Real Life Stories: How First Base Day Centre helped Joe off the streets

Many of the people we are seeing are new to rough sleeping, like Joe who was helped by First Base Day Centre.  This is his story:

“When Joe first came into our service, he had never before been in the position of rough sleeping.  He was 45 years of age, had worked fairly consistently and always had friends or partners he could rely on if work dried up and he found himself in between jobs.  The recession had meant that he had faced a longer period of not working, his relationship had succumbed to stress and he found himself sleeping on the beach.

“Joe had made a claim for Job Seekers Allowance, but had not received a payment after several weeks.  He had eaten nothing for two days and was embarrassed, he said that he had not washed or changed his clothes for a week.  We made sure that Joe had a hot meal, a change of clothes and was able to use the shower at First Base.

“Joe was assigned a caseworker who met with Joe every day for the following week and it became clear that he was feeling overwhelmed by his difficulties, ashamed and hopeless about his future.   He said that he had visited a railway bridge on several nights in the previous month and had considered throwing himself under a passing train.  Joe disclosed the difficulties that he experienced throughout his life and that these experiences were re-visiting him on a nightly basis and tormenting him.

“Joe’s caseworker referred him to the Mental Health Team, a multi-agency team providing mental healthservices for homeless people, contacted his GP and made Joe an emergency appointment.  The Doctor was sympathetic and offered medication and follow-up visits.

“It was obvious that Joe was in no position to be actively seeking work and he needed a new claim for a sickness related benefit.   Joe was very anxious and physically shaking while he spoke with the Department for Work and Pensions on the phone so his caseworker supported him with the call.  It was a further two weeks and many phone calls later that Joe received any benefit payment.

“Joe met with the Mental Health Team at First Base and they agreed to offer some on-going support, seeing Joe fortnightly, alongside regular contact with his GP and daily support from his caseworker.

“With the support of his caseworker, Joe arranged an appointment with a BHT housing adviser who suggested that he make a homeless application.  His application was rejected due to lack of medical information supporting his case.  As Joe did not have a local connection to Brighton and Hove it was not possible for him to be referred into one of the City’s hostels, so we began to explore the possibility of privately rented housing with support from another BHT project, Firm Foundations.

“Throughout this time, Joe was continuing to sleep on the beach and his mental and emotional state would fluctuate greatly on a daily basis.  Joe made very good use of services at First Base, including volunteering and on good days was able to plan the direction of casework himself.

“Over time, we collected letters from his GP and from mental health specialists involved in his care and re-submitted his homeless application.   With the additional evidence gathered Brighton and Hove City Council accepted Joe’s application for housing.

“Joe is now living in BHT supported accommodation for people experiencing mental health difficulties.  He has key work support from this project alongside specialist mental health support for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He is engaging with alcohol support services and still calls in periodically to let us know how things are for him.”

First Base operates in the centre of Brighton and is the main centre for the provision of support to assist people who are homeless or vulnerably housed in Brighton and Hove to move on from the streets or insecure accommodation and realise their aspirations.  First Base operates client-centred specialist services to support people who are sleeping rough in the city to get off the streets, start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home. Several services run from First Base including a Healthy Lifestyles Project (comprising the Catering Training Project and Fitness 4 All), PASH (Promotional and Awareness of Sexual Health), First Impressions (CV and Employment Service), Culture (Heritage and Cultural Activities), and Dine, our catering Social Enterprise company.  

Real Life Story: How the Accommodation for Work Project helped Eric back into work

biglotterylogo_W300-220x125Eric came to BHT’s Accommodation for Work Project when his relationship broke down. The project (which is funded by the Big Lottery) aims to help homeless people off the streets and into employment and independent accommodation.

His partner had become abusive towards him and he had no place else to go. He was faced with either becoming street homeless or staying with a violent partner. The stress of his relationship breakdown and possible homelessness made him feel anxious and depressed and he suffered panic attacks. On top of that, Eric had a stressful job and it was difficult for him to cope with it when he was in this situation.

He sought housing advice and was referred to the Accommodation for Work Project. He moved into the project and had his own room and weekly support sessions from a support worker. It took him a while to improve his wellbeing and process the traumatic experience he’d been through. He also had to deal with ongoing harassment from his ex-partner.

Eric was keen to make a fresh start and got a new full-time job. He also completed a Level One Accountancy course, which he really enjoyed.
Eric had to claim benefits as there was a delay in his new job starting. When he got his start date he had to sign off from the Job Centre but he wouldn’t be paid from work for 7 weeks. He wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to take the job and wait for 7 weeks with no food, rent money, or travel fares for work.

