What is it like to do a student placement with Thames Reach?

Maja discusses what she has learned during her social work student placement

What is it like to do a student placement with Thames Reach?

“During the pandemic I did some work at a food bank in Camberwell, and while volunteering I realised that I wanted to shift my career towards helping people. I was walking past Thames Reach’s Camberwell office all the time, so knew where they were, and decided to do some more research to find out the kind of support that they offer people. After my time at the food bank, I had started my degree in social work, so for my placement I applied with Thames Reach, and was told that I might be a good fit for the TST* [Tenancy Sustainment Team].”

A day in the life of a social work placement

“I would always start the day before, preparing for the next morning’s visits. As a volunteer, I didn’t have my own caseload, but I assisted a support worker in the team, so would be making to visits to people across London, in the form of welfare checks, or other things they might need. I would organise this in such a way that manages my time well, for instance I would try to get to see everyone living in South West London in one day. Usually, my day consisted of visits in the morning, then catching up with admin in the afternoon, either in the office or at home. Flexibility is key for the role, as sometimes visits don’t go exactly to plan, and I might be needed to help out with other issues during welfare checks. For example, I might spend an hour on the phone to the gas company for someone we support, other times I’ll be told that they are fine, and it’s only a short visit! If things don’t go to plan, it can be a bit of a challenge, but there have been times when I’m doing my admin later on and am actually able to identify the progress someone is making.

“The element I’ve enjoyed the most has been meeting the people Thames Reach work with. I spent the early part of my placement observing support workers and the reality of homelessness; it has been so inspiring to see how the academic work I’ve been doing for my degree comes together with practical experiences. I could notice myself becoming more confident as the time went on!”

Challenges of the work

“I was definitely quite naive in the beginning; I didn’t realise how complex the transition from homelessness to recovery and independent living can be. I thought that housing equals recovery, but there’s so much more that goes on in terms of supporting people when they’ve been traumatised. Playing a small part in showing people that they deserve a higher standard of living has been rewarding.”

Advice to future volunteers

“To anyone thinking of doing this kind of volunteering, I’d say go for it! Especially if it is part of a placement, as it can really boost the theoretical and academic side of social work. It’s really important to be proactive; showing people that you are there to help is really important, as is a willingness to get involved with anything that needs doing. Get as much experience as you can! As well as my work with TST, I was able to visit other projects such as hostels, to see the bigger picture of the different ways in which people are supported. I’m hoping to come back to London once I graduate to continue doing this work, so watch this space!”

*The Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) are a vital part of Thames Reach’s recovery work, helping people who have had experience sleeping rough to move towards independent living, with support packages that help people in their homes once they have been housed. This support can help with issues around mental health, employment, physical health and addiction. 

Check out our Volunteering page for a range of ways you can support Thames Reach.


How women are supported through trauma-informed hostels

Area Manager Bethan discusses the experiences of women in hostels

How women are supported through trauma-informed hostels

Bethan is Thames Reach’s Area Manager for Hostels. With years of experience in key work with people facing multiple disadvantages, she discusses the barriers women come up against when moving through the homelessness pathways in hostels.

“We see lots of people move through our hostels, all with different stories and histories, and the demand is only getting higher. Although, there are much fewer women in our hostels than men, and there always have been. It’s important not to generalise, but we have fewer women residents in our hostels as they tend to stay as long as possible with their support networks, even if they are challenging, precarious or dangerous environments.

“It can take longer to build relationships with women in the hostel setting, sometimes as a result of the traumatic experiences they have faced before arriving. When someone we’re working with has already been through significant trauma and abuse, staying in one place can be difficult and anxiety-inducing, and it’s not uncommon for people to move between hostels if their needs aren’t being met. We have to look at what their particular needs are, and we help them make and attend appointments such as physical and sexual health care.

Key workers have to be flexible and creative when building trusting relationships; back when I was a key worker, I was supporting one woman who wouldn’t even answer the door when she first arrived, which I totally understood, so I’d just leave her a cup of tea outside every morning, and popped a note under her door to let her know I would be available when she’s ready to talk.

“There is a lot of discussion about gendered spaces at the moment, and while they certainly have benefits, trauma-informed spaces are arguably more important. At Thames Reach, all our hostels are trauma-informed, which means that we support people in a way that acknowledges and works with trauma, rather than against or despite of it. This is essential in helping people move on in a way that makes sense for them.”



