Category Archives: Next Steps Accommodation Programme

Psychologically informed approach key to Sovereign’s new Next Steps Accommodation service

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.


About Sovereign

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.

Read about Charlie, one of the peer mentors working with Sovereign

Moving away from traditional models of homeless accommodation

In our latest look at how members are using Next Steps Accommodation grants, Homes for Cathy caught up with Charlotte Murray, Co-Director of Care, Health & Wellbeing at South Yorkshire Housing Association, who shared how the funding is helping replace traditional models of homeless accommodation in South Yorkshire with dispersed properties, supporting people living with multiple, complex issues to overcome their challenges.

How does SYHA work to eliminate homelessness in your local area?

At South Yorkshire Housing Association, we believe a high quality, safe and stable home is the foundation for everyone to settle, live well and realise their potential.  We work with homeless people to understand their needs and issues, co-producing services which seek to address the root causes of homelessness, and providing essential services such as hostels.

We’re particularly proud of our Housing First programmes, especially our most established programme in Rotherham.  In partnership with Target Housing and Rotherham Borough Council, we’re providing homes and support for 30 previously homeless people across the borough.  In 2020, through funding from Homeless Link, we employed our first Trauma Informed Counsellor. Through co-design with Housing First customers, we identified an urgent, unmet need for bespoke psychological support which recognised the complexity of their lives and mental health conditions. The model is already proving highly successful and we’re training staff across other services in delivering trauma-informed approaches.

Of course, Housing First is just one part of how SYHA is working to eliminate homelessness; other services we deliver include high-quality social housing and hostel provision. Across the Sheffield City Region, we work collaboratively with cross-sector partners – from specialist charities to statutory services including local authorities, the NHS and police – to ensure a proactive, coordinated response to homelessness, which maximises our collective resources and expertise.

An issue we’re discussing a lot at SYHA is dispersed accommodation. Traditional models of placing homeless people with multiple, complex issues together in one building have simply not proved effective – it tends to increase, not decrease, the challenges homeless people are seeking to overcome, such as conflict, violence, and substance misuse. Finding cost-effective and scalable solutions to replace the model is one of my top priorities.

Being a Homes for Cathy member is important to SYHA. Having a forum to discuss ideas around homelessness openly with other housing associations helps ensure we’re taking on board latest practice and evidence. Equally, we can share what we’re doing with others, which often sparks further conversations and sharing of our approaches.
     
Could you explain about the background to your NSAP bid?

Following the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ campaign, in 2018 Crisis published the Everyone In: a plan to end homelessness report.  In the report, Crisis lobbied Government for funds to support dispersed supported housing models including Housing First – something, given our own Housing First programme and interest in dispersed housing, we were delighted to see.

When the report was first published, a key goal for SYHA was to work with local authorities across Sheffield City Region to roll out the Housing First model further.  We sent the report to our contacts at each local authority and arranged meetings with them to discuss their appetite for working in partnership with SYHA to help deliver some of the recommendations from Everyone In. 

The Government then launched the Next Steps Accommodation Programme. Although we welcomed it, and the much-needed capital and revenue funding it potentially provided, it was disappointing that the timeframes restricted our ability to deliver any capital projects. Additionally, some of the restrictions in the fund didn’t support models with high fidelity to evidence-based Housing First principles.

By that point, there was growing need and momentum across Sheffield City Region, and we’d built good relationships with the local authorities. Collectively, there was real interest in trying to use the fund to provide the best supported housing solution possible. SYHA therefore decided to join forces with a number of local authorities to support their bids for the first year of the programme. 

Charlotte Murray

What were the outcomes of your Next Steps bids?

We’re now working with four local authorities: Chesterfield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley. Due to the limitations of the year one funding round, we kept the scale small, but we know from our Housing First work in Rotherham that these partnerships often grow.

In partnership with Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC), we’re providing Housing First to seven people across the Borough.  The service started in October 2020 and will run initially for 12 months.  CBC provides the homes and SYHA provides the support element of the service. In January 2021, CBC confirmed it would like to extend the service and work with an additional seven customers. This has been part-funded through the Next Steps Accommodation Programme and there are aspirations for the service to continue long-term.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) has been successful with its bid to the Next Steps Accommodation Programme to provide interim accommodation and support for customers identified as having a low-level mental health diagnosis and who have been displaced as a result of Covid-19.  SYHA will work in partnership with RMBC to deliver ‘Clara Place’, a new homelessness service which will provide a home and support for ten customers.  The service started in November 2020 and will run initially for six months.

