing my name everywhere then my style developed. I’ve done other things like t-shirt designs, then I gave up on it, I just sort of stopped doing it.

How did you start working with Accumulate?

I was street homeless for a short time, and then the hostel I was staying at started running art workshops.

The guy facilitating the workshops was involved with Accumulate. When I was introduced to them they were doing a fashion show so I went along to find out more. They told me about the book they were involved with; I showed them some photos of my art and they wanted me to be involved.

They’ve encouraged me a lot, and they’ve made me realise it’s something I can pursue. I’ve remembered that I still enjoy making art and that it opens a lot of doors, it starts conversations with people. People like art. It’s cool, I’m glad I started doing it again.

How has your art practice helped you?

It’s such a great way of expressing yourself, when I was a teenager I used graffiti as a way of reinventing myself, making up my own persona. People don’t know who you are, so you can choose how you want to put yourself across to the world. It’s a different way to communicate.

Can you tell us about the work you have featured in Accumulate’s book?

I did want to make some art about my experience of being homeless, but I didn’t get as much done as I’d like to. The book has drawings I’ve done about that time in my life, like a picture of me when I was running out of a shop, drawing things happening to me. Snapshots of my time being homeless; it’s not a linear story. Other artists have so many interesting stories in there, I learnt so much about the different reasons and stories why people are homeless. It was quite humbling to meet all these people who have come from such terrible things, it made me think a bit more about why people are on the streets. When you’re homeless you tend to hang around with people with the same issues as you so you don’t always hear about these different situations. The whole thing has been enlightening and humbling. It’s got a couple of famous people who have contributed to it too, including some comments from Colin Firth.

Can you talk a bit about the support you receive from Thames Reach?

I was connected to Thames Reach for support after I moved out of a hostel, so they’ve been helping me in my new accommodation. It means I have someone to check in with me, making sure I’m doing what I need to do, it’s been really helpful to make sure I’m not struggling. At the moment they call regularly to see if I’m alright. They will help with transferring drug support service, anything around additional support needs, making sure the progress I’ve made will still work at my new place. It’s easy to let appointments and other things slide and end up struggling, so they have been really helpful in that way.

Where are you now on your journey? What’s next for you and your art?

I’ve been housed recently, just before the pandemic, for the first time since becoming homeless last year; I was in a hostel from June 2019 to February. Accumulate raises sponsorship from companies for scholarships to go onto access courses in design and digital media at Ravensbourne University London, and I got one this year. Things are going a lot better now. I’m not using drugs anymore; in October I decided to do a full month without drinking, drugs or smoking, so things are going good. I’m trying to concentrate on the course at the moment, it’s giving me lots to keep busy with.

On the course so far I’ve learnt about data visualisation, about displaying information, now we’re doing a second project on a fashion magazine app, so we did a photoshoot, we all made garments. It’s all been great fun.

The book is available to buy on Accumulate’s website, where all contributing artists receive a percentage of the proceeds.

Gabriel’s story

Gabriel became homeless just before the pandemic, but was able to return to work and have a new start with the help of the Lambeth Non-UK Employment Project at Thames Reach

Gabriel’s story

Gabriel* is a Portuguese man living in London, who found himself homeless for the first time in the spring of 2020. He had a history of substance use and when he became homeless, his drug use had increased, due to the additional stress and trauma of his situation.

He had support in place around his drug use, but was struggling to fully engage with this process; overcoming this first barrier was essential in order to begin his journey away from homelessness. A lot of the early support he received was around stabilising his use, which he actively engaged with, and was successful in doing.

Gabriel also had a strong skillset and a long history of employment. The key to supporting him was helping him feel empowered to make steps towards employment and increasing his confidence, which had suffered during his periods of drug use and homelessness.

On a practical level the Lambeth Non-UK Employment Project (LNEP) team created a CV for him, provided transport costs so he could look for work and sent him job opportunities. Gabriel was encouraged to actively participate in the process, and by providing him with the tools he needed, he began taking steps to find employment.

Moving out of London was something Gabriel felt would be beneficial to his recovery. He found a job in Hastings as a cleaner in a supermarket, and needed to start within a few days. This is when support had to be as flexible as possible; the team needed to move quickly to ensure he was able to relocate in time to secure the position.

As soon as he was offered the position the team referred him to the Private Rented Sector (PRS) service within Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST), during which time he was secured hotel accommodation in Hastings and relocated immediately, to begin work within a few days. This gave the PRS team enough time to work on securing affordable accommodation locally and begin the resettlement process.