His support worker referred him to a food bank, which agreed to support him with food until payday. She advised him to ask the Job Centre for help with travel fares to work. Eric asked them, but they said they could only help with travel fares for one week. His keyworker contacted one of the Job Centre’s Social Justice Champions to advocate for him to get more help and it was agreed that they would fund his travel to work for a month. The project was able to fill the gap and fund the remaining three weeks of his travel fares.

The project agreed with Eric that he would pay rent as soon as he got paid from work. If Eric had been in private rented housing his tenancy would have been jeopardy due to accruing rent arrears. Starting work, coming off benefits and waiting to be paid is a difficult time for people who don’t have savings or other resources.

Eric paid his rent in full when he was paid. He enjoyed his new job, which was much less stressful than the previous one. Having a stable place to live and with support, his mental health improved significantly.

The next task for Eric was looking for his own flat. His support worker referred him to the PAAT Project for support with accessing private rented accommodation. She also helped him apply to a charity for help with a deposit. (The PAAT Project, also funded by the Big Lottery, works with individuals with low support needs and provides information, support and practical assistance to enable individuals to develop the skills, options and knowledge to improve opportunities to access private rented accommodation. Assistance is provided individually and in group work sessions).

Eric contacted dozens of estate agents and went on many viewings, but even though he was working full-time it was difficult for him to find accommodation without a guarantor. Several estate agents also said he wasn’t earning enough to qualify for their flats. After months of searching Eric finally found a studio flat and has been settled there for several months. He is still enjoying his work and in the 18 months since he first came to the project his life is in a much better place.

(My comment: Eric’s story shows that in spite of the great work carried out by this and other BHT services, the housing crisis in Brighton and Hove is such that securing suitable and affordable housing is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.  Also, the system operated by the DWP appears to be designed to frustrate and make it more difficult than necessary for people to get into work.  Some greater flexibility from the DWP in helping people back to work would save money in the short and long term.  Without the financial support and understanding from the Accommodation for Work Project, Eric would not have been able to return to work).

Real Life Story: Mary and how BHT’s Whitehawk Inn project helped her back into work

Mary first came to the Whitehawk Inn for some general advice. She had been signed off sick from work due to stress and anxiety for six months. This had led to a total lack of confidence in any work situation. In her sessions with an advisor she realised she would need to update her C.V. as she had been in the same job for 9 years. She was also aware her IT skills were very limited. The advisor helped her to update her C.V. and choose a beginners IT course.

whinn-painting_W220At a following advice session, volunteering was discussed as another option for Mary. She understood how this could help rebuild her confidence and get her back into a routine. When she came in to enrol on the IT course, some volunteering options were discussed with her. She expressed an interest in volunteering with a local community learning centre. An interview was arranged and Mary was delighted when she was offered the volunteering role. It was a gradual start and Mary was soon volunteering on a regular basis and enjoying it a great deal. She also completed her IT course.

After a short time of volunteering and with her newly updated C.V. Mary began applying for part time retail work. She was soon successful in getting a part time temporary position over the Christmas period.

When that contract ended the company were so pleased with her work, they extended her contract. However, the shop next door also offered her a position. Mary was delighted as she was far keener to work for them.

She is now very happily working in a store that she loves. She said that she would never have moved on with her life and her work without the support of the Whitehawk Inn over the last 18 months.

Click this link for more information about the Whitehawk Inn.

From Client, to Intern, to Employee: dreams becoming reality

My colleague, Rob Robinson, one of our senior managers at BHT, received the following email on Friday. It was from someone Rob had worked with when he was our first Intern Co-ordinator.

“Hi Rob,

“I have got what I wanted and now work at (the name of his employer). My ‘outstanding’ application was as a result of following the clear, concise guidelines provided by you early on.

“You believed in me enough to start me off at Phase One and I have not looked back.

“I am now approaching the end of my Counselling Diploma and should qualify in the Autumn.

“My journey is only just starting, but I will never forget the faith you had in me and the opportunities you put in my path. Thank you. I would love to buy you coffee sometime.”

The BHT Intern Programme is one of the very many things I am so proud of at BHT.  It has brought about lasting change to the lives of so many people, helping them to get into employment.

Rob’s successor as Intern Co-ordinator, Murray Begg, had a message a while ago from one of his former interns who, at the age of 48, after a lifetime of addiction and homelessness, had received her first ever pay packet.