Through Next Steps Accommodation funding, our Housing First service in Rotherham, delivered by SYHA and Target Housing for the last three years, has now increased from 25 to 30 customers.

SYHA has an agreement in place with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) to provide 5-10 properties for Housing First, with the Doncaster Complex Lives team delivering the support.

Finally, we’re also in early talks with Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council about the feasibility of establishing a Housing First service for 10-12 customers across the borough from April 2021.  

What services will the funding deliver?

From SYHA’s perspective, the funding will support a mix of dispersed supported housing, small block housing, and move on accommodation. Working creatively, wherever possible we’ll adhere to the principles of ‘High Housing First Fidelity’, including providing a home for life where we don’t have capital restrictions or can swap properties in and out; providing good choice for customers when selecting a property; and a low ratio of customers to key workers for support.

For future years of the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we’re seeking to work in partnership with local authorities to bid for capital funding to ensure we can increase the supply of good quality 1- and 2-bedroom homes across Sheffield City Region in the most popular areas.

What are the main challenges of delivering this type of service?

The Next Steps Accommodation Programme has several limitations, such as a maximum stay of two years, rather than a home for life, limited property choice and limited length of revenue funding, making these projects short-term.  We would like to see revised guidance which addresses these issues, and which also helps to ensure the right support is provided to customers, including taking a strength based and trauma informed approach including providing staff and customers with access to a trained counsellor. In future, we would hope to encourage good links with other agencies and providers to ensure holistic support for customers, for example helping them to register with a GP and foodbank, as well as making sure the tenancy is sustainable by providing debt support, furniture packages, and money to start up a home including connected energy services within the property. 

We believe there needs to be a requirement for providers of services to co-produce services with customers affected by homelessness, and the people and organisations which support them.  We would also like to see an end to evictions of customers affected by homelessness.

What were the key learnings around putting together the bids?

Although the timeframes meant the process felt rushed, the Next Steps Accommodation Programme was great in enabling us to collaborate with local authorities to solve a shared problem.

We’d like to provide more homes through the fund, so we’re hoping that the next round will provide longer lead-times that our development team can meet. Finding land is difficult and purchasing secondhand properties has limitations due to supply and the need for future retrofitting to meet the green agenda and EPC standards.

Longer lead times are also critical to ensure good supply of 1- and 2- bedroom dispersed properties, so we can meet demand and offer choice to customers. We’re hoping that there’ll be clear guidance about whether properties can be swapped in and out should a tenant want to stay.

What positives did you take from the process?

The overwhelming positive has been the shift away from shared accommodation and clustered, high-density accommodation for people affected by homelessness, which mirrors SYHA’s own strategic direction. The emphasis on dispersed supported housing has opened up conversations with local authorities for us and we’ve built new, growing partnerships.

Although the Next Steps Accommodation Programme falls short of some of the recommendations in the Crisis report, ‘Everyone In’, and hasn’t yet enabled us to work in partnership with local authorities to deliver high-fidelity Housing First programmes at scale across Sheffield City Region, it is certainly moving the homelessness strategy forward in the right direction.


South Yorkshire Housing Association is a founding member of the Homes for Cathy group and offers safe and secure spaces for homeless people and families to live in.

Can do attitude helps Broadland rise to Next Steps challenge

In the third in our series of articles about the role of Homes for Cathy members in delivering the Government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we spoke to Broadland Housing’s Executive Development Director Andrew Savage and Executive Director of Housing Catherine Little, to find out how they’re rising to the challenge to provide interim accommodation for homeless people in Norfolk.

What’s the homelessness picture in your local area?

Andrew:

Broadland provides more than 5,000 homes across Norfolk and north Suffolk, so we cover both urban and very rural areas.  As a city and major town in Norfolk, Norwich and King’s Lynn have always been very much at the sharp end of homelessness, with multiple pressing issues such as a large number of migrant homeless with no recourse to public funds.  However, since the pandemic hit, registered providers have realised that there is a homelessness issue right across the area now, not just in the larger settlements.  For example, we’ve seen increasing numbers of people rough sleeping in places like Great Yarmouth and towns in North Norfolk that aren’t normally associated with homelessness, such as Fakenham and North Walsham.  Consequently, there’s been a lot of pressure on local authorities to accommodate people at short notice, with no additional funds to do so. 

Tell us about the projects you are undertaking with NSAP funding…

Andrew:

We asked ourselves the question ‘where do we have critical mass?’ and the answer is Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.  In Great Yarmouth, the local authority wanted to own their properties, as they are a stock holding authority.  So Broadland are providing development agency services to help the three new build developments the council are undertaking.  These when completed will provide circa 30, 50sqm one bedroomed self-contained apartments using modular construction.

