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Living our values in 2017

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Life begins at 40, or at least our next adventure does.

Michael and Arvinda, our chair and Chief Executive announce today that Community Links is joining with the family of Catch22. This will give us the opportunity to develop our innovative work within the enhanced security of a bigger group and to work on a bigger canvas but without compromise to purpose or principle. We will continue as a separate organisation within the group, driven by our own values, retaining our brand identity and charity number and responsibility for our own work programme, staff and finances.

Catch22 make us look young! Its antecedents reach back to 1788. The modern organisation now runs a wide range of social welfare projects with local authorities and other commissioners across the UK. It is big, good and well-respected.

On stepping down as CEO of Save the Children Fund last year Justyn Forsyth said “If charities are not prepared to change, we will, in turn, be less able to change the world.” We at Community Links agree. “To generate change” is the first line in our statement of purpose and this continuous commitment to learning and evolution must apply as much to ourselves as it does to the world around us.

So our new partnership is an important change and a bold step but it is also a natural one for Community Links. Collaboration has always been at the heart of our model – collaborating in our own community and collaborating with business and with government, even when both have been unfashionable in the third sector.

We are doing it now because radical change and committed collaboration is needed more than ever: I noted in my Christmas blog that we entered 2016 with business leaders predicting economic recovery but with austerity and reckless disregard still demolishing the public realm. Local authorities were confronting impossible choices and anticipating imminent crises for social care and other essential services. Abject poverty was more accepted (witness the development of Food Banks), more intractable and also more visible than at any time in my working life. The 16% increase in the number of rough sleepers in 2016 announced last week is the latest evidence but surely no surprise to anyone who walks at night through any UK town or city centre.

The PM began 2017 with encouraging words about a “shared society” but these as yet shapeless aspirations are scant consolation to set alongside the brutal choices now facing managers in our council services, hospitals and government departments.

We at Community Links have changed our delivery models, increased our independent fundraising and reorganised our teams repeatedly since 2010. We are proud of the good things we have achieved in this difficult period but under no illusions. On a budget shorn of Legal Aid, New Deal and almost all local authority funding we do significantly less.

I wrote here last year about my profound sadness and anger at the loss of experienced people and valuable projects but surrendering to sentiment is a craven indulgence. Wiser by far to regroup and renew the charge. Community Links is still a big organisation. We could just reorganise again for the new financial year, thousands of charities across the UK do great work with far less, but we don’t think battling on in isolation optimises our assets. In this extraordinarily challenging environment we can do better together. That’s what will be getting me out of bed in the morning now, determined to advance again in the new alliance.

Important things won’t change. We decided when we began that a sense of local ownership was crucial to a model that was all about helping people help themselves. At the same time we believed that the learning from our local experience could be of value to other practitioners and should also be shared with policy makers and politicians. Community Links developed a special mix of the local and the national that has characterised our work ever since. This won’t change.

Going forward with an organisation that has a far bigger footprint and greater financial stability will enable Community Links to sustain those crucial local services, to connect with new networks and to continue to innovate and contribute to the wider business of making the world a better place. It is a smart, pragmatic alliance but it is also much more than that: The new arrangement will enable the future stewards of our organisation, to continue to live the values that have made us what we are. This matters partly because we believe that moral certainty is always important and particularly because we think it will be even more important in the years ahead:

When Community Links started the public, the private and the voluntary were clearly separate sectors. Now charities are anxious to be seen to be “business like”, businesses to stress how much they care and statutory services to do both. New forms like CICs and B.Corps, mutuals and social enterprises further muddy the waters. Indeed two of Community Links own most successful ventures in recent years are now an independent free school (Education Links) and a charitable foundation building social businesses (Shift).

In this crowded arena there will be no enduring logic in ministers pledging support exclusively to the voluntary sector or independent funders supporting only registered charities. Don’t look in the Mem and Arts for the distinguishing signifiers in the future, find them in the beliefs and behaviours.

As we enter this big birthday year at Community Links we believe that the values that have served us well since 1977 can be most effectively sustained and fulfilled through partnership with Catch22.  This is, for us, the forward thinking, 2017 way:

“To generate change. To tackle causes not symptoms, find solutions not palliatives. To recognise that we all need to give as well as to receive and to appreciate that those who experience a problem understand it best. To act local but think global, teach but never stop learning. To distinguish between the diversity that enriches our society and the inequalities that diminish it. To grow – but all to build a network not an empire. To be driven by dreams, judged on delivery. To never do things for people but to guide and support, to train and enable, to simply inspire.” (The Community Links statement of purpose)

What do Community Links and the punk movement have in common?

