Homes for Cathy spoke to Stephanie Wood, Head of Supported Housing at Sovereign, to find out how the housing association has used MHCLG funding to set up a new move-on scheme in Basingstoke that puts the psychological needs of residents first.
What was the background to your Next Steps Accommodation bid?
Before the funding came up, we were already having various discussions with Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council on homelessness provision as part of our involvement with the Basingstoke and Deane Social Inclusion Partnership (SIP). The SIP is a strategic partnership of local stakeholders, including statutory, voluntary and charity organisations, faith groups and local businesses, all of whom want to reduce homelessness and advance social inclusion in the borough.
The local authority clearly highlighted that they had real issue with move-on accommodation from the homeless pathway for single people, especially single people under the age of 35 who simply can’t access self-contained properties as move-on. Not only is it completely unaffordable in Basingstoke for them to cover the cost of a one bed flat, there’s also a massive shortage of one-bed properties in the area.
We wanted to provide something different and it was felt that offering shared accommodation would work much better, preparing people and giving them the skills for a shared living arrangement, as realistically this is likely to be the type of property they will eventually move on to.
Tell us about the accommodation the funding will deliver
We’re setting up three very small HMO shared properties. One is already open – a three-bedroom house where we’re currently converting a garage to provide some social space. The other two – which are very large four-bedroom flats – are being refurbished at the moment to make them three-bedroom flats, one of which will have an office with its own access so as not to impinge on residents’ privacy and the other of which will have a computer or quiet room, depending on what the future residents want.
We were actually really shocked to get the funding, not only because Basingstoke hadn’t been earmarked as an area for Next Steps Accommodation, but also because the service put forward didn’t meet the criteria for self-contained properties.
What secured it for us was the unique support we were able to provide with the revenue element. We’re setting up the service using a psychologically informed approach (PIA), with input from psychologists and peer mentoring – it’s something that was of real interest to MHCLG.
How do the PIA and peer mentoring scheme work and what difference do they make for people using the service?
Through the SIP we were already engaged with an organisation called Outcome Home, a group of psychologists from the University of Southampton who have developed an existing peer mentor programme in Basingstoke. Luckily, they absolutely felt that this was a project they wanted to be part of and we were able to establish a project group together, which includes two peer mentors, two psychologists from the University of Southampton, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and ourselves. What it’s enabled us to do is think about how we could deliver the service differently. The peer mentors and Outcome Home are leading on engagement with residents to shape the policies and approaches for the service, for example how we identify who will move into the properties.
A crucial aspect is that there are no forms to fill in and no referrals; we simply approach the providers of the local homelessness pathway to suggest who they think would benefit from the service. We don’t go through any criminal history or previous tenancies, we ask the current provider to share that information with us so the new tenant doesn’t have to go through it over and over again. The peer mentors and support worker then have a conversation with a prospective tenant to find out what they hope to get out of the scheme, as well as their aspirations in terms of moving forward. It’s all very informal.
With the service that’s already open, before it opened we were able to identify three people who wanted to live together and engage with them about what they wanted the service to look like in terms of decoration, furniture and fittings.
We’re now converting the garage into a lounge with the Next Steps Funding and although we’re limited in terms of the conversion work, the residents have been part of the plans; they’re deciding what’s going in there – a snooker table at present. Our plan was also to involve them in the decorating itself but unfortunately Covid restrictions and the tight timeline has stopped us from being able to do that.
The support itself is being delivered in three ways. Sovereign does the housing management and our support worker provides up to three hours of support for each individual around practical things like benefits and independent living skills. There is also a level of support from the volunteer peer mentors who bring lived experience and have been through a lot of the same challenges. Additionally, the psychologists from Outcomes Homes will spend several hours a week supporting the residents either as a group or as individuals for anyone who wants it.
The difference with a PIA is that services are designed and delivered in a way that considers the emotional and psychological needs of the individuals using them, so with that in mind we also did a piece of work with the residents around how they wanted to manage the property together; they came up with their own rules, such as not smoking inside.
The peer mentors are also involved alongside the psychologists in working with residents on what we call ‘safety planning’, not only looking at how they would like us to respond to potential challenging behaviour but also how they would like their fellow residents to respond, so problems don’t become bigger issues that could ultimately threaten their accommodation. There’s no sanction process; the residents decide what happens when someone breaks the rules and how it’s dealt with – it’s very much turning things on their head in terms of who has the control. It’s quite a unique approach for the residents, who have already been through a pathway of hostels.
Do you have any learnings to share with Homes for Cathy members having set up the service?
As we’ve already opened the first scheme, we definitely have a lot of learnings we can use in the other two properties to make it a smoother process. As with any partnership scheme, going forward it’s important to map out responsibilities and where they sit, so there’s no confusion or doubling up. It’s also important to recognise the engagement process with residents can take time; going too quickly can be very overwhelming and cause unnecessary anxiety. Obtaining ‘buy in’ from other homeless services making the referrals is also vital, not only so that we have a sufficient timeframe to work with residents in advance of moving in but also so that people using those services are informed and educated about their options for moving on and are better prepared when the time comes. Again, it’s part of the whole PIA approach, taking into account their needs around mental and psychological wellbeing and recognising that moving itself can be traumatic.
What are your hopes for the future of the service?
We haven’t put a time limit on residents using the service, despite the MHCLG criteria being that it’s temporary move-on for a maximum of two years. Our belief is that people will be engaging in a service that will move their life on and that they will naturally want progress over that time period. We hope that having engaged with the peer mentors, residents may even be inspired to become peer mentors themselves to future residents.
Sovereign is a leading housing association operating across the south of England, with almost 60,000 homes focused in a core area covering Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire, the West of England and the Isle of Wight.