Fresh Perspectives with Centrepoint - ending youth homelessness.
Delivering key services through the lockdown, dispelling myths about homelessness and the lasting impact of a metaphorical sandwich.
An introduction to the series.
With Fresh Perspectives, I hope to bring talent from across property, housing and technology together.
This series doesn’t focus on the loudest voices in these sectors. Rather, I seek out leaders with a new perspective. Those on the front lines of big change in business.
They challenge the status quo. Transform attitudes. Process. Operations and customer service.
I hope that you get as much as I learn from it. That you - the reader - consider these fresh perspectives and how they might be applied to your own organisation.
An introduction to my guest - Ed Tytherleigh.
Ed is Centrepoint’s Director of Support and Housing, responsible for the delivery of Centrepoint’s frontline services for young people across the country.
He has worked in social care for over 25 years, both within the UK and internationally. Prior to joining Centrepoint he was Chief Executive of the veterans’ charity Stoll and Chief Executive of the homelessness charity SPEAR.
In this interview, we discuss:
- Frequent misconceptions about youth homelessness.
- Front line services that are most appreciated and those that often get overlooked.
- How Centrepoint has stayed resilient through the pandemic and adapted service delivery for the new normal.
- How innovation and technology can help cultivate a strong sense of community in Centrepoint's accommodation services.
- Why Plentific is going to be instrumental in helping Centrepoint digitise its repairs and maintenance process.
Shariq: Thank you for joining me Ed. I’d love to learn more about you. What drove you to work in social care? And in your 20 years doing so, what still remains a frequent highlight?
Ed: I didn’t have a great calling, I have to admit. It wasn’t an obvious path to me. But I started at age 19 by volunteering at a day care centre for homeless people in Manchester.
I was just making sandwiches. No great epiphany or amazing revelation - just sandwiches. But I felt really comfortable in that space. I enjoyed the relationships I was building, I found them meaningful.
So I basically forged a career out of making sandwiches for rough sleepers and on some metaphorical level, I’m still doing that - more than almost 25 years later, albeit through strategy, policy, national services and all that experience.
"I forged a career out of making sandwiches for rough sleepers and on some metaphorical level, I’m still doing that - more than almost 25 years later, albeit through strategy and policy."
Shariq: As Director of Support and Housing at Centrepoint - the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity - what does your day-to-day involve?
Ed: It’s strategy, in continuous pursuit of making that metaphorical sandwich. Which means it’s not just the 30 page documents, it’s about day-to-day decision making on how to grow and evolve our services.
It might sound mundane but it’s figuring out where to put our resources, how to use our buildings, which areas of homelessness we want to work in, the types of services we want to offer - be it street outreach or hostel support.
Every single day, there’s a tactical discussion that can feel like problem solving, but if you get it right, there’s fewer problems the next day.
We have 61 supported housing services, amazing health programmes, amazing training education programmes and there’s an equally important leadership element that goes along with strategy, where you can look your colleagues in the eyes and understand that you’re in this together.
In the lockdown, that can be a bit frustrating because it’s that leadership piece that makes such an impact on people and forges connections in my day-to-day.
Shariq: What’s one frequent misconception about youth homelessness you encounter? And how would you set the record straight?
Ed: I think the most obvious one is that approximately 95% of young homeless people actually have somewhere to stay. Rough sleeping really is the tip of the iceberg. Let me explain.
These young people actually have somewhere to stay - it might be on someone's floor, it might be squatting, it might be in a bedsit somewhere. So what’s important to note here is that homelessness is a state of mind for many of them.
It’s a set of circumstances where it’s nigh on impossible to have an effective platform for life. Centrepoint tries to address this - the tough challenge of giving someone a fair crack at life. So we won’t just provide training and education. We help with life skills, confidence, with psychotherapy, drugs and alcohol, worklessness.
Shariq: Which frontline services are most appreciated, and in contrast, which ones get overlooked or people don’t underscore the importance of?
Ed: The frontline services that get appreciated is what we do with rough sleepers.
For instance, in Manchester, the local authority commissions us and we deliver rough sleeper services for young people across the city. However, there is a big game of musical chairs going on – there's not enough housing. There are some ring fenced properties you can guarantee to put young people into, but I feel that’s still not enough.
On the flip side, what's underappreciated are the longer term efforts. Working with those who had great ambitions at 15 or 16 and unfortunately find themselves in a sleeping bag outside a high street store a few years later. Undoing some of the psychological impact of that is a huge task that goes beyond getting someone a flat and some items for their kitchen.