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Community Links is turning 40 in 2017. That means we’re a few months younger than the punk movement, whose 40th anniversary is currently being celebrated. 

While Community Links may admittedly have little in common with the Sex Pistols, the beliefs animating this charity’s founders and the rather more legendary Sid Vicious were rooted in the same decade of forgotten industrial peripheries and broken ideals that followed the 1960s, with their passionate rejection of postwar injustice, their popular struggles, the widespread student demonstrations and all the local-yet-global mass protests. The ultimate goal of this – then small – group of activists from east London might have been justice for all rather than a rebellious call for anarchy in the UK, but the irreverence and DIY ethos animating some of the first actions organised by Community Links had perhaps something to share with the ripped-up T-shirts and gravity-defying mohawks that still define the punk era.

“With £360 we bought an aging Routemaster, unscrewed the seats, sold them, bought art supplies, knocked in some benches and a couple of moveable tables,” remembers David Robinson of those early years. The bus could soon be seen parked on council estates around Newham, as a diverse group of community workers, activists and volunteers entertained children, listened to people and gave advice. When, in the early 1980s, the tower blocks campaign was set up in collaboration with local residents who were tired of being isolated in low-quality, high-rise forms of social housing that tended to sway in the wind, the loudspeaker became Community Links’ most prized possession; leaflets and other campaigning material were hand-drawn, glued together and published as zines; and protest strategies also included gathering a group of people, having them dress up as cardboard blocks and shout loudly, at the demolition of two high-rise estates, “2 down, 107 to go!”

Radical beliefs and radical action required radical means. If the system wasn’t working, the only way to escape alienation was to go back to the roots, back to the people, back to the community. To do something radical yourself. To do-it-yourself.

A lot has changed since then. Forty years are a long time for a human life, let alone in the existence of an organisation. The Greater London Council, Europe, Thatcherism, Gordon Brown and the coalition meant doors were opened then shut abruptly; that funding abounded then was hard to come by. Community Links has indeed grown then shrunk again, but that initial DIY sensitivity still pervades it – though it’s expressed in different styles, ways and forms. The work on how third sector organisations should live their values, published in the mid 2000s, is one such example: “It was produced as a report,” says Richard McKeever, who oversaw much of Community Links’ editorial output through the years, “but it has a toolkit at the back. It’s go-and-do-it-yourself stuff.” Not too different from some of those early National Tower Blocks Directories, which included constructive stories of empowerment and how-to guides on a wide range of topics, from getting rid of cockroaches to regenerating green spaces on high-rise estates.

And it’s precisely these local stories, these ground-up perspectives, these simple human insights into complex social issues that have characterised the work of Community Links since 1977, while the political context has continued to change around. Gone are the days when the charity resembled more a spontaneous movement than a mainstream organisation, and the same is true for punk – which last summer was curated into exhibitions at the British Fashion Council and the British Library. But structural definitions aside, the imagination of those who’ve participated in both likely remains the same. It remains radical; it remains open to rejecting and reinterpreting the system as a whole if needed; it remains focused on the acquired awareness that alternative – and sometimes more effective – solutions can be found in the pragmatic knowledge of local communities. That’s why Community Links has never ceased to gather stories, amplify the voices of the disempowered, propose constructive narratives, bring local people in touch with Downing Street, and Downing Street in touch with Newham. And that’s also why we’ve been working, for the past five months, on a book that will hopefully act as a collection of thoughts, recollections and learning narrated through the voices of some of the people who have interacted with Community Links for the past four decades. To inspire, despite the adverse context stifling most changemakers today, a different policy framework. A systemic, go-and-do-it-yourself type of framework.

The book will be released next year, in time for our 40th anniversary celebrations. Keep checking this blog for updates!

Partnership success that builds brighter futures for young people

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Last night Community Links and our corporate partners Bank of New York Mellon won the Corporate Community Local Involvement Charity Times Award for our Future Links employability programme.

Since 2009 this fantastic project has enabled hundreds of young people furthest from the labour market to develop the necessary skills to progress into work or further education, with 85% of our graduates moving into a positive destination.

Our CEO, Arvinda Gohil, who attended the awards, said:

“I am delighted at this result, many congratulations and well done to everyone who was involved and continues to be involved in this great partnership. My particular thanks and congratulations to the young people who have participated in this programme and made it such a success over the last 8 years.”        