In Norwich, we’re working with Norwich City Council to deliver three projects.  We’re buying 10 street flats to provide ex-offenders with a stable home and help them reintegrate into the community. This is using the city’s Right to Buy monies and Broadland capital.  We’re also purchasing an additional 10 flats, using Next Steps funding, on the open market which will be dedicated to Housing First tenants.  Finally, we’re building six one-bedroom modular flats in a new development intended for move-on accommodation.

In King’s Lynn, we have two projects underway using Next Steps funding in collaboration with the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk.  Again, we’re buying six flats on the open market as part of a Housing First project, and leasing ten one bedroom flats for move on.

Broadland Housing Group’s development director Andrew Savage

Did your NSAP bid include any revenue funding?

Catherine:

Yes, we have revenue funding to support our Housing First projects and also to support people in move-on accommodation.  It’s important that people who have experienced homelessness aren’t just given a home and expected to fend for themselves.  For the Housing First projects, we’ve commissioned support from specialist providers, who can provide the right expertise in this area.

What have been the key challenges around delivering on the Next Steps programme?

Andrew:

The main challenge has been that we already had our annual development programme in place, so we’re adding to a programme in a way that wasn’t planned.   It had to be a knee-jerk response because of the funding becoming available – it’s forced us to be reactive which isn’t always ideal in delivering new supply.  Despite this, we haven’t wanted to lower our ambitions on quality.  For example, we’ve done many modern methods of construction (MMC) projects in the past, so it’s not necessarily a new approach, but we’re using it for the right solution.  In terms of meeting the March deadline, there have been a few delays, particularly with the modular accommodation and the housing market supply ebbing and flowing through the various lockdowns however MHCLG and Housing England have been sensible where they can see we’re well advanced with plans.

Catherine:

MHCLG have been brilliant about what they want to achieve but, I agree, it’s not been particularly strategic.  I think we should be looking at a system change instead; unfortunately it feels like we’re a million miles away from that.  The idea of a ‘national asset’ is great, but moving people around is not true Housing First – it doesn’t allow people to put down roots. 

Catherine Little, Broadland’s executive director of housing

What learnings have you taken from the process?

Andrew:

I think in the future, it would be beneficial for the co-ordination to come from either Housing England or MHCLG, rather than both.  Looking ahead I personally feel, funding for years two and three needs to come out at the same time, so that we can plan accordingly.  It would be much better to deliver extra supply rather than partly buying from the existing market stock.  However, there’s always going to be a learning curve and ultimately this was a need in the sector that hadn’t been dealt with.  We now have an opportunity to help deliver what we can in the short term and hopefully people will see the merits in medium term programmes to deliver the ambition of long term national assets.

Catherine:

We’ve been able to build on existing relationships which has been great; fortunately there was already a good deal of trust between Broadland and our local authorities, which made us a natural partner.  We’ve worked more closely with other housing associations to make sure we’re co-ordinating, not competing in this area. The question now is ‘how do we continue to build on these positive relationships?’  From our point of view, it’s vital that we keep an open conversation going with both commissioners and strategic housing providers. 

It’s also vital not to underestimate the importance of the third sector, which has provided strong support across the whole of the county during the crisis.  We believe that if another provider can do something better, they should be the one doing it – no one agency needs to try to do everything.  The partnership approach has definitely broken down some of the barriers that may have existed in the past, which is wonderful.

What positives have you taken from the process?

Catherine:

We’re lucky to be working in an organisation with the leadership of a CEO (Michael Newey) who is passionate about the need to end homelessness and a Board who unanimously support what we’re trying to do.  Being a member of Homes for Cathy has certainly been instrumental in making that happen.

Andrew:

Being part of Homes for Cathy has also provided something for our development team to ‘sell’ to local authorities, allowing us to go in and talk to them about the need for more housing rather than temporary accommodation.  We’re able to say to local authorities ‘we’re here to support you’ and local councillors know that Broadland is fully committed.  Essentially it’s helped us cut through and sell our capability as a trusted partner to local authorities in the challenge to end homelessness.


One of the Homes for Cathy group’s founding members, Broadland Housing Association was formed in 1963 and built its first scheme, at Shipfield in Norwich, in 1967. Today it provides more than 5,000 quality homes across Norfolk and north Suffolk.

Charity’s value for money proposal secures NSAP funding

Homes for Cathy’s charity members are playing a vital part in delivering safe, secure and affordable properties for people experiencing homelessness, thanks to successful bids for Next Steps Accommodation funding.  Homes for Cathy spoke to HARP Southend’s Director of Property Development, Nicky Houston, about the charity’s efforts to help homeless people in the town and how their Next Steps capital award will be used.