Gabriel is happy in his new job, it is a role that is not too mentally challenging for him; he says it gives him time to work on his recovery and rebuild his confidence. On his time off he is enjoying long sea walks and feels it is the first step towards a new future.

Interview: Thames Reach volunteer discusses supporting our essential services

We speak with one of our new volunteers about her essential work supporting Thames Reach teams during the pandemic

Interview: Thames Reach volunteer discusses supporting our essential services

Volunteers are an integral part of Thames Reach’s work with the communities and individuals that need us most. We recruit volunteers year-round but during lockdown, their work allows services to keep running, and ensures that the most vulnerable people continue to feel supported. We spoke with Eleanor Wyld, who is volunteering with the Tenancy Sustainment Team. She found that she had many transferable skills and wanted to use them to help those in need in her community…

When did you start volunteering with Thames Reach, and how did you hear about us?

I joined a local WhatsApp group when the lockdown came into place, as I think a lot of people did. As a young-ish, healthy woman who had gone from full-time employment to having a lot of time on my hands I wanted to be of use. Plus I wanted to be able to help out in my local area. One of the people in the group asked if anyone wanted to volunteer for Thames Reach and I put my name forward. I sent my interest and experience in an email, had a phone interview and before long I was calling clients to find out how they were and if they had been affected badly by Covid, or if they needed any extra help from Thames Reach.

Why did you want to volunteer with us?

I had walked past the Thames Reach offices often but didn’t know what services they offered. When the lockdown came into effect I wanted to use my skills in the local area to help vulnerable people. Once I looked into the organisation online I realised I had something to offer.

What is the average day of volunteering day like? 

I’ve been mainly doing half days here and there. Because of social distancing measures, staff in the offices are having to work on rotation in order to upkeep the 2m distance rule. I have had an isolated desk where I can call clients and reach out to the clients that support workers are finding hard to contact. Because there is a lot of work to be done since Covid-19 in regards to benefits and healthcare support, I have been given clients to call who although may be lower risk, could still be suffering due to the current climate. I ask them how they are coping, if they have any symptoms and check in with their mental health. I ask if we can do anything to help them in regards to food, electricity, benefits and make notes to pass on to full time staff who are swamped with work at the moment. Mainly I’m just someone to talk to. A lot of the clients that the Tenancy Support Team work with live extremely isolated lives. This has been exacerbated by the lockdown so I’m able to listen to their concerns and anxieties and am sure to make notes and follow up any issues with their designated support worker.

I have also been able to help with sorting paperwork and admin that the key workers don’t have the time to sort out during this stressful time.

How has your usual job helped with your volunteering?

I’m an actress and writer and I work in a bookshop part-time. I am used to working with people and I’m interested in people’s stories. I have worked with The Big House Theatre Company and Only Connect in the past, both charities that work with clients through theatre. What I helped with at Thames Reach felt more front-line and as if I was communicating with people who needed help or a kind word, right now.

What have you learned and what is the most rewarding part of the experience?

I have learned a little bit about how Thames Reach and TST works. I have learned how the lockdown is affecting the most vulnerable and have been able to feel useful in regards to helping people get food vouchers or sort out their benefits in this new climate, or just talk to someone about how they are going to cope now that they have lost their job. Cheering someone up on the phone, allowing them to feel listened to and putting them at ease has been the most rewarding thing.

If Eleanor’s conversation has inspired you, have a chat with us about current opportunities that can suit your time availability and skills: volunteers@thamesreach.org.uk

Featured image is another of our fantastic volunteers.

How are our different services adapting to the crisis?

How staff are coping, adapting and working together to help the most vulnerable during COVID-19

How are our different services adapting to the crisis?

While the pandemic has meant big changes in the way we all live and work, we still need to provide essential services to the people we work with, who are particularly affected.  Adapting and working collaboratively has been crucial in ensuring that not only is no one left behind to sleep rough, but the people who rely on us continue to receive the appropriate support. We spoke with three members of staff about how services have changed and about how they are coping at this time:

Matthew Davison is Lead Manager for TST (Tenancy Sustainment Team) South:

“We’re still operating a near-normal service from our office and across the community; we are still very much available for urgent and non-urgent queries and don’t want any of the people we work with to feel that they have been left alone at this difficult time. Social distancing is respected during any face-to-face contact, which is being prioritised for those in need of urgent support, which can mean a variety of things, whether this is having no income or health, legal or safeguarding issues. For non-urgent support, we are regularly checking in with clients over the phone. Welcome Sessions for new nominated clients are also being held over the phone as much as possible, and in some circumstances we are helping clients move into new properties.

