My arrival at Providence Row coincided with a drive to instill personalisation into all areas of our work here. A natural sceptic I thought it sounded interesting but wondered how I might fit this into my already busy workload. Having been here for just under 10 months I’m delighted to say that it’s really great to have been proven wrong! What had seemed a challenge initially has actually enhanced the projects and really assisted with their delivery.
I arrived at Providence Row last summer, having previously worked on educational and employment projects in various deprived communities in the UK and abroad. My longest-term roles had been coordinating health, arts, and educational projects in Tanzania and working on a community integration and employment project for a local authority in North London. In Tanzania, a significant part of my role was implementing structure, working upon very basic foundations. Things were often highly chaotic at the start, as I developed processes and procedures while co-ordinating 80 staff and volunteers in 15 projects. Working for a London council proved the opposite; delivering a project within strict local authority guidelines while following strict funder demands that occasionally conflicted with the limitations my employer imposed. Work was still rewarding, if somewhat stifling and frustrating at times.
Liberally adapting the story of Goldilocks, if the porridge of the first job was too cold, the second too hot, I’m delighted that the porridge of Providence Row is just right, and it’s down to personalisation. We are able to work within a clear and fair framework, offering comprehensive support throughout the entire journey from homelessness to recovery, accommodation, and often training, work, and apprenticeships. Each client receives a personalised service offer, enabling them to access services that they and we feel will benefit them most.
Because we’re working within these frameworks, it allows us a massive amount of freedom to allow the most vulnerable individuals access to amazing opportunities. With employability and training, we risk assess clients when we start working with them, and have specialist staff and training that enables us to work with people with complex and multiple needs - often regarding substance misuse and mental health – then affording them access to training programmes and workshops.
Within this solid framework, we can offer the most amazing opportunities to those who have been turned away from other training opportunities, even within the homelessness sector. Rather than making someone abstain from taking drugs for a set time period, or ensuring that they are in treatment for mental ill-health, we can work with them immediately.
If someone had told me that I’d be taking clients to workshops in the kitchens of the 5* Andaz Hotel, or delivering employability training and office tours at the headquarters of organisations including Rothschild, Freshfield, and Kuoni, or receiving support from volunteers from Redlaw Recruitment and Barclays legal teams, I certainly wouldn’t have believed them. But that’s what my work involves on a weekly basis.
When I first arrived I spoke with so many clients about what they felt would be the best way I could support them. They were frustrated that they were so close to the City, yet that it was almost another world. At the same time, there was a lot of corporate interest in supporting employment programmes here, so all I had to do was develop a programme that married client need with our, and corporate, expertise.
Through this, we’ve developed a 10 week employability skills training programme called ‘Working On It’. Each week has a set topic – interviews, customer service, CVs, and so on – and is delivered here, or with a corporate partner. The feedback and outcomes have been fantastic, and the programme, along with our weekly Job Clubs, 1:1 support, IT classes, delivered by myself and a handful of incredibly capable volunteers (Hannah, Nasima, and Luciana), has played a major role in helping achieve nearly 40 job starts and 22 training course referrals for clients in 10 months, while not forgetting the influence of our well established (and award winning!) Catering Trainee Scheme.
Even what I’d perceived to be the toughest aspect of personalisation – implementing user-led activities – has been a dream. I’d thought that by the time a client was at a stage they’d be able to help others find work, they’d have a job already. Once again, I was delighted to be wrong; this has instead really empowered clients. The vast majority of clients have worked before, sometimes in very senior roles. A key part of the work I do to get people ready for employment is rebuilding confidence, not capability. Most workshops are primarily based around client discussion and information sharing, often I’m reduced to merely facilitating conversation, which is brilliant.
Now we have clients supporting those with less work experience, to design CVs, search for work, and use PCs on a regular basis at Job Club and IT workshop sessions. It’s the perfect embodiment of personalisation. And it’s working.