Key to the programme’s success is the longstanding partnership and support of our corporate sponsor BNY Mellon. Long-term partnerships with companies are invaluable to organisations like Community Links, enabling us to plan ahead, build our sustainability and innovate. This national recognition of the strong local partnership we’ve developed provides an opportunity to reflect on what’s key to a successful relationship between a charity and a company.

Future Links supports young people aged between 16-19 years old who live in Newham and who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). The training is focused on building the confidence, resilience, networks and skills of our young people and supporting them through the job application process. Alongside being the sole funder of Future Links, BNY Mellon plays an important role in the programme delivery. Participants visit their offices twice during each 10 week course – receiving support from employees with their CVs and interview skills and attending a graduation celebration at the end.

Future Links success would not be possible without the support of BNY Mellon and our skilled and committed programme staff, who dedicate so much time, energy and enthusiasm to the young people they work with. At the end of the day, Future Links’ success is a reflection on the hundreds of young people who have worked so hard over the years, and who have built brighter futures for themselves, their families and their communities.

Sending out an SOS: how early action can break the cycle of reoffending

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

The Early Action Task Force is currently building on its latest report, ‘A Rough Guide to Early Action’, by creating an early action case study online gallery. Below is a sneak peek into one of our new case studies, the St Giles Trust SOS Project… 

 photo Junior Smart SOS_zpsceddixxz.jpg

Junior Smart, Founder of SOS Project. (Image by Emmanuelle Purdon.)

St Giles Trust’s SOS project was founded by Junior Smart in 2006, an ex-offender working for the trust who had experienced the destructive cycle of gangs, violence and crime. The project is designed to help vulnerable young people caught up in criminal lifestyles – often gang related – to enable them to realise their aspirations in education, training or employment and ultimately reduce violent and weapons crime.

 Why is this early action?

According to the National Audit Office it costs nearly £250 million each year to detain young offenders, with 73% of them re-offending within a year. Gang crime is also hugely costly, both in terms of destroying the lives of gang members, their family members, and their victims, and of policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating offenders. The Government estimates that 50% of shootings and 22% of violent crime in London are perpetrated by gang members.

Preventing violent crime by breaking people’s involvement allows them to contribute to society, improves their family’s prospects, and makes their communities safer by reducing the likelihood that their peers are drawn into crime. SOS does so through an emphasis on shared experience and building relationships, training ex-offenders as caseworkers to work with gang members providing one-to-one holistic support tailored to the individual’s needs.

 How does it work?

Initially piloted in Southwark, SOS is now the largest gang exit service in London, operating in 14 boroughs and funded by local authorities, corporates, philanthropists, and charitable trusts. It operates through St. Giles Trust’s Peer Advisor model, using ex-offenders as frontline caseworkers and training them whilst in prison to give high-level advice and guidance. Not only is this experience powerful in breaking down barriers with gang members, it also provides caseworkers with a meaningful qualification to find well paid employment upon release.

SOS develops one-to-one relationships that are available 24/7 to build trust and encourage individuals to turn their lives around. Caseworkers provide support in family mediation, finding solutions to housing needs, enabling them to break ties with destructive friendships and move towards education or employment. SOS is about implementing pragmatic solutions that lead to behaviour change.

SOS also works in schools through SOS+, using ex-offenders to inform at risk young people about the dangers of gang involvement, de-glamorising the lifestyle, and raising awareness about how they can stay safe. One-to-one support is given to particularly vulnerable young people. SOS is also delivered through Expect Respect which works exclusively with young women, offering one-to-one support to those at risk of sexual and violent exploitation associated with gang involvement.

What has it achieved?

SOS ultimately aims to prevent gang crime by helping clients end gang involvement and getting them into work and decent housing. An evaluation by The Social Innovation Partnership found that 87% of SOS clients interviewed changed their attitude to offending. Over 75% of clients move into employment or training, and 75% into decent housing. Mainly, though, it was clients’ relationship with caseworkers that had the greatest effect in changing behaviour as caseworkers’ experience allowed them to challenge clients whilst ultimately giving support.

According to a cost benefit analysis of its work with high risk prison leavers, St. Giles Trust reduces reoffending by an additional 40% compared to the national average. It’s testament to St. Giles Trust’s transformative effect, not just among its clients but staff as well; of 23 SOS caseworkers who left school without any qualifications, eight now hold degrees. It demonstrates St. Giles Trust’s ethos of not dismissing individual’s capabilities because of their past, and caseworkers’ great determination to improve their clients’ lives, as well as their own.

 What can we learn?

