Wishing Your Own Place a very happy tenth birthday.
‘It’s inextricably linked to you’ is a phrase I’ve enjoyed hearing less and less over the last ten years.
Founders create social businesses that reflect their values, their outlook, their experiences and their place in the world. I’m no exception.
But this makes it harder to extricate oneself from said business. And yet that must be the aim: for the purposes of sanity (the founder’s) and sustainability (of the organisation).
So in celebration of ten years and to chime with our values, I want to celebrate key milestones in the last ten years. It’s the brilliance and dedication of everyone, inside and outside the organisation, that have shaped Your Own Place into the grown up organisation it is today.
We were able to incorporate in October 2013 because of the inspiration and learning of the people I met at the School of Social Entrepreneurs. They launched their course in Ipswich the same month I founded Your Own Place, and without them, Your Own Place would not have been born. Thanks SSE!
Broadland Housing Group paid me for the privilege of practising my tenancy training prototype on their tenants. I left work at Norfolk County Council early, cycled down to their Norwich office on St. Benedicts, and set up my interactive workshop in a room full of computers and no wall space! The seeds were sown. A tenant attended with her toddler, and shared her story of setting up a repayment plan. I was moved that even though she knew her debt wouldn’t be settled for ten years, she felt lighter and reassured knowing she’d taken the steps she could. Thanks Broadland and Adam Clark!
I’m sure everyone remembers their first successful funding bid. Still working just with young people at this point, and mostly those leaving care, I was travelling the length and breadth of the county delivering 1-2-1 tenancy workshops. I shaped and tested our model thanks to these small one-off commissions. Thank you to the young people who trusted me to work with them as guinea pigs and MAP (Mancroft Advice Project) for helping us start group workshops with their young people.
We also received funding from Victory Housing to run our first mentoring programme, which meant I could eye up the risky leap to working full time on Your Own Place (for next to nothing, of course). Thank you Norfolk Community Foundation and Victory Housing.
When I met Antonia Dixey, who introduced me to Pinpoint facilitation, Your Own Place’s facilitation approach changed forever. The British Council brought us together and we commissioned the Participation People to deliver Your Own Place’s first ever Train the Trainer delivery. I’d never met Antonia, so I emailed her relentlessly, asking for the lesson plans in advance, wanting to ensure youth voice was heard right from the start. She arrived, the workshops blew me away, and I met another woman with passion and drive. Thank you Antonia.
Up to this point our delivery model required me to cycle 24 miles round trip every day and shower in various places. But in 2016, we secured The Training Flat as our office: a real social housing maisonette that brought our workshops alive. Delivery now happens across the country and locations, but I recall with fondness a packed living room at 23 Johnson Place, delivering workshops with young people, going outside to read the meter. Thank you Lee Robson for his passion and vision in making this happen, and to Norwich City Council.
We secured £1400 from the Norfolk Community Foundation to undertake some research into young people’s housing experiences. Young people themselves led this research and Lemn Sissay helped us launch it at the St Giles House Hotel. A poet with care experience who continues to be an inspiration.
The first employees! A huge moment: Alex joined us to provide employment support across two rounds of funding, from the Tudor Trust and Children in Need. Travelling around the county, honing our coaching and restorative approach, Alex was also a whizz with a spreadsheet.
We also received our largest funding amount to date, from Nesta, for our mentoring programme. This investment enabled us to bring Simone, who amplified and embedded our values, into the team. If you split Simone open, then ‘asset-based’ would be running down the middle. We owe her a massive debt of gratitude in shaping what we have become. Thank you Nesta and Simone.
Another year, another learning programme: this time exploring solutions to the exorbitant private rented sector with The Young Foundation. The key moment came however, when I met guest speaker, Chris West, from Sumerian Partners. To cut a long story short, they provided Your Own Place with social investment to develop our team and capacity….
Meet Jess Luce-Rackham. Worthy of singling out not just because, after me, she’s been in the business the longest, but because of her rise through the business to Chief Operating Officer. Jess is probably the most exceptional people manager I’ve ever met. Day to day this matters. For the sustainability of the business it matters too. Thank you Jess.
This year also saw the start of a three-year partnership with North Norfolk District Council, supporting people both homeless and on the cusp of homelessness to access and sustain their tenancies. We also secured funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to embed our Advisory Board. Working with Carnegie Trust and winning their digital exclusion funding was also a highlight, and especially good timing given what happened next…
Covid arrived. This year requires a massive shout out to the team. This year marked the point where we coalesced into a real team, most similar to its current form today. Through this grim and uncertain time, the team blew me away with their fully designed and quality offer to take all our delivery online, losing none of the Your Own Place magic and enabling us to keep supporting people in multiple ways through the crisis. With lockdown starting in March, they’d nailed it by May. Thank you Jarrod, Hannah, Jess M, Simone, Tom and Jess LR.
This year, I posted the best tweet I’ve ever written, and the Brighton-based Clock Tower Sanctuary got in touch off the back of it. They wanted to work with us to support their young people facing huge housing challenges on the south coast. This is a partnership that continues today. Thank you CTS.
A difficult Covid recovery year, where we buckled down and consolidated the changes. George Vestey of Vestey Foods kindly funded our mentoring at HMP Warren Hill, and we secured Mercer’s funding to continue our Advisory Board. Emily took up the helm and made an impact that will live long beyond this funding — lack of funding has closed the Advisory Board as of October 2023, but due to Emily’s efforts, its legacy lives on. Thank you George, Mercer’s and Emily.
During Covid we secured more Children in Need funding to work in two Norwich schools. We also embarked on an exciting joint commission from five housing associations (known as Independent East) to work with tenants of all ages. We learnt a lot through the year, and also started to streamline our offer thanks to the embedded capacity of the management team. We put in place an infrastructure to support the team, alongside releasing me to develop business capacity. This is still a work in progress. For a business of our size, we are now well supported and structured. Whilst I once felt like I was holding it up, I no longer do. Thanks Children in Need for several years of support as well as Surya for your supreme partnership building powers. Our hard work paid off: we won the PwC Building Public Trust award for our impact reporting.
And here we are, ten years on and in the Cost of Living crisis. Clearer than ever on what we do, what we do well and what difference we make. Shortlisted for multiple awards that I gratefully accept on behalf of the team. Whilst the climate in which we operate has never been harder, equally we have never been stronger in the face of it. Who can say what the next ten years hold, but in true asset-based fashion, we’ve plenty of successes to draw on!
I should thank so many others, including our current team, all our customers and partners, our directors and members of our Advisory Board. We ask people every day to put their trust in us and endeavour to earn it now and in the future. Happy tenth birthday Your Own Place.