Tell us about HARP Southend and the work you do….

HARP is the leading Southend charity helping local people overcome homelessness.  We have 226 beds, all in Southend, of which we own 50 per cent, with the other 50 per cent owned by private landlords.  They’re all single occupancy, catering for the single homeless cohort that typically is not accepted as statutory homeless. Our aspiration is to increase the proportion of beds we own to 60 per cent, which is where I come in; a big part of my role is sourcing funding in order to develop our property portfolio. 

HARP helps over 1,000 people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness every year

What’s the local homelessness picture in Southend?

Southend is a popular seaside resort, with many people employed by the tourist industry in low paid, casual work.  It’s also a commuter town with direct links into London’s Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street stations, which means property prices are very high compared to the average wage.  With limited social housing, a large private rented sector and unstable employment, many of our cohort slip through the cracks.  HARP Southend focuses on supporting three key groups – young people, women and those with complex needs – providing emergency housing and long-term solutions that enable people to rebuild their lives and live independently in the community.

How did your NSAP bid come about and what does it entail?

Our focus is very much on the local community and we work closely with Southend Borough Council, who encouraged us to come forward with recommendations as part of their overall bid.  This was an interesting aspect, in that the council had faith that we could deliver on our proposals.  In fact, we put in two bids, as we knew that the funding pot would be massively oversubscribed, and we felt it would increase our chance of getting at least one bid approved.  Although one of the bids – for a property refurbishment and remodelling – was turned down, fortunately our bid to purchase the property adjacent to two we already own was approved.  The £170k capital grant we have been awarded will enhance our existing plans to create 42 new units of single homeless accommodation, with the advantage that this will be part of an existing, well-supported project with an infrastructure and staffing already in place.  Essentially, we’ll be providing a lot more for the money.

HARP Southend’s Director of Property Development, Nicky Houston

Are there any challenges around delivering on your proposal, especially given the 31 March 2021 completion deadline?

We put in the bid on the basis that we would be able to acquire the three flats within the property. Luckily, as the bid formed part of a major project that was already secured, we’d had conversations with the flat owners over whether they would sell, although there we no guarantees until we knew we were getting the funding – essentially, you have to start committing on spec.

There was a question mark over one flat in particular and whether we could guarantee vacant possession by the end of March with all the lockdown restrictions, which was quite worrying.  Miraculously, all three owners have agreed to sell and we’re now going through the purchasing process.  However we’re having to turn everything round on a hairpin, especially given that we didn’t find out about the award until the end of October.  Fortunately, we’re not looking at major refurbishments, and we’re hoping to complete on two properties by the beginning of February and the third by the end of February.

Another challenge has come from the pandemic itself; we’ve been hit much more heavily than the first lockdown, with staff sickness meaning that we’ve had to postpone move-ins temporarily.  However, we’re hoping we’ll be able to start moving people again from the beginning of March.

What difference will the project make to the lives of people experiencing homelessness in Southend?

In terms of accommodation, we generally tend to look at bedsits, so we’re pretty confident and excited about being able to offer flats instead – they’re at such a premium but are the perfect solution for people for whom shared accommodation isn’t suitable.  We’ll be working with each individual to encourage them to go through our tenancy ready development programme incorporating life skills, budgeting and tenancy skills – so eventually they’ll be able to move out and move on to independent living following their time with us. 

What positives have you taken from the bid process?

We always had a good relationship with Southend Borough Council’s development team and this process has cemented that relationship while at the same time helping us to develop better relationships with other parts of the local authority. 

Our relationship with Homes England was also instrumental; they were very supportive when we had queries over whether we could deliver and instilled confidence in us that we could do it. 

Ultimately, it’s brilliant to be an integral part of the overall homelessness prevention programme for the area and to know that, as an organisation, we are able to offer rounded support for individuals while delivering value for money. 

BCHA unveils ambitious plans to deliver new properties for homeless with NSAP funding

Following the recent announcement of funding awards for the Government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP), Homes for Cathy has been catching up with members who have been involved in successful bids, to discover more about their plans to tackle homelessness.  In the first in our series of NSAP focused articles, we spoke to Martin Hancock, CEO of BCHA and one of the founding members of Homes for Cathy.

How did the pandemic impact on homelessness in your region?