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

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

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

Yvonne 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.  

Keeping vulnerable women safe in lockdown

Anthony Donnelly, lead worker at our women-only residential project in Lambeth, talks about how residents and staff are adapting to lockdown

Keeping vulnerable women safe in lockdown

We caught up with Anthony Donnelly, who manages our women’s residential service in Lambeth. The project works with women with multiple and often complex issues, and as a residential service it plays a significant role in supporting women who may be vulnerable in a mixed-gender setting. Anthony tells us how staff and residents alike are adapting well during the lockdown. 

 It’s about seven weeks into lockdown now and as there are only five women living at our project, we can personalise the support we provide and can take into account everyone’s needs. For example, three people in the house are in a high-risk category, so we have separated the two bathrooms we have, one on the first floor and another downstairs, so that high-risk residents have sufficient space and shielding is able to take place. Cleaning efforts have increased during this time too; we have cleaners coming more regularly, ensuring hygienic conditions for everyone.

In lockdown it’s clear to see how entrenched rough sleeping has a big impact on self-esteem, as sometimes the residents have less concern for their own wellbeing. Years of street activity is often part of their psyche, even after our residents have been able to move away from the streets, and that level of social distancing has proven difficult for some of the women at our project. Where there are multiple issues, like underlying conditions or mental health issues for example, not being in contact with family members and friends is incredibly difficult. Overall though, our client group tend to have a much lighter social footprint than those in mainstream living as their social networks are often smaller than or not as supportive. Having our project as a base has been essential in keeping all our residents safe.

In terms of issues that disproportionately affect women, we have been hearing in the news that there has been an increase in domestic abuse cases since lockdown, but fortunately this has not something we have found among residents here. We have had to implement a ban on visitors, which is not ideal for wellbeing and morale but has to be done in these circumstances.

Residents being able to move on from the project isn’t really possible at the moment but we have recently taken in a new resident; this was all done via phone and with social distancing in mind. It’s quite an uncomfortable and potentially upsetting way to go about entering new accommodation for the first time, so I’m looking forward to being able to welcome people properly again. There are a couple of women ready for moving on to rented accommodation but unfortunately they are both in the high-risk category so will not be able to do so until the situation has changed.

The psychological impact of the pandemic isn’t too evident yet, but we have additional psychological support offered at Waterloo Project [another Thames Reach project]. Residents are starting to take up the offer and we are helping facilitate this, but there is some extra caution surrounding accessing external health services with residents, due to social distancing. I am keeping in contact with residents via phone to let them know about meals and services, so I can check in with them without physical proximity. We have been getting food parcels of freshly prepared meals supplied via local authorities, who have been really helpful and cooperative. Above all else, our project remains a supportive and safe base for vulnerable women and those with experience of homelessness. We are really pleased to be able to keep this service running throughout the pandemic.

International Women’s Day – Women’s Supported Housing

We speak to Anthony Donnelly, the Lead Worker of Thames Reach’s supported housing project for women in Lambeth

International Women’s Day – Women’s Supported Housing

Anthony Donnelly is Lead Worker at Camberwell New Road, a satellite service for the Waterloo Project, a supported housing scheme to accommodate five homeless or vulnerable women at a time in Lambeth in a shared house. Staff work with the residents to help them engage with services and maintain positive lifestyle changes especially in relation to substance issues, such as drug and alcohol misuse. We spoke to him about his women’s-only service.

What do you find are the recurring reasons for women’s homelessness?

I’m not sure the reasons differ from men’s experience of homelessness that much, overall. I’d say that early trauma, family breakdown, lack of education (and therefore limited routes into employment), leaving care, addiction issues, a lack of affordable and decent accommodation, and poor mental wellbeing, all contribute to women becoming homeless.

However, specific issues which women face, that may lead to them becoming homeless, include fleeing domestic abuse or trafficking gangs.

What support does Camberwell New Road [CNR] provide and what partnerships do you have with external services?

