Another step forward for Your Own Place. Last year our supporters generously raised money through our crowdfunding campaign. Combined with The Tudor Trust funding we employed Alex to support young people into work. And now Children in Need funding means that Alex goes full time and we’re on the way! There are loads of good providers across Norfolk supporting young people furthest from work. And we want to work with them so that our young people have equality of access to all these great services. However, our ambitions go further than that. You’ll know that social impact is everything and we need to maximise it. So whilst we want to support young people into work, we want some of those young people to have very real work experiences as our Peer Trainers. With all this lovely funding we will be developing the Peer Youth Worker Training Academy. An aspirational eight-week programme covering the practicalities of youth work as well as cutting edge engagement techniques will be available to young people working with Alex. They will have opportunities to volunteer and even work on our Tenancy & Independent Living Skills (TILS) delivery and gain fantastic job skills in the process. Young people learning from other young people is how we maximise our social impact.
Since announcing The Training Flat I’ve been stunned and delighted by the offers of help and donations. If you’re not up to speed, we’re renting a flat from Norwich City Council. In it we will be delivering our fantastic Tenancy & Independent Living Skills (TILS) courses. Just like our young people when they get their first home, it will be totally empty. So we’re working with all our stunning friends and partners to kit it out. After the initial offers of hoovers and crockery, we then had financial donations too. Last week Alex convinced a local tattoo parlour to do some artwork in the flat and Nelson’s Journey rewarded us with a TV. On Monday Rachel Blackburn from Us2U Consulting called me with the strangest offer yet! After a party at the weekend, she had some leftover sweets. She dropped off a massive bag at No8 Thorpe Road (I’ll come to them!). Sweets feature in all our courses with young people and adults alike – so we’re hugely grateful. The amazing Sarah at No8 Thorpe Road is looking after all these things until we move into the flat in August. Our friends at Heath Lodge have offered stationary, which is hugely valuable as The Training Flat becomes our first office. We’ve just been offered a TV stand as well as some money for curtain poles etc by Reality Estate Agency. And as I write this we have a tentative commitment from a flooring firm to provide laminate AND KFC have offered us all the furniture from their old restaurant on Prince of Wales Road. Wow – what a list of good will, generosity and commitment to what we do. Still lots more to collect and based on our experience so far, we’re pretty optimistic.
Are you tired of it? Are you drained by it? Are you bored of the politicians forgetting that life goes on for all of us that are trying to make a difference? Then I’m sorry to add to your fatigue. However, I can remain silent no longer. I’d like to make a number of points, as briefly as I can. The first is that as a third sector organisation run by human beings I don’t think I should feel afraid to express political views. All too often the sector is afraid of losing funding and remains quiet. However, we work with many that are voiceless. If we don’t raise our voices, then we do our beneficiaries a dis-service. Secondly, perhaps in the same vein, is the paucity of the debate locally and nationally in the VCSE sector. We are told to be ‘entrepreneurial, to be tolerant, to be loving’. This is business as usually as far as I’m concerned and not active enough. Complaining, being unhappy and being angry are part of the grieving process and legitimate responses that then lead to real action. And finally, and this is a more political point about the lack of social cohesion, xenophobia and other distasteful characteristics that have been highlighted this week. Are we really surprised by this behaviour? It seems to me that democracy and politics in this country, on its five year cycles and constant vying for position, is based on pitching people and communities against each other. After any period of time when some people feel let down and encouraged to turn on those around them (for example to tell on neighbours committing benefit fraud), is it really any wonder that under pressure we continue in the same vein and turn on the underdog as we perceive them? I do believe in opportunities on the horizon. However, I also believe that some responsibility has to be taken by politicians when they get round to being on control again for the behaviour and social inequalities that have lead to the result as well as its aftermath. Are they role-models for behaviour?
This week I caught up with one of our mentors, (Sally) and her mentee (Christina). They’ve been meeting every fortnight for a year and meeting them both is like intruding on old friends. The picture is of a card that Christina bought for Sally to say thank you. What’s so special about the volunteer mentoring relationship is how much they both get out of it. Sally is cautious of not using cliches, but talks of how amazingly rewarding it is to unlock potential and nudge Christina to do things she wouldn’t otherwise get round to. And these aren’t small little things. These are things that if Christina hadn’t been nudged to do them, could have eventually led to homelessness. It’s clear they’re going to miss each other, but Christina also recognises the progress she’s made. I have such respect for Christina because she gave it a go and was open to the possibility of change and challenge. She’s such a convert to mentoring that she’s even agreed to help us gently persuade other young people to get involved. If you’d like to be a volunteer mentor, please get in touch.
On Sunday 5th June we joined colleagues, partners and amazing volunteers at The Norwich Cathedral Volunteers Celebration Picnic. The impact is often calculated in long reports, but anyone who has worked closely with volunteers doesn’t need a report to know the difference they make. And it’s great timing for us, as we are currently evaluating the impact of our volunteer mentors in Norwich. We’re sad that the funding for this project has ended in Norwich and working hard to secure more. It’s very inefficient to recruit and train mentors for a short-term project, only to let them go and start again when a new round of funding appears. For the moment though, let’s dwell on their successes and the difference they make. A young person describing her mentor as ‘crucial’ to her current success and ‘not knowing where I’d be without her’ says it all. We’re training more volunteer mentors for our North Norfolk and Broadland project on 7th and 8th July. If you interested in making a difference click on the link to find out more.