The intensive, empathetic and 1:1 relation-building between caseworkers and clients is key to SOS’s success. 75% of clients said that their caseworker being an ex-offender was crucial in making them want to change their lives. Having a team of caseworkers who’ve experienced the hardships their clients face makes them particularly determined to persist in maintaining the relationship for as long as it takes, whilst also showing clients that they have to want to change for themselves. What’s significant about the SOS project and St. Giles Trust’s work more generally is in showing that changing behaviours of the most entrenched, challenging and complex clients only works through relation-building because people who are disengaged from all other services need a consistent, flexible and personal source of support.

 

Find out more

Further information on SOS can be found here.

Watch a film about the SOS Project here.

Displacement is not prevention: acting earlier to prevent homelessness

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Homelessness is a problem that has often been met with strange solutions. Take the so-called ‘homelessness prevention spikes’ that we’ve written about before, in which spikes are fitted near buildings to prevent rough sleeping. Rather than deal with the causes of that person’s homelessness and enable them to take steps towards finding a home, it merely displaces them somewhere else to be somebody else’s problem.

It is no wonder that many individuals find it hard to escape homelessness when such approaches not only exist, but are deemed suitable ways to address the issue. I was reminded of this ‘prevention’ technique when reading about Bournemouth Council’s homelessness strategy, which claims to be putting £200,000 towards “assertive techniques and procedures”. Part of this involves buying rough sleepers one-way train tickets to move them out of the area. As with the spikes, rather than dealing with causes of homelessness this strategy deals with their consequences; rendering rough sleepers invisible (to the residents of Bournemouth) and foisting their problems on somebody else. By this logic as long as rough sleepers are not in ‘our’ area then they are no longer ‘our’ problem.

A different approach

Over the past six months we’ve been collecting stories of early action, exploring how individuals and organisations are acting one step earlier in order to solve the root causes of social and economic problems such as homelessness.

To be fair to Bournemouth, their Housing Strategy does go into a bit more detail about their use of the central government Homelessness Prevention Grant (although, slightly worryingly, that has now been absorbed into general council funding) and provide some additional services for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Information is scant, however, and other areas seem to be taking a much more proactive, systemic and partnership based approach.

Most recently we heard about the Active Inclusion project in Newcastle (AIN). By working in partnership, AIN enables people to avoid homelessness wherever possible by making advice, information, and support from a range of organisations far easier to access. It works primarily on three levels, from primary prevention (‘information and support for all to identify risks and prevent crises’), through secondary prevention (‘specialist support, accommodation and advice for those at risk’), to crisis activities (‘for people who are literally homeless’). As a result of activities – which can be anything from welfare and debt advice to emergency accommodation – AIN has helped prevent 4,192 potential cases of homelessness in 2014/15.

Another example is Dundee City Council’s Homeless Service Unit. This unit runs a range of services targeted at those at risk of homelessness, from raising awareness among 16 year olds about planning for independent living, to giving people leaving care or prison support through a key worker. They make between 1,000 and 1,500 homelessness assessments each year and it adapts services to reflect need; for example one of the fastest growing reasons for homelessness is insecurity within the private rented sector (stay tuned for our private rented sector briefing that will be published in the coming weeks).

The Passage – a London based charity highlighted in our latest report – have also taken an explicitly preventative approach (whilst also maintaining essential crisis-oriented services). Most notably their Hospital Discharge Service identifies homeless patients (or those at risk of homelessness) who repeatedly present at A&E and refers them to more appropriate services that deal with their underlying crisis. After working with 300 people last year through this service, 70% of them ended up going into accommodation after leaving hospital. They also run a Home for Good service that enables formerly homeless people to connect with local voluntary and community sector organisations, with 97% of the people they worked with retaining their homes after 12 months (as opposed to 84% without this intervention).

Prevention is about more than displacement

These three examples – by no means the only ones to exist across the UK – highlight that homelessness prevention can (and indeed should) be about more than displacement. Early action at its core is about enabling people to flourish, rather than merely preventing them from experiencing negative outcomes (or, in some cases, simply displacing their problems elsewhere).

It also raises an important point about what we measure and how this drives activity. In much the same way as certain types of policing – traditionally driven by the enforcement model (i.e. charging around under blue flashing lights, making arrests, and ‘kicking down doors’) – can drive up arrest statistics, Bournemouth’s attempt to reduce levels of rough sleeping may well ‘work’ when we look at the statistics in a year’s time. But will their ‘assertive’ train-ticket buying ‘techniques’ have actually achieved anything positive for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness? Will they be securely housed and leading happier, healthier and more productive lives? Unless they catch a train to Newcastle or Dundee, I’d guess probably not.

