Regional Head Christine brings her experience of working in education, volunteering and the prison sector to her work at St Mungo’s. As one of a few senior BAME women at St Mungo’s, she is leading several diversity and inclusion initiatives as Chair of our BAME Network. This is her story.
In a way, my work has always been about how we can improve people’s lives.
My background is very much in learning and training. My first job was as a media lecturer in a Further Education college but, as I progressed, I moved into various roles – everything from being Head of Visual Arts and Media, being in charge of IT and a stint as Director of Equality and Diversity.
But when the colleges started to merge, I had a bit of a life changing moment – so I left, and went to volunteer in the Maldives for three months.
It was the first time I had really packed up my life. I was out of my comfort zone, but it was an opportunity, so I used every moment of it. Lots of the skills I picked up there, such as mentoring, have followed through into my career at St Mungo’s. I think it’s what started me on this path.
When I came home, I applied for something completely different and actually ended up Deputy Education Manager in Brixton prison.
I’d never worked in prisons before. But I had education running through my blood and my role was to put in qualifications and programmes so, when our clients went through the gate, they had better chances of gaining employment and not returning to prison.
I was involved in the Transforming Rehabilitation initiative and set up several embedded vocational projects, like Barbershop, business admin, and retail and selling qualifications in the Clink Restaurant and Gordon Ramsey’s ‘Bad Boys Bakery’.
A small shift and I was working for St Mungo’s
I saw an advert for a Train and Trade manager in the Skills and Employment team at St Mungo’s and applied. I joined in 2015.
I love that service! I remember one particular client who would always be the first one in the workshop, every single day. He became a mentor for the others, going round checking their work – a peer supporter – and doing all that while dealing with his own situation. Seeing him then being linked to an employer was fantastic.
He’s an excellent bricklayer and his employer would tell me that he had the skills to become a supervisor. When he came back to the service to do a talk, I realised that he’d become a role model, which stuck with me. Seeing a person succeed, that feels like such an achievement.
Managing people, services and contracts
When I was ready for the next thing, I took a secondment opportunity as a St Mungo’s Regional Head – and here I am now in the role permanently!
I do a lot of very different things as Regional Head for for Haringey and Barnet but, if I were to boil it down, I’d say that I manage people, services and contracts.
I’m responsible for delivering contracts, making sure they’re viable, fit for purpose and meeting the needs of more than 300 people who have experienced homelessness.
You can’t take your eye off any one thing. There are always challenges around funding, but I enjoy looking for ways to be more innovative and creative with how we deliver our contracts to help people across a range of accommodation and health-related services.
I’ve got amazing teams and managers. I’m always so proud of the work they do on the frontline, particularly around crisis management. I wish people could see how my managers and their teams really galvanise, how resilient they are, and how they do whatever it takes to achieve the best outcome for our clients and keep the services safe.
Chairing St Mungo’s BAME Network
Moving into this role also enabled me to get more involved in St Mungo’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network. When the previous Chair stepped down, he came to me and said, “I think you’ll be great at this!”
Since then, it’s been a real journey – but a really great journey. The Network was already flourishing before I joined, but now we have more than 15 coordinators and we’re laying the groundwork of our BAME Positive Action Strategy.
It’s not just about running really nice activities – although we do and they’re great! Our core purpose is to listen to our BAME staff and to help the organisation improve their experiences.
We’re already seeing progression from the mentoring scheme alone. Of my mentees, two have already been promoted into senior positions and I supported one of my service managers to secure a role as a service development manager.
The Network isn’t just about staff, we also advocate for BAME clients
For example, St Mungo’s Women’s Strategy Manager approached the BAME Network and together we hosted consultation events for our BAME clients to hear more about the experiences of BAME women.
Learning from them about how ethnicity, culture, religion and other factors play a part in homelessness for BAME women has now fed into our over-arching women’s strategy.
That’s the sort of stuff I’m loving doing, bringing my experience into play for our clients and staff, and that strategic focus. The Network has a strong commitment to driving change – we call ourselves ‘changemakers’.
What is more challenging is the scale of homelessness
People know about rough sleeping, it’s visible, anybody you talk to will say, “oh, we can see it’s increasing.” Charities like us and others are doing the best we can with what we’ve got, but we need more central government support to build the structures to end homelessness. That’s where I’d like to see change.
Our 50 year history is filled with some extraordinary people. To mark our anniversary, we will be profiling 50 Lives throughout 2019 – a snapshot of those who have played their part in our story. You can read the stories on our website at www.mungos.org/50-lives.