The confidence, the life skills, the belief, that whole package - the promise that you can get someone back to a fulfilling life. So the longer term work we do when people are in accommodation is the unsung hero.
Shariq: How has Centrepoint been impacted by the pandemic? What’s one thing you felt needs to change immediately in service delivery to adapt to this new normal?
Ed: The frontline services have had to keep going despite us being hit particularly hard – we had 170 staff either having to self isolate or ill with COVID-19 during the second wave.
But I’m really proud that we've kept every single service of every type open each day of this year. We’ve ensured young people don’t lose out on essential support - psychotherapy, skills, advice, training have all been taken online. We haven’t missed a single night of delivering resident services for any part of the country.
And for so much of it, the biggest conversation has to be the pride and the gratitude we feel about our frontline staff, who’ve done it every single day.
There’s another side to it. If you're at home the whole time, you can start to feel quite isolated. It's hard to connect with colleagues, which presents its own challenges and shouldn’t be underestimated.
One immediate learning for me was that you can’t replace social care with technology. Some of the belief, confidence building and leadership can only be delivered through connections. However, I quickly realised that we can do so much more digitally to bolster our essential functions. Functions pertaining to good record keeping, data and a strong IT infrastructure to keep services fast and flexible using 5G so we meet the young people where they are.
"I’m really proud that we've kept every single service of every type open each day of this year. We’ve ensured young people don’t lose out on essential support - psychotherapy, skills, advice, training have all been taken online. "
Shariq: Do you think technology can make a difference in maintaining Centrepoint’s spaces and cultivating a strong sense of community around them?
Ed: Yes. We want to give young people a warm, safe space to live in and part of developing ourselves as a platform for life involves delivering services like essential psychological support through the use of technology.
I also believe there’s innovation we’re already incorporating into our services that can be further augmented with technology. For instance, if there’s a penalty for not paying your rent at a property, you can actually gain it back by engaging in a particular programme. Some of this can be better visualised and showcased using technology.
We pride ourselves on remaining psychologically informed as an organisation. It is key to creating safe spaces and we want to explore how we can leverage technology to create warmth and a sense of belonging in each property.
We’ve built this into Centrepoint’s property standards, in fact. Forgoing plain white walls for places filled with character and soul. This includes soft furnishings like curtains, picture frames, quotes, knick-knacks and light fittings that don’t feel industrial.
And more recently, with Plentific, we’re looking to take this further by emphasising the maintenance of these spaces. How repairs play an important role in making a home feel complete. Recently, I described using the Plentific platform and marketplace as the most important jigsaw piece to drive forward the performance and standards we are completely committed to.
"Recently, I described using the Plentific platform and marketplace as the most important jigsaw piece to drive forward the performance and standards we are completely committed to. "
Shariq: We’ve discussed how Plentific is going to be instrumental in helping Centrepoint digitise its repairs and maintenance process, and offer better insight into your properties. What other aspects of Centrepoint’s efforts can the community and other businesses support?
Ed: We ask a lot of the community. And there are many ways to support Centrepoint.
There’s basic fundraising support. Annually, we used to organise a big sleep out. It was an effective fundraiser, people got sponsored to sleep out and many companies supported it.
We couldn’t continue this because of infection control. So we adapted this to a ‘stay up’. We sponsored people to stay up in support all night, whether that’s with a walk, playing games all night or even a cycling marathon to raise money.
The fundraising makes a huge difference, but there’s a lot one can do from a volunteering perspective. We support volunteering at all levels, including corporate volunteering. We have individuals who offer pro bono or subsidised consultancy - this might be in our HR strategy, our finance teams. Currently, we’ve got lawyers advising our young people on subjects like consumer rights and immigration issues.
80% of our young people come from black and ethnic minorities, and many from marginalised backgrounds. So if individuals and organisations want to simply connect with young people and offer mentorship support, it goes a long way and we really treasure it.
Simply getting the message out about our work through social media helps as well.
Centrepoint provides housing and support for young people regionally in London, Manchester, Yorkshire and the North East and through partnerships all over the UK.
Centrepoint will now be supported by Plentific’s technology to manage the repairs and maintenance work of its youth accommodation.
Stay tuned for the next interview in the series. And if you’d like to recommend a young leader for me to sit down and have a chat with, do let me know below.