We’ve seen a big increase recently in Tenancy & Independent Living Skills (TILS) courses being delivered 1-2-1 to young people. This is often because the young people are in college or working and can’t attend a group course. We usually travel to wherever they’re living, but are as content delivering in a coffee shop if the young person feels like getting out. What has been interesting this week is to observe three different young people. They are all roughly the same age, all leaving care locally and all moving to independence very soon. And yet their knowledge is a gulf apart. The youngest and least experienced knew most about renting privately and the oldest and most ‘worldly wise’ could barely name a welfare benefit or the circumstances in which she might claim them. Notwithstanding the extraordinary change they are about to experience by moving from their supported environment to living independently, it naturally poses challenges for us, the trainers. We have a set of tools, games and interactive techniques that must adapt to each situation, each learner and each learning style. What isn’t in doubt is just how much they get from these sessions with us. Noticeable of late isn’t that they necessarily come out as perfect budgeters or experts on Universal Credit, but that they are starting to do the thinking that’s required. They’re starting to plan. And with that they’re less anxious and dare to plan more. It’s a virtuous circle.
I’ve been working with young people for nearly twenty years. It’s easier in lots of ways. I’ve got loads of tools and tricks that mean I respond to the situation, come up with new methods of engagement and make the training fun. But I’m not desensitised to their stories, which although this can mean heartache, it also means I’m human and able to react as human and not a robot. But it’s still hard too. Why? No matter how great our courses are, no matter how hard we try, no matter my unshakeable belief in people’s resilience and capacity to change, we are just one piece of their puzzle. Our young people’s lives are so complicated and full of challenges that I still want to do more and ‘solve’ everything. I have neither the skills nor time to do this and nobody needs ‘solving’. Of course it’s a positive because it drives me on to do more and to work more collaboratively with others who share some of the answers. All the young people working with us this week want to stay working with us, and that engagement must be the first step. So let’s keep up the good work. Read a one-page impact report of this week here.
There are times when I’m so exhausted by thinking about what we do that I don’t know what I think any more. These times are helped by coming across someone else having the same thought and being braver than me, by saying it. Approbation of our thought process is sometimes needed to move forward and this has happened twice this week in different ways. My peers at the School for Social Entrepreneurs on Wednesday helped me to see the challenges of scaling up and personnel in a new way. It had been lurking in my thoughts, but when five people are saying the same thing, it gives your thoughts a new validity and unlocks action. I also struggle massively with the negative connotations that surround us about people on benefits, low incomes and the material choices people make. When you’ve been championing a cause for so long and witness so much obstruction, it is natural to question your own belief system and start to wonder if the media, who have a vested interested in getting viewers, are right after all. Lisa Mckenzie wrote a book about life on the Nottingham estate where she grew up entitled ‘Getting By’. In it she brings honesty to the Jeremy Kyle conundrum of why when we’re struggling for money we go and buy something we can’t afford. The first point is that most of us buy things we can’t really afford a lot of the time. This is not a symptom of one group of people. Secondly, if life is really, really tough and you’re living day-to-day financially, is it that wrong to buy a pair of nice shoes? If that’s the first thing that has made you feel good about yourself in months, then isn’t it the purchase of a kind of therapy akin to yoga, a gym membership or a good meal? Of course we can get into the consequences of not paying the rent or the electricity bill, but who am I to stand in judgement of someone who wants a bit of ‘feel good’ when so little does? I’m off for a run in my expensive running shoes…
This week saw three days of Tenancy & Independent Living Skills (TILS) Training in King’s Lynn. Commissioned by Children’s Services, we delivered three packed and innovative days to seven young people leaving local authority care. We were generously hosted by Broadland Housing Association and Alex Hand from Breckland Council also briefly joined us on the second day to share her housing expertise. Three days of content takes careful planning. With two staff we had enough content for five days, allowing us to respond to the mood, energy levels and learning styles of those in the room. Some activities evolved into longer ones, whilst others were cut short when the young people visibly flagged. Seven was a good number for the size of the venue and their learning needs. When undertaking individual work, most required 1-2-1 learning support and blossomed with this additional help and encouragement. Our group started the week apprehensively, anxious of meeting new people and as very reluctant learners. To watch them request games, interact with each other, find new girlfriends (!) and offer to present to each other but the end of the week is the most rewarding and hard-earned part of what Your Own Place does. Well worth an exhausting three days. Read our one-page impact report here.
This week we’re delivering one of our hugely engaging Tenancy & Independent Living Skills (TILS) courses on behalf of Children’s Services in King’s Lynn. For all the amazingness of meeting Lemn Sissay for our research launch last week, nothing really beats what we’re really about – supporting young people in transition. These seven young people, all on the cusp of moving to independence for the first time, are absorbing so much during this course. Again and again we hear the refrain ‘Why am I only learning this now? Why didn’t we do this in school?’. Why indeed.