The team are facing challenges, mostly with the reality of having to social-distance themselves. For example, due to the nature of some types of medication, some clients have had no option but to go to pharmacies in person to collect their prescriptions. There has also been a lack of clarity around whether clients have been, or should be, identified by the NHS as being in the high-risk ‘Shielding’ category. These have been dealt with very much on a case-by-case basis and we have been working together to put the needs of our clients first.”

Sarah Jeeves is our Learning & Development Officer. Alongside her work in the Central Services team, she has been providing support in one of our hostels.

“In terms of HR, it’s been a lot busier since the lockdown; on top of our day-to-day work we’ve been updating policies and processes, especially around sickness and working from home. There have been lots more enquiries and staff asking for advice, which is changing and updating as we go. Some of the team are working remotely so we’ve been having Microsoft Teams meetings, WhatsApp video meetings… it’s changing but we’re adapting to it well so far.

I started thinking about volunteering at the hostel after realising that many staff members would be self-isolating or shielding. Working in HR, I knew first-hand that the staffing shortages would be affecting our most essential services, and when I began coordinating our volunteers, I decided to wonder how I could make my work go further. The main differences between my normal work and working in our hostels is how you start to perceive things and organise your day differently. Whereas in HR there are systems and schedules, working with people with a range of needs means you need to be prepared to be more spontaneous and proactive.

The benefits to both the hostel and myself have been pretty clear, for example I imagine it was a relief to have someone who knows Thames Reach well and already works here providing support where necessary. Seeing our work in the hostels has allowed me to see how I might do my normal job differently; I organise our training schedules so I can see where Managers might need training in different areas. My confidence has definitely grown here, and I feel capable to do the work whether it is based in an office or hostel. I also have a background in mental health so I’m confident in how to approach certain situations. As I’m managing the volunteers, I know exactly where the gaps are in our essential services and am always happy to talk to staff, and members of the public, about how they might want to volunteer their time and skills during this difficult time.”

Jakub Turek is Senior Practitioner for the Rapid Response Team.

“In the current situation a lot of services have been temporarily closed or have limited access. For us in the Rapid Response Team it means we have to work harder and build stronger relationships with local authorities to ensure our clients are supported during this hard time which affects everybody.

We have been working closely with other Outreach services like never before. The solidarity in the homelessness sector in London has been really encouraging.

Our service has been delivered with no disturbance apart from receiving a much higher number of Street Link referrals. We have been responding to referrals every night 7 days a week. Our team have been working really hard to ensure all referrals are visited and clients are placed somewhere safe.”

Alex’s story

Having lived in the UK for 35 years, Alex found herself needing support accessing the EU Settlement Scheme

Alex’s story

Alex* has dual nationality, having been born in France but later grew up in Spain. Her parents are Hungarian and Polish respectively. She is 56 years old and has spent the last 35 years living in the UK with a valid permanent residence card, which she got in 2015. These cards are being phased out and will no longer be accepted after 31 December 2020, so she needed to apply for the government’s EU Settlement Scheme.

She lives alone and is a client of Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team and regularly uses the services at Brent Reach. She has previously experienced homelessness and slept rough for a short time. In April 2019 Alex had a stroke, which means she currently cannot move or walk easily. Tremors in her arms make it difficult for her to sign or write documents, so it was crucial that the EU Settlement Scheme team at Thames Reach were able to assist with the process of applying to the scheme.

Alex lacks digital skills and does not own electronic devices, other than an old smartphone which she does not like, struggles to use and does not understand. She speaks English but her first language is Spanish, so there are some language barriers in completing the process. With multiple physical and mental health support needs, it was important that she received sufficient support throughout the process. During the initial meeting with the team, she suffered a panic attack, caused in part by the fact that she feels anxious, depressed and unwelcome by Brexit and topics explored in the EU Settlement Scheme.

After the initial struggle with the system, Alex has now successfully applied to the EU Settlement Scheme with the help of Thames Reach. Although she still admits to disliking the scheme, she has a much better understanding of it now and feels great relief that she has been able to complete the process. Her settled status has just been confirmed, and she is now looking to the future.

Our client’s name has been changed for confidentiality