Does it get better than that?

An exciting job opportunity for individuals who have personal experience of complex needs and using support services

BHT has an exciting development opportunity for individuals who have personal experience of complex needs and of using support services. The post involves working with volunteers, service users and the staff team to review and improve services for people with multiple and complex needs. The job includes a comprehensive training programme and supervision. Help to move on to other vocational opportunities will also be provided at the end of the project.

Fulfilling LivesThis post is based within the Fulfilling Lives Project, funded by The Big Lottery.  The purpose of Fulfilling Lives is to bring about lasting change in how services work with people with multiple and complex needs. The project operates in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings and we work with different delivery partners in each area.

If you are interested in this vacancy, you will need to have experience facilitating service user groups or forums, show knowledge of local agencies in Hastings, have excellent communication skills and be passionate about improving services for people with complex needs.

This is one year Fixed Term Contract, and pays £20,257 per annum. There is a 4% employer’s pension contribution. It is a full time position (37 hours per week) and annual leave entitlement is 185 working hours (25 days) per annum.

For full details and to apply please go to our website  or email us at

The deadline for applications is 12 noon on Friday 20th May 2016 and interviews will take place on Tuesday 24th May 2016.

 Good luck!

My latest Argus column: The Work Programme simply isn’t working

(This is the text of my latest Opinion column that was first published in the Brighton Argus on 24th September 2015)

It was rumoured before the general election that one change that would be made should the Conservatives be re-elected was to fundamentally change the Work Programme.

The Work Programme is a multi-million Pound initiative which is not achieving the outcomes we all hoped it would.

One of the fundamental flaws of the Work Programme is that it has betrayed the principles of Localism by awarding regional contracts that only large multinational companies could possibly bid for.

How much better it would have been had smaller, local and community based organisations been asked to provide Work Programme services. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that organisations such as the Hangleton and Knoll Project, The Bridge, and BHT’s own Whitehawk Inn, would have vastly outperformed the current Work Programme providers.

At a time when we are constantly told that there is a need for austerity measures, how can it be sensible to continue to invest hundreds of millions in a failing scheme. Suggesting that “the Jury is still out” on the Work Programme’s effectiveness no longer washes.

The mental health charity, Mind, last week said that the Work Programme was taking entirely the wrong approach with people with mental health problems, undermining work, making their lives worse, and actually making them less able to work.

I support the principles behind the Work Programme but I am amazed that the DWP continues to flog this dead horse when there is clear evidence that the Work Programme simply isn’t working.

The impact made by volunteers in BHT

39 volunteers from BHT, including 9 from the Whitehawk Inn that recently became part of BHT, were thanked by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillor Lynda Hyde, for their work for BHT, the Whitehawk Inn, and the City as a whole.

The event was part of Volunteers Week which aims to promote volunteering activities throughout the community.


BHT Volunteers with the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Cllr Lynda Hyde (Click to Enlarge)

Councillor Hyde said: “It was a delight to welcome so many people to the Parlour who are giving so much of their time to helping others. What surprised me was that many of the volunteers who I met today are former clients of Brighton Housing Trust, all wanting to give something back.  The Whitehawk Inn does excellent work in the east of the City, and the volunteers make such a difference to this work.”

Sandra Elliott has been volunteering at the Whitehawk Inn for 15 years as an IT tutor.  She said: “What is so rewarding about volunteering is seeing young people without opportunities getting the chance to make a change for the better so that they can get to a better future. It is so rewarding to see people flourish, especially those with learning difficulties.  They go on to get qualifications which builds confidence and self-esteem.  I help older people to learn how to use the internet which opens up a whole new world for them.  It is so satisfying.”

Stephen Fairchild, another volunteer at the Whitehawk Inn, said: “Volunteering allows me a chance to give something back and to help people who are going through what I once went through.  The event in the Mayor’s Parlour brings different people from all parts of BHT together.  It is especially nice for those of us from the Whitehawk Inn who are new to BHT.  It feels good to be recognised and thanked by the Mayor.”

According to Community Works, 110,400 volunteer hours are given each week in Brighton and Hove.

People volunteer for many reasons. Some volunteer because they have spare time, others because they want to give something back, and others do so because it is part of a route into employment.

It doesn’t matter what the motivation is for our volunteers. What I know is that they make a huge difference to the work we do, providing role models for people who are new to our services, and allowing us to deliver services that we might otherwise not be able to offer.