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Sovereign Housing talks to workingmums.co.uk about how they offer a package of help to residents, from childcare to upskilling and wellbeing support.
Sovereign Housing has around 60,000 properties in the South and South West of England, from Berkshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Hampshire to the Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Wiltshire and the West of England.
It operates an employment and training service which acts as a gateway to employment support and grants and has just announced that it is making £150k in grants available to residents across its geography as part of its Thriving Communities strategy.
There are eight distinct pots of money available to Sovereign Housing residents, through charity provider Charis, which cover different areas of personal development:
– Training – to support residents to access training or qualifications
– Business start up – to help residents launch or grow their own business
– Digital – funding equipment or courses to get people online
– Work – for travel equipment, PPE or work clothes
– Childcare – paying for childcare to start work, attend training or work placements
– White goods – Ovens, fridge freezers, washing machines and microwaves delivered and installed to those struggling to afford appliances
– Community – To install benches, window boxes or make other improvements to outdoor spaces
– Wellbeing over 55s – Supporting access to clubs or wellbeing activities or enable people to connect digitally.
It’s a multigenerational approach and the focus on work is not something many would normally associate with a housing association. “We recognise that some people face small, but significant barriers to accessing work. Our aim is to open up opportunities for them,” says Erica Watts, Head of Employment and Training.
Those barriers include childcare costs. Through the grants residents can get financial help to pay the deposit for a nursery and the first month’s fees if they have a job offer or are taking up a training course. That sum, which can be available within a week of applying, can be the difference between a parent taking up a role or not. The grants also cover things like the cost of DBS and identity checks and the first month’s travel costs. “That removes some of the fear and anxiety for people on benefits,” says Erica.
The employment and training service also works with people to help them figure out how much better off they might be by working certain hours. Erica says that the association believes work has broader benefits than just money – from addressing social isolation to giving people a sense of purpose and structure.
It’s not just about getting a job: the service also stays in touch for 12 months and helps people to progress at work on the grounds that it is easier to find better work when you already have a job. They are also working with employers on continuous professional development to help people switch sectors, upskill and gain further qualifications.
The association also offers wider support, for instance, crisis funding and help with energy costs and it partners with mental health organisations, those dealing with debt advice and other financial support. The service works with residents and is about a two-way conversation, says Erica. “It’s about empowering people. It’s about doing things with people, not for them.” Residents who need support approach the service and register or are directed there by the many partners the association works with including Job Centres. They are then allocated an employment training officer who develops an access plan with them and channels the support to them so they have one consistent port of call.
The grants have been available for a number of years and the employment and training service has been in place for nine years, but Sovereign Housing is keen to get the message out to all its residents and to scale up what it is doing.
One of the benefits of Covid is that everything has gone online, which means it can reach a wider geographical area. The online platform provides an accessible space for people to chat about the support they need, something that, with the added pressures of Covid, has been vital. The service still provides a face to face offer, for instance, they work with a women’s organisation in Bristol which helps those who have suffered from domestic violence and meets people face to face. However, with only 12 employment and training officers, having a blended offer means they can get to more people.
During the pandemic, the association has also been running a series of webinars for furloughed workers and those who have been made redundant, looking at their options and their transferable skills. They also offer help with cvs and with the application process.
Since Covid there has been a greater recognition of the need for a life cycle approach to supporting people with their housing and other needs. “It’s an end to end approach. We are interested in what people need to lead fulfilled lives,” says Erica. She adds that there is a practical as well as a moral upside for the housing association. If residents are in work they are more able to pay their rent. “Most people want to work, but there is something stopping them,” says Erica. “It is about how we support people to enable them to take up those opportunities.”