With Starts at Home Day just two weeks away (31 August), Jeremy Gray, CEO of Evolve Housing + Support, shares his experience of how influencing through campaigns like Starts at Home has secured the future funding of supported housing.

At Evolve Housing + Support we provide vital supported housing for vulnerable people – almost 700 places every night, for some of the most disadvantaged people in London.

“Before I came to Evolve, I was very low, I lost a lot of weight and I knew that I could not carry on with the life that I was leading. Now I’m healthy and very happy – I love my studio flat” one of our customers, Sharon, told us.

Since moving in to our Alexandra House service in Croydon, London, Sharon has grown in confidence and self-esteem. She’s living in our step-down accommodation, which means she is looking forward to moving on soon, into her own independent accommodation.

Sharon’s story is typical of many who need help at a particular point in their lives – targeted, personalised assistance for a short period has helped her overcome the challenges she’s faced and to regain her independence.

Demand for our services is high, and increasing, and yet over the last three years our services have been under threat due to a series of government policy proposals, all of which have been unhelpful at best, devastating at worst.

The risk to our services began in 2015 with the proposal to cap supported housing rents at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels. If this had gone ahead, it would have obliterated large parts of the supported housing sector: in our case, it would have meant the loss of up to 600 of our 700 supported housing units.

Croydon has always been our biggest borough – we started work there way back in 1861 – and we’ve always worked hard to build good relationships with all local MPs. So we were delighted when Gavin Barwell, at the time MP for Croydon Central, became the latest occupant of the Housing Minister’s hot seat shortly after the announcement on LHA caps. Because of the previous engagement we’d done with him, he already knew our services and the vital role they played. We moved quickly to make sure he understood the serious implications of the LHA cap proposals.

We continued to engage with Gavin, wrote to all of our MPs and invited politicians to see our schemes to highlight the issues of both the LHA cap and the subsequent proposals, which would have also led to many supported housing services across the country closing.

I firmly believe that our work, and the sector coming together doing similar work, has meant that politicians up and down the country have understood the value of supported housing. Although Gavin wasn’t in post by the time the LHA cap proposal was dropped, he did move into a role at the heart of Government as Downing Street Chief of Staff, so retained a high – if not higher – level of influence.

Working with Gavin and other politicians has led to where we are today – with a funding model confirmed for supported housing that works for the sector. We breathe a huge sigh of relief. Finally, we have some certainty about the future and can start to plan ahead – existing services are protected, and we can start to think about developing new services.

For people like Sharon, this is excellent news indeed. That’s why on Starts at Home Day (31 August) we really do have much to celebrate, and we must continue to showcase the importance of supported housing services to ensure that the risk we were facing doesn’t happen again. The Federation has provided some resources for getting involved.

When I look back over the last three years, I can see that all of our experiences demonstrate the importance of engaging with politicians, particularly MPs – after all, given how often the vacancy comes up, you never know when your MP will be the next Housing Minister…

The Starts at Home campaign has been incredibly successful at raising the profile of vital supported housing services, which we must continue to do in order to safeguard their future funding.

Starts at Home Day – this year on Friday 31 August – is a key date for the campaign, as on this day the sector comes together to celebrate and champion the value of supported housing. There are three main ways to support the campaign:

  • invite your MP to visit a scheme
  • provide a case study about your services
  • celebrate on social media using #startsathome.

Resources are provided on the Get involved page, including campaign boards, social media graphics and template letters for MPs and journalists.