BCHA works mainly in the Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole (BCP) area but also in Dorset, South Somerset and across Devon.  In terms of homelessness in the BCP area, the COVID situation highlighted a much bigger problem.  Whereas previously, there was a street count of around 70 to 80 people rough sleeping, during COVID the local authority suddenly needed to house another 200 people who were ‘hidden homeless’, sofa surfing or living in insecure accommodation – essentially people not living in homes of their own.  It became clear that there was a huge demand for additional accommodation in the main area in which we operate, but also to a lesser extent in places like Plymouth and Exeter.

Tell us more about the background to your NSAP bid…

The criteria for the bid was that it had to be co-produced and fortunately in the BCP area we were already part of a Homelessness Reduction Board set up by the local authority in 2019, involving a number of additional homelessness working groups.  The local authority was able to use these as a vehicle to get people round the table very quickly to start work on a bid.  The COVID situation really helped to consolidate a partnership working approach, which up until that point had only been in the early stages. The Plymouth Alliance already existed around homelessness services so helped in that area.

What particular challenges did you encounter?

For this first round of NSAP funding, there wasn’t a lot of time to put anything together. It was the middle of August and we had around two weeks to turn something around. This put huge pressure on councils, who had to work extremely hard to pull everything together, define exactly what they wanted and whether to bid for the short-term or longer-term programme.  BCHA put in a proposal for the short-term programme with an ambitious proposal to deliver 40 units in the BCP area, of which 25 were agreed by MHCLG, while BCP Council put in for 20 properties, of which 15 were approved.  We’re also delivering 17 more properties across Plymouth, Exeter and Dorset, with funding for 42 units in total. All by 31 March 2021 which is another big challenge of course but our teams are well on the way to achieving this outcome.

One of the most challenging aspects of the process was that the bid required us to submit a lot of detail about the actual properties. We picked street properties that we’d identified through discussions with local private developers, but we could only give the developers a verbal agreement until the funding was approved. 

In our case, 15 of the units we identified are in a brand new block, and a further five are refurbished properties that we negotiated with another developer.  The pressure is now on, particularly with the 15 new builds, and we’re going to be going to the wire to get the properties finished for 31 March 2021. 

Another issue is that this all happened at a time when the property market was quite buoyant, with government initiatives such as help to buy and no stamp duty resulting in a big rush of buyers – it is credit to our development team that we were able to negotiate competitive prices without being able to put formal contracts in place until now.

Did your bid involve revenue funding?

Yes, across the full bid, we were allocated funding for the equivalent of five workers across the 42 properties, essentially a one to 10 ratio of intensive work, which was a big positive.  The aim is for long-term stability for the cohort that needs much more intensive work.  The plan is for the newly appointed meaningful occupation support workers to develop a personalised programme for each tenant, coaching around confidence and self-esteem and upskilling them in areas such as IT to ensure they are not only ‘work ready’ but also ‘tenancy ready’ and can sustain a long-term tenancy.

While we recognise there is an expectation in this funding for people to move on from this housing, we would hope that if they are settled and haven’t been housed for many years they will be able to stay in the property for some time, otherwise there’s a danger you move people on and their tenancy fails. 

What were the key learnings?

The NSAP bid was an ideal opportunity to help end rough sleeping and achieve more on the social rent model; we felt that if you want people to be able to move away from rough sleeping, gain employment and be self-sufficient, the rent needs to be truly affordable.  Many of the jobs in the BCP area are in areas like hospitality, retail and care and therefore often around the national living and minimum wage levels, so you can’t charge someone £150 per week rent. Fortunately, the capital grant awarded is sufficient for BCHA to make a social rent model work, requiring only another £12k grant above the affordable rent levels along with extra capital funding from ourselves. 

The bid only happened because of people putting in a lot of time and energy.  In addition, because of the very short timeframe, we also had to rely on a lot of goodwill locally.  It has shown us that it is possible to work together and make things happen.  However, equally, it’s important to recognise who is best to deliver on certain aspects of a bid.  You also need to be pretty agile, as our experience shows.  Co-production is great, although there was a lot of time spent on co-ordination – direct contact with registered providers such as ourselves could maybe have speeded things up a little, given the time pressures.

What positives have you taken away from the process?

Having been through the process, it does feel possible to put an end to rough sleeping, although it is going to take more than 18 months.  The advisor team at MHCLG is clearly committed to making it happen and it is encouraging that they keen to hear feedback from housing associations such as ourselves, as the recent Homes for Cathy workshop with colleagues from the Ministry’s Rough Sleeping Unit proved.

The fact that we are already involved in homelessness as an organisation means that we could respond quickly, as the pathways were already in place, something that is underpinned by the Homes for Cathy commitments. 

The process proves the value of having homelessness strategies in place, not just housing strategies, and the need to foster a more joined up approach to housing ambition and tackling homelessness.