Let’s make sure young people are given a fair deal on apprenticeships

Friday, March 18th, 2016

As the Government plans to increase the number of apprentices to three million by 2020, it’s high time we addressed the growing underrepresentation of young people

It’s National Apprenticeship Week 2016 and the official theme is “an apprenticeship can take you anywhere.” However, the reality for many under 19-year-olds and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds is that apprenticeships are taking them nowhere. In fact, as a proportion of all starters the number of under 19-year-olds has almost halved since 2009, going from 42% to 25% of all apprenticeships. Yet at the same time under 19-year-olds account for the majority (56 per cent) of apprenticeship applications, revealing it’s not for want of trying or enthusiasm that young people are less likely to secure a place. So why are apprenticeships letting so many of our young people down?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Employers would say they face difficulties in recruiting younger apprentices due to weak employability skills, whilst young people would say that it’s an uneven playing field, where employers are cherry picking older and more experienced applicants, many of whom are existing employees. The latter argument is supported by research from the Institute for Public Policy Research which found that two-thirds of apprentices (67 per cent) at level 2 or level 3 were already employed by their company, rather than new recruits.

Rightly or wrongly we know there’s a growing preference by employers for older and more experienced apprentices. This presents the Government with a particular challenge; how can they dramatically increase the number of apprenticeships and improve standard’s whilst ensuring more young people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t get left even further behind? This challenge could be exacerbated by the introduction of the apprenticeships levy next year which gives employers greater autonomy over how they deliver their apprenticeship schemes.

At Community Links we believe Government need to do more to support and prepare young people for apprenticeships, whilst ensuring employers are incentivised to offer the flexibility and understanding to take them on. We prepare thousands of young people in East London for employment each year and know they have the appetite and drive to become successful apprentices or employees, but often lack the social and communication skills. Our Future Links and Talent Match programmes deliver pre-apprenticeship and pre-employment training to young people furthest from the labour market. This training is focused on building the confidence, resilience, networks and skills of our most disadvantaged young people and supporting them through the job application process.

So as we near the end of National Apprenticeships Week and the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy commences its inquiry into apprenticeships, it’s high time we gave young people a fair deal. This starts with ensuring disadvantaged young people have the best possible access to high quality pre-apprenticeship training and support. Likewise employers need to be properly incentivised to recruit young people onto apprenticeships and to better understand their needs. Overall the Government should set a hard and fast target to dramatically increase the proportion of under 19-year-old apprenticeship starts by 2020. Failure to do so means the rot will most likely continue, limiting the life opportunities of potentially millions of our youngest and brightest.

A battle for all generations: we need to address the socio-economic drivers of inequality regardless of intergenerational fairness

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

As young and working age households lag further behind their older relatives in-terms of income growth and homeownership, we look at addressing inequality across the ages.

Poverty, inequality and age are important issues for Community Links, especially considering our vision as a charity is for confident communities ready to create and seize opportunities. It’s for this reason we read with interest the Resolution Foundation’s 2016 Living Standards Report. It found that working-age households have undergone a much tighter squeeze than older people, reflected in pensioners’ incomes rising 10 times faster than working-age ones since 2002. It also found that low to middle income households under-35 have experienced the sharpest fall in homeownership rates, dropping from 50% to 25% since 2000 and predicted to drop as low as 10% by 2025 and more like 5% for those living in London. The opposite was true for people over 64, with homeownership rates increasing from a quarter to a third since 2000.

As well as homeownership falling, poverty amongst young people is rising. According to the New Policy Institute, poverty amongst the under 60s in the UK, particularly 16-24 year olds, has risen since 2001, whilst for the over 60s it has seen a dramatic and unprecedented decline. Whilst drops in elderly poverty rates are most welcome, the steady rise in poverty within our younger generations should set the alarm bells ringing. So why don’t we hear Government talking more about it and why isn’t there greater state intervention targeted at the young and working age? The short answer could be political participation. Voter turnout amongst 18-24 year olds in the 2015 General Election was nearly half that of the over 65s.

So it’s no wonder the likes of Heidi Allen MP, one of the so called ‘Tory tax credit rebels’ is calling on politicians to take “brave” steps to address the challenges facing young working age people on low to middle incomes. Likewise the DWP Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into intergenerational fairness calling into question the ‘triple lock’ on pensions and assessing the collective impact on different generations of policies in recent years. But what are the realities on the ground? Are grandparents, their children and grandchildren even aware of the growing disparities in their socio-economic outcomes? Are there heated debates at the family Sunday lunch?

