What does New Roots mean to you?
Monday 6th of February 2017
Tpas member, Matthew Pickering, Volunteer Coordinator at New Roots Housing Project shares his engagement journey with us.
What does New Roots mean to you?
It’s early January as I write this, I’ve emerged from beneath the pile of festive emails that has built up over the last few weeks and it feels like a good time to reflect on the recent changes here at New Roots, and to look at how we involve our service users beyond their tenancies.
At New Roots, we provide housing to homeless and at-risk young people, many with children, who take on short-term tenancies coupled with intensive, personalised support. When I joined the charity in 2014, it was still reeling from massive staff losses and was in the early stages of a desperate, cost-saving office move. Happily, we’re now a far cry from those days, having been awarded a new 5-year contract, recruited some fantastic staff and volunteers, and developed our brand new office space, all within the last 18 months.
“If I hadn’t found New Roots, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Engagementof vulnerable young people has always been a dynamic and challenging ask, and we’ve tried a number of approaches over the years. We kicked off 2016 with an organisational review involving staff, volunteers, stakeholders and service users, sharing experiences and insight to learn about the exciting new shape that we are forever becoming.
With the work this year on our new office building, we had a fantastic opportunity to involve our young people in a way we never have before. From the features of the building to trainee placements with our contractors, even down to the art work and planting that were the finishing touches, we’ve had young people involved at every stage. Thanks to their hard work and that of our amazing contractors, we’ve got new office and training space to be proud of, and a number of self-contained flats for our deserving young people.
Our engagement journey has been all the more interesting since we started collaborating with Tpas several years ago, working together to explore ways in which traditional tenant scrutiny can be applied to engage our dispersed, vulnerable young people.We even supported a number of our service users to the National Tenant Conference this year, to share their experiences of scrutiny, celebrate successes, and offer their insight to visiting organisations as involved young people.
During the developments of the last year, there has been much talk about getting back to normal; to the day-to-day routine. If anything has become clear to me over the past few years, it’s that this culture of constant change and reinvention is routine and, what’s more, it needs to be.
“I didn’t realise how badly I actually needed this.
Our young people are a complicated bunch, ever-changing, and reluctant to fit into nice, well-defined boxes. We have to change with their needs and we’re a far better organisation for it.
Creating opportunities for tenant involvement has become a reflex action; not always easily achieved, but one that has very much become part of our personality.We’ve been proud to work with Tpas and will continue to do so, pioneering scrutiny in supported housing for the benefit of our amazing service users.
“I’m independent and I can do it on my own.”
The paradox of supported housing is that, just when you get to know someone and their involvement peaks, they’re ready to be moved on. Fortunately, an increasing number now choose to offer their time and experience as volunteers to support our next generation of tenants through homelessness and into independent living.Who better to help us to improve our services than those receiving them?
They are our young people, and we’re their organisation; but it’s never been about us and them. We’re all in it together, in a relationship casually summed up by one of our service users when asked “what does New Roots mean to you?”