We’re mostly staffed Monday to Friday, one of the days over the weekend, and have a concierge who is here Thursday to Sunday. I support all the CNR residents and liaise with local services such as Ace of Clubs, Lorraine Hewitt House, Single Point Access, Gaia, Fulfilling lives, SHP [Single Homeless Project], Clearing House, SLAM [South London and Maudsley NHS Trust], Lambeth IPTT [Integrated Psychological Therapy Team], and Kings College Hospital.  In terms of practical support, I arrange wake up calls, accompany residents to key appointments, signpost to local services and ensure telephone support from the Waterloo Project is provided to residents who need extra support when I’m not on site.

How long can residents stay at CNR, and where do they move on to?

Ideally, residents will spend no more than 18 months at CNR. The Private Rented Sector [PRS] is the main option open to CNR residents, as most of them do not have CHAIN numbers, thus meaning that they can’t access Clearing House properties.

What’s the most rewarding part of working with residents at CNR?

Since working here, I’ve supported women to move to independent accommodation and have worked with other women to get them ready for move on, who have now been accepted onto a PRS scheme. Alongside this, residents have engaged well with ETE [Education, Training, Employment] at the Employment Academy, and completed TRaVEL and MIMO courses. In terms of engaging with external agencies, one of the women at CNR was supported to engage with one-to-one therapy, and completed a 13-week course at the Lambeth Integrated Psychological Therapy Team [IPTT] service, and also volunteered at a local charity shop.  Another resident has worked hard to become sober, and engaged with two trial programmes run from Lorraine Hewitt House [drug and alcohol rehabilitation services], one an opiate blocking injection trial, and the other a crack cessation trial.

Read more about Waterloo Project and Camberwell New Road through the link below.

Thames Reach women use new painting skills to makeover community centre in Peckham

Women complete six week painting and decorating course at Thames Reach Employment Academy

Thames Reach women use new painting skills to makeover community centre in Peckham

A group of female trainees have successfully completed Moving In Moving On (MIMO), a six-week painting and decorating course based at the Thames Reach Employment Academy in Camberwell and the Bells Gardens Community Centre in Peckham.

The Thames Reach MIMO project, funded by the MariaMarina Foundation, aims to help people who may be vulnerable, socially isolated or those who have experienced long-term unemployment to build practical skills, confidence and friendships in a safe and focused environment, and prepare them in finding future employment.

The women spent the first three weeks at Thames Reach Employment Academy where they learnt basic painting and decorating skills in the classroom such as preparing surfaces, plastering, health and safety in the workplace and intricate stencil designs enabling them to create their own artwork.

On the final three weeks of the course, the trainees put their skills to the test in a real life setting as they redecorated the entire front of reception at the Bells Gardens Community Centre in Peckham, giving it a fresh new feel. A huge task which was well received from all staff members at the centre.

Margaret Onwuta, Senior Manager at the Bells Gardens Community Centre spoke about the project saying;

“On behalf of the organisation, I would like to say a huge thank you to all the ladies for a job well done.

“When I met with them initially I was not sure of what to expect until they started preparing the area.

“They were a lovely group who not only got on well with each other, but with our staff team and visitors”.

On completion of the course, each woman was presented with a certificate in recognition of their achievement and commitment. They now have the opportunity to undertake accredited City & Guilds training in painting skills which will be delivered at the Employment Academy in partnership with Flower Skills Training – an organisation providing specialist training and development for working in the construction sector.

The women spoke fondly of their time on the course and the chance it gave them to express themselves creatively and develop practical skills, all whilst getting to know a team of other women in similar life situations.

One lady, who has been a resident at Thames Reach’s Lambeth High Street hostel for the last year-and-a-half after losing her flat, spoke about her experience on MIMO, saying:

“To be honest, I thought it would be boring. But now I’m glad I took part.

“We were given a lot of choice and freedom to express ourselves on MIMO and the course educated me in areas that I never knew.

“It’s definitely helped improve my confidence and now I’m looking at doing other courses, maybe another six week course or a yearlong one”.

Another trainee described the course as;

“A very interactive and fun course which gives practical skills and confidence to be in social environments.

“It brings you out of your shell and helps create a sense of independence.

“I now want to try my hand at gardening”.

Historically, the outcomes of this course have been highly impressive with trainees going on to further their skills and knowledge, gain accredited City & Guilds qualifications and find and sustain employment.

Thames Reach is committed to supporting men and women with complex and multiple needs, and will continue to evolve its services ensuring every service user is supported to move away from homelessness