Grandparents, children and grandchildren generally want to support each other, but don’t always have the means to do so

At Community Links we work with 16,000 people each year in the East London Borough of Newham, which can claim to be one of the youngest, most diverse and poorest areas in the UK. We know that many pensioners and elderly people face poverty and isolation. For this reason we run a Pensioners Club every Wednesday from our building in Canning Town and have developed a Linking Ages project that brings elderly and young people together to share their experiences and skills. Likewise we know that many of our young people face challenges in progressing in education, training and employment. To address this we deliver a Talent Match employability programme for young people in East London who are furthest from the labour market. We also work in close partnership with Bank of New York Mellon delivering the Future Links employment training programme to 16-18 year olds who are not in employment, education or training (NEET).

From our experience supporting the young and the old, it is not an issue of fairness between the generations, but of fairness and equality in wider society. After all the vast majority of those over 64 who have seen incomes and homeownership increase in recent years have children and possibly grandchildren who will stand to inherit those assets. Yet receipt of that inheritance won’t necessarily bring about fairness and equality for our younger generations.

We need to address the socio-economic drivers of inequality regardless of age

The think tank Civitas has attributed the growing generational divide in homeownership to the advantages of the better-off half of baby-boomers compared to both poor baby-boomers and to those members of younger generations who do not stand to inherit. Such an argument has legs in a place like Newham, which in the last year has seen the biggest house price increases of any local authority in the country. These increases have been accompanied by a dramatically expanding private rented sector and similar rises in rents, making secure accommodation a distant dream for the third or more of Newham’s residents who are paid below the London living wage.

And this brings us to the heart of the issue: we need to address the socio-economic drivers of inequality regardless of age. In Newham and London we are facing a housing crisis which is denying multiple generations of a genuinely affordable and stable home. At the same time the Resolution Foundation has forecast slight reductions in income for the poorest 25 per cent of households between 2015 and 2020. Ignoring this toxic cocktail of social indicators is not an option. The young and the old need to be championing forward thinking solutions like a ‘triple lock’ on children’s benefits and building more genuinely affordable homes. At the end of the day every family needs a stable homes and a steady income to flourish and thrive, to be young and to grow old.

 

Tell us what makes you proud: your experiences of early action

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Since 2011, we’ve been working with a range of experts to find out how best to build a society which prevents problems rather than coping with their consequences. We call this early action – services or activities that forestall social problems to deliver a triple dividend; enabling people to lead thriving lives, costing less and contributing more. Find out more about our research and what we mean by early action here, in particular take a look at our second report ‘The Deciding Time’.

There’s cross-party support for early action, with commitments to preventative social policy and public services in each of the three major parties’ 2015 manifestos. It’s a common sense approach that’s particularly valuable in the current austerity context of public spending cuts. That said, political promises are worthless without action on the ground which is why we’re collecting your stories as part of a new project to showcase the impact of early action.

We believe that stories of hope and compelling practice can help to inform and inspire and, little by little, change the world. We’re therefore asking you to tell us about your experience of early action to help us support others trying to make it happen and influence local and national policy agendas in the process.

We’re interested in stories from any sector and at any scale, from county-wide access to free exercise programmes to a community run café. We’re also interested in stories at any stage of prevention, from universal services preventing problems arising to timely interventions preventing a problem getting worse.

Whether it’s only partially implemented or piecemeal in its success, we’re interested in your experience of early action to help us deepen our understanding of what makes prevention effective and to share great stories that illustrate the financial, social and economic benefits of acting earlier.

To get in touch, please email Jennifer.Beckwith@community-links.org or call 020 7473 9666. Even if you’re unsure whether your experience demonstrates early action, I really want to talk with you. As we want frontline experiences of early action, I’m keen to know your opinions on their effectiveness, longevity and any changes you’ve seen in how services are delivered.

Over the coming months we’ll be highlighting the most interesting examples of early action and commenting on their policy implications via our blog, keep abreast of our work here. If twitter is your medium, follow us @Comm_Links.

An inspirational day with Jobs, Friends & Houses

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Our previous early action guest blog posted by Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes on March 16th was exceptionally well received and, as Andy noted in his additional comment on March 26th, widely circulated.

Lots of readers asked for more information or for the opportunity to discuss the work. Dawn Austwick, CEO of the Big Lottery Fund, kindly offered to host a meeting for Andy to share his experience.

It will be from 10.00 to 12.00 on June 1st in central London, venue to be confirmed. It’s free, of course, but we expect lots of interest so please book early by clicking here.

