Alice Adams is spending five months with Connection Crew as part of her postgraduate course on social innovation with Year Here. She’s here to take our opportunities for people who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness to the next level – and she’ll be blogging the experience as she goes along. This is her first post.
“8 years ago, I began my career in the charity sector, due to a strong desire to ‘help’ and ‘do something worthwhile’. A statement which makes me cringe these days.
Along the way I was lucky enough to work on some fantastic projects with people who were knowledgeable, passionate and just amazing human beings, always going the extra mile to ensure a child was safe or someone had a roof over their head that night.
I met some truly inspiring people; one woman who was at risk of homelessness came to Crisis for help. She said that she couldn’t speak English and didn’t understand why her rent wasn’t being paid. After only a few months she was confidently and assertively challenging Job Centre staff to ensure her benefits were paid correctly and she could keep her home. She had also delivered a speech to a crowd of professionals through a voluntary course she was taking part in. To take those steps towards independence takes an enormous amount of courage and strength.
But the barriers to true change for people facing homelessness remain. Financial inequality, structural racism, sexism, and discrimination continues. And we continually attempt to fix it with a plaster, struggling to challenge the wider issues due to lack of power and a reliance on fundraising, which requires ‘service users’, ‘beneficiaries’, ‘clients’, to fit in to the stereotypes which harm them. The charity sector is aware of these challenges and is consciously changing, but change is slow.
Although capitalism is a cause of many inequalities, we can’t deny that we live it every day. And then I started noticing ‘thoughtful’ businesses everywhere, those which were looking past tokenistic Corporate Social Responsibility and were existing for social mission, putting it on an equal standing with their customer benefit.
I was inspired by businesses such as Insane In The Rain, they produce fabulously colourful raincoats, all made from recycled plastic bottles, and Birdsong – founded by a Year Here fellow – an ethical fashion company focussing on empowering their female makers and workers, as well as their customers. After a brief period of deciding I wanted to get involved in the ethical fashion world and quickly realising I had no experience in this area (!) – I came across Year Here.
Year Here is a postgraduate course in social innovation. What drew me to it was the chance to learn by doing. There is a genuine respect for the knowledge, experience, and perspective of front-line workers and those whose lives are being made more difficult by inequalities and society not being prepared for what it sees as ‘difference’.
As part of the Year Here course, the participants, or ‘fellows’, spend 5 months in a placement (either charity, local authority or social enterprise) relevant to their skills and experience and social issue strand of interest. These strands include: Housing Crisis, Community Resilience, Vulnerable Youth, Educational Inequality, and Health and Wellness. Every other Friday our cohort of 21 meet, outside of our individual placements, and have time to reflect and get involved in interactive workshops encouraging us to consider human centred design and learn useful innovation skills.
It’s refreshing to have this opportunity, to feel as if your insight and perspective is valued, to be allowed to speak it, discuss it, have it challenged, and allow it to guide thoughtful action. I have been set clear objectives throughout my time with Connection Crew, however being here on a Year Here placement allows me to also step back, learn from what is working well, critique, and support in developing solutions to challenges.
When I found out I had been matched with Connection Crew I was excited and had a million questions! I briefly met Warren (Director) and Mat (Senior Operations Manager) at the Year Here launch event, but stepping in to Connection Crew on my first day I didn’t really know what to expect. My first impression was one of awe, of how efficiently it runs. The Operations team are dedicated to ensuring that their handpicked crews are on time and the right fit to provide an award-winning service at venues throughout London and the UK every day. They deal with last minute changes – inevitable in the events industry, dealing with each situation professionally and in an impressively realistic and personable way. Effectively they are dealing with logistical nightmares by the hour and succeeding to provide a professional and reliable service.
The second impression was one of true human connection – the ‘Connection’ in their name comes from their affiliation with homeless charity Connection at St. Martin, however it also resonates with me in terms of how they view their staff and clients.
All those I have met at my short time of Connection Crew, the crew members, office staff, directors, everyone has been interested in getting to know ‘me’, who I am, why I am here, and what I can bring to the company. And you can see how much they value this human connection, how people work together in a team, support each other and how that adds to a successful and connected workforce.
There is a real value in this that I can see benefiting those who have experienced, or who are at risk of homelessness. Through my time working in homelessness charities I often heard people say that they were lonely, that they had lost connection with friends and family as their situation worsened, they didn’t feel they had a purpose anymore. They felt stuck in a world of bureaucracy, of form filling, sanctions and limited choices. Feeling dis-empowered, undervalued, ignored and often longing for real human connection, to feel part of something.
I’m looking forward to the challenge here at Connection Crew in ensuring that the Event Crew job offer, and development support provides new recruits with opportunity and a path to financial security. Partnership working with existing and new charity networks will be essential to this – and I look forward to collaborating in building a new look Employment Academy coming January 2020!”
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