Blog Post – My First Few Weeks Working at Action Homeless

I recently joined Action Homeless as Funding and Communications Officer and have been in my new role for several weeks now. I have really enjoyed my time so far, and I have been undertaking a variety of different tasks and projects while getting settled in and meeting the wider team.

A key project I have been working on is the reopening of the Engage Wellbeing Hub, situated next to Mayfield House. Made possible with cash from the Severn Trent Community Fund, a lead designer and volunteers from homeware design company Puretabletop have been working hard to create a warm and welcoming space which will soon be hosting a range of activities such as coffee mornings, book clubs and cooking lessons. The Hub will provide more opportunities for people to receive support, as well as build relationships and pick up skills. A key aspect of this renovation and eventual reopening was several days of volunteers getting stuck in and putting the final touches on the space.

It was great to get involved in supporting this group of volunteers, as it gave me a real indication of the scope of both my role within the team and the work that Action Homeless carries out. It was fantastic to see the practical side of the transformation that took place in the Hub, but also valuable to write news articles for the website on the progress, and plan out social media posts around the work being done. This gave me a really good chance to create content in a way that reflected the tone, values and goals of Action Homeless. In addition to this, I got the opportunity to support and liaise with volunteers who are kindly donating their time and whose contribution and collaboration makes such an impact. On my first day, I attended the monthly Women’s Open space which is a partnership between Action Homeless and The Bridge Leicester, and which has just received renewed funding from the National Lottery Community Fund. Each month a different activity is chosen, often craft based, and there is food and drink provided. Access to practical items such as toiletries is also available, and it is a space that allows for friendships to be formed and support networks created.

This was not only a lovely event in itself with clear value being provided, but also an opportunity to meet service users in person and see the attention to detail Action Homeless puts into these initiatives. For example, something that surprised me but was an integral part of each monthly event is the provision of taxis for the women to ensure they can confidently and safely travel to and from the event. Seeing first-hand the importance of something like this is valuable information to have when it comes to considering what potentially needs including in future funding applications made by Action Homeless. The logistics of these taxis were managed from the central offices, and this is a good example of how collaborative the wider team is. I noticed in my first few days how proactive everyone was in the central offices in answering phone calls with varied queries from both the public and service users, confidently directing them to the best place for help or advice. I felt this hands-on approach of company culture also extended to my own induction. I felt supported in getting settled in and getting to grips with new systems, and comfortable asking questions.

This also extends to the less office based teams. Given that a large part of what Action Homeless does revolves around providing a safe home for people, I have been really impressed by the work of Action Trust and the important part they play in making the practicalities of this a reality across the properties. I noticed that this spans a great range of tasks. Everything from spending days with volunteers supporting them in the redecoration of the Engage Hub and helping with their specific needs and requests, to moving between properties and distributing donations appropriately, and also being a recognised and friendly face at property where they have been maintaining the communal garden for an extended period of time.

Over the last few weeks I have also been visiting the various properties and projects that Action Homeless is involved in, and taking time to sit down with the managers of these projects to gain valuable context. Some of the projects I found particularly interesting were the Community Transitions Project, and Building Blocks which is funded by BBC Children in Need.

I was struck by how Community Transitions managed to be both specific and adaptable in its support of individuals leaving the Bradgate Mental Health Unit who were experiencing homelessness, but also low support in nature so that service users were given the opportunity to regain their confidence and independence at their own pace.

Building Blocks helps children living in temporary accommodation, and includes working with children of all ages on both their mental and physical wellbeing but also working closely with schools. I was very aware after these meetings of the scope and variety of the work that Action Homeless does, and that both these projects are working to break the cycle of homelessness in different but integral ways.

It has been made clear to me that the reach of Action Homeless goes beyond the region that it operates in. I have been pleasantly surprised to hear how intentional this is, and includes initiatives such as ensuring that medical students who will one day be GP’s get to spend valuable time with service users and gain knowledge of their often complex needs. It is also clear that collaboration with other supporting organisations is very much purposeful and led by a desire to best meet the needs of people who have experienced homelessness. One of the more challenging tasks that I have undertaken in the last few weeks is preparing case studies which will form part of the Annual Impact Report put together by Action Homeless. These case studies are put together by Support Workers and detail the individual experiences of service users and how Action Homeless has supported them. Presenting these very personal experiences in such a way that is easily understood and communicates the varied work that the charity does has been a learning experience for me. Undertaking training provided in the concept of framing homelessness and the important of language in this was invaluable tool for me.

I am looking forward to getting more involved in my new role, and it is exciting to have an upcoming calendar of events and projects. For example, teams of volunteers will soon be transforming outdoor spaces in various properties just in time for the summer, and I am eager to see the newly refurbished Engage Hub open and being put to use as it is such a fantastic space that has gone through a great transformation. In addition to this the charity is working towards events to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Action Homeless, and there will be events in support of this milestone later in the year. Unfortunately, demand for the services that Action Homeless provides is greater than ever, and continuing to personally learn and develop my own skills to best address the complex challenge this fact presents from a funding and communications point of view is very important to me.

Jessamyn Witthaus

Funding and Communications Officer