 

On April 10th I spent the afternoon visiting the Constabulary’s first Community Interest Company (CIC) – Jobs, Friends and Houses (JFH) in Blackpool. It was one of the most inspirational and humbling experiences I have ever had as a police officer. This blog post explains, hopefully quite succinctly, why this is radically different and therefore why it is achieving great things. Before I do let’s start with one of those moments where you have to really stop and ask yourself ‘did that actually happen?’

I arrive at a big Victorian property in the centre of Blackpool, a place I know well. It’s in full re-development mode having just been stripped out by the JFH team. I’m greeted by a guy who I instantly recognise, I think he recognises me and I feel quite anxious. The last time we met I’m sure he was throwing a storage heater down a staircase at me? He’s talking me through the work they are doing on the property and we get into what brought him here, his journey. When I talk later about the hundred and one things that make JFH tick – I mean the hundred and one things that are different, that are complex and need to be understood from the perspective of the individual not the perspective of the system. His insights were powerful and also should give us hope.

Jobs, Friends and Houses works on the principle that the majority of people who have committed crime have done so as a consequence of personal issues that have their origins in early life experience. Unconditional Positive Regard so to speak. It therefore approaches the problem of rehabilitation with a mind-set that is more empathetic and optimistic. As Steve the Police Sergeant who has brought this into reality despite huge cultural resistance says ‘we refuse to believe it’s ‘when’ someone re-offends it’s ‘if’ because we believe in them and we believe in what JFH can achieve’.

JFH understands that for people whose life journey leads them to addiction and crime things get very complicated very quickly. Everyone in society faces life’s challenges yet for some these become barriers that build up over time until they are impossible to unravel. Look back at your own life and take stock of the ups and downs: births, deaths, marriages, divorces and health problems. Now imagine bouncing back from all of this without family support, with no qualifications, with an addiction, with no accommodation , no job and a criminal record. The ‘system’ we all live in is pretty complex … moving house or becoming a carer for a parent with dementia reminds us of that. For some it’s so complex they end up on the outside looking in, becoming disengaged and stigmatised. All too often they turn to crime.

Now I’m a police officer and I believe that if you commit a crime you should be held to account, I’ve seen the devastating impact crime has on victims. This isn’t a call to ‘go soft on crime’ but quite the opposite JFH is an example of ‘what works’ and how radically you have to think to reduce crime, victims and the human cost of addiction and offending. Public sector partners take note: this has the potential to save you millions. Ask your local prison just one question ‘how many people are in here on breach of licence?’. My opposite number who runs a prison knows he is releasing offenders only to see them fall foul of the system that needs to provide … Jobs, Friends and Houses! So they return. Add it up it’s millions.

So what does JFH do?

JFH is a Community Interest Company run by the police. New for us, but so far not radical. It was pump-primed with a grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government, gained in partnership with Blackpool Council. The CIC buys run down properties and renovates them using fully-trained tradesmen who are employed by the CIC. It takes referrals from a variety of agencies and provides volunteer training moving to full employment in the CIC . Volunteering to accredited training to employment. The mentoring support is provided on the job and the property portfolio then rents to the workforce. Jobs, Friends and Houses – simple?

Not so simple and there are one hundred and one things that make this tick, like any great innovation it’s driven by a core of incredible characters who have been there, done it – and bought the T shirt. I spoke to some of the people working on the houses and the stories are powerful for me as a police officer. The ‘offer’ presented by JFH gives us an insight into what can be achieved by ‘integrating’ a service for a certain group of High Intensive Users – and it not only does it not cost the taxpayer a penny it is generating jobs, improving the housing stock and they are paying tax!

Now many people may read this and think this is nothing new. In policing terms we know the pathways that reduce re-offending – what JFH does is deliver them in an integrated way. Offender Management teams do their best to collaborate and ‘manage’ the problem but nobody has the time to provide the 24/7 support provided by an integrated service like this. This is strengths-based, cost effective and very personalised. It looks at the reality of what life is like, what motivates people to change and is adapting every day by learning from the client group about ‘what works’.

 

‘Twas the week before, the week before Christmas…

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Sally Muylders explains how she spent her day on the 9th of December
as Sustainable Neighbourhoods Manager at Community Links

SallyWhile many people in the UK are winding down at work and getting ready for the Christmas break, things go up about five gears at Community Links and especially in the Early Action Team.  We have our 38th annual Christmas Appeal trying to gather toys and donations so children across Newham can wake up on Christmas Day with a present that they would not have received otherwise.  Our Enterprise team are preparing to open the Established pop-up shop at Westfield Shopping Centre for a week-long trading experience for the young entrepreneurs we have worked with all year.  And in the Neighbourhood Hubs, its parties galore.  We have a Community-led Superhero party taking place, children’s Christmas parties hosted by our corporate supporters and under-fives events at all of our hubs.  This is in additional to pantomimes at each hub, in between all the normal community activities that take place every week.

