Blog by Jo Evans, Director of Supported Housing for A2Dominion.

As soon as I heard about Starts at Home Day I felt a deep connection with the event and the motivation behind it.

My work has revolved around supported housing for almost 15 years now, having come straight into the sector fresh out of university in 2007. I love the challenge it brings, the people I get to meet, and that unique feeling you get when you have been part of helping someone turn their life around. In my current role as Director of Supported Housing for A2Dominion, I oversee around 240 staff and more than 2500 units of sheltered, extra care and supported housing. So a chance to showcase the work our amazing staff do there every day is always welcome.

Local engagement

Jo Evans with Shadow Secretary of State for Woman and Equalities, Annaliese Dodds MP

As part of the this year’s Starts at Home celebrations, we were honoured to welcome Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Anneliese Dodds MP to Matilda House, our supported living accommodation in Oxford. BBC Radio Oxford also sent down a journalist to cover the visit. We’re always looking for ways to highlight the work we do in the community to local politicians and media and Starts at Home Day was a great opportunity to do just that.

Anneliese had a quick tour of Matilda House with the staff, before I met her outside for what ended up being something of an impromptu garden party. We invited a few people who either live or have previously lived at Matilda House to chat with Anneliese about their stories and the huge part supported housing has played in them.

It is so important for local leaders to have the chance to hear these stories first-hand and get a real sense of the human benefit of supported housing. Even those who work within the supported housing sector sometimes need to be reminded of the very real people who can find themselves at the sharp end of life and how much dedication and kindness it takes to help them turn their lives around.

Paul and Lionel’s stories

The two stars of the day were Paul and Lionel who spoke so openly to us about the challenges they’ve faced. They also spoke with great affection about what a difference the staff at Matilda House have made and continue to make to their lives. Lionel was in particularly good spirits after a glorious Scrabble win against the staff the night before, and he wasn’t shy about reminding them of it.

Former Matilda House resident Paul told Anneliese and the BBC about the new one-bedroom flat he has just moved into after 34 years of trying to find a place of his own. He thanked the staff for “changing [his] entire life” and said that “it could never have happened without them”.

Lionel, who is Matilda House’s oldest resident at 77-years-old, told us about the changes he’s seen in himself since having the security of supported housing. He spoke about how he “used to be a haywire guy” after he was forced onto the streets. But said of his time in Matilda House: “since I’ve been here I’ve changed a lot and I can do things I never thought I’d be able to do.”

I loved seeing the pride on the faces of the Matilda House staff as Paul and Lionel were talking about the difference they’d made. For Anneliese and the BBC to be there to hear their stories too was doubly gratifying. MPs hearing these stories, along with raising public awareness through the media, can only help efforts to win the continued backing supported housing needs in the higher reaches of government to survive and thrive.

Starts at Home Day makes conversations like this possible. It is a well-established, nationwide event that means supported housing providers can attract busy local dignitaries and press to their locations at least once a year. I’m very grateful to the National Housing Federation for launching this brilliant initiative and I’m looking forward to supporting it further in the future.