After leaving home at 7am, to get an early start at work on the 9th, I finally arrived at 10am due to a sad fatality on the M25 which caused immense tailbacks.  Undeterred I launched straight into a meeting with the Hub facilitators.  These are the people that keep our centres open each week, support community members to use them and ensure that they are safe, welcoming and well-resourced.  We have two new Hub Facilitators that are now working at our Chandos East Centre and Play Sow and Grow (our environmental and growing centre); I want them to meet regularly with the wider team to learn, support and develop each other.  This meeting was the first of this plan.  I left there after the meeting, but not before unloading my car of some carpet remnants that I had that will serve the flock of hens well over the winter as I gave Rizwana some advice on how to line the Hen House with it.

I returned to Community Links head office to meet Kirsty from The Good Gym who I had invited to our team meeting.  The Good gym are an innovative and unique organisation that help people to connect to the area in which they live through exercise and helping voluntary groups and individuals who need help with something.  Last week the group of runners helped us by delivering leaflets door to door.  (Read their report here) In the coming year we will hope to do more work with the Goodgym.

Following the team meeting I caught up with Tracy one of our Community Engagement managers about an event that took place last weekend; children from our Play and Special Educational Needs projects took centre stage at the Westfield Shopping Centre performing in front of thousands of Christmas shoppers.

I left the building to attend another meeting in Stratford and parked my car outside our Rokeby Hub, so that I could walk round to West Ham Lane.  I popped in to tell Jackie the Hub Facilitator and say hello to the Active Minds group that meet there every Tuesday since moving from Chandos East.  They were admiring the 10ft Christmas tree that they had helped erect and decorate on Monday.

Also there was a community member we know well called Vivian.  Recently Vivian who is elderly has been unwell and had been having issues in her flat with the gas and electric which had been turned off.  Jackie had the previous week worked really hard with agencies and providers to get the utilities reinstated and had rectified the electric, but the Gas was still not on and Vivian was living without heat after being in hospital only the previous week.  The council had been round to help as there was a fault with her boiler and they were now waiting for a replacement part but had not brought a promised electric heater. Jackie and I attempted to stir-up the full force of the council as I had some connections there and this is a resident physically shaking with the cold and spending all day in the centre to keep warm. By the end of the day, Jackie had managed to get the heater delivered and a guaranteed appointment for the next day for the engineers to repair the boiler.

If it wasn’t for staff such as Jackie, quietly working away in our Community Hubs supporting the people who use them and intervening on occasions, when needed, I don’t know what would happen to people such as Vivian who go unnoticed by official agencies. Our staff work so hard, not only to provide fun and community building activities, but also acute interventions at times and use the skills developed over many years to help people in dire need. They do this almost invisibly.

I made it to my meeting and left there to head straight to Chandos East, our most northerly Community Hub where I met with Nabila our other new Hub facilitator and Ysr, a really active community member who is involved in many things with us at Chandos East.  We are planning an event in the New Year and worked out some actions for before Christmas for us to all beaver away at, set a date and time and will now work hard to get other local people involved in planning and delivering it in January.

My last activity of the day was really special; I headed over to a small green surrounded by the houses of Bisson Road where Candy from Play Sow and Grow had organised, in partnership with St Johns Church, Stratford, community carol-singing. I was actually moved as I stood singing with community members that I had known for years, having previously worked in that area myself.  Singing Christmas carols together on a crisp night, with the Vicar playing a keyboard and the candles flickering in lanterns was a unique and special experience – one that I will remember for a long time.

It was on this day exactly one year ago that I started a new job at another organisation, I left Community Links to go and work somewhere else. Being away for a number of months confirmed for me what I already knew (but I wrongly felt I needed to change) that Community Links is an amazing organisation to work with, nowhere else will I be able to work with such a special team people that create endless opportunities for our community members and endlessly work to advocate, support and make sure that everyone is ok.

Our lack of resource is very real whilst the need that we see every day continues to grow, but still people remain motivated, creative and come in to work every day to help change the world in small and silent ways. The team I work with constantly inspire me and for that I’m grateful. On August the 9th this year I returned to work at Community Links having been successful in applying for the post of Sustainable Neighbourhoods Manager. I am grateful for the opportunity to come back to Community Links where I was welcomed with open arms, Ill work harder than ever.

If you’d like to support Community Links, read about our Christmas funding appeal.