James is a Partner of Campbell Tickell, the management consultancy firm which works with hundreds of statutory and not-for-profit sector organisations. His personal connection with St Mungo’s began over 30 years ago. This is his story.
St Mungo’s is an old friend. We go back to the early 1980s, and have been in touch ever since! My earliest contact was when I was being interviewed for my first ever job in housing, at what was then Community Housing, now One Housing.
One of the interview panel was a representative of the voluntary agencies working in Camden and Westminster, as my job was to be in charge of developing special projects and working with local charities.
This was Peter Davey of St Mungo’s, who not only helped me get the job but remains a firm friend to this day. We soon found ourselves working together, sorting out the development of such projects as the Endell Street hostel in central London, and as part of the co-ordination of homelessness agencies in London’s West End.
The era of passionate amateurs
This was the era of the heroic (and sometimes rather risky fight) against the “scourge” of homelessness, as people saw it.
Many of the workers at Mungo’s and other homelessness projects were very young, and with pretty basic training and support. There was a buzz and an energy about, but it wasn’t in any way professional, more the province of passionate amateurs. Common sense was probably the most important protection we could enjoy, and as everyone knows, common sense isn’t always that common.
Homelessness was different too, with a larger proportion of clients – “punters” as we called them – being white, middle aged, men who were “street drinkers”. Many of them were Scottish, and we understood that St Mungo’s had been named for the great Glasgow cathedral of that name as a nod to those origins.
Keeping in touch
Things moved on of course, and so did I, first to the Refugee Council then to the housing regulator, with which St Mungo’s was registered as a housing association, and next to the National Housing Federation, St Mungo’s trade body. By then, John Lane, the second Chief Executive after St Mungo’s colourful and energetic first founder Jim Horne, had retired, and the third CEO Charles Fraser had taken the helm.
Over the years, I’d stayed in touch with St Mungo’s, and had from time to time attended Board meetings and dealt with regulatory queries. I knew all along that St Mungo’s wasn’t the same as other registered housing associations, and needed a bit of a tailored service itself.
So when I rather nervously set up shop as a housing consultant and waited for business to trickle in, I was especially pleased and relieved the first time the phone rang, and it was Charles Fraser, asking me to come and work again with the Board, and even offering to pay me for the privilege! That was in 2003, and since then, I’ve been proud to have been able to support St Mungo’s more directly on a range of projects.
One continuing theme has been the one about housing regulation, and making sure that the organisation can comply with the government’s rules, which have been designed for much simpler housing associations whose clients have less complex histories than some of those at St Mungo’s. Most recently, we’ve been helping to review the organisation’s housing services.
Tackling problems on a new scale
Looking back though, I’m astonished and in awe at the journey St Mungo’s has made over the four decades I’ve known it.
The days of the passionate amateur are long gone. The days of easy funding are also long gone, while homelessness has become more complex, more diverse and even harder to solve against a backdrop of austerity.
Back then, if you’d asked, I wouldn’t have believed that homelessness on any scale could still be with us as 2020 approaches. In fact, I’d have predicted that St Mungo’s would have been pretty much out of business by now, for all the right reasons.
In the 1980s, if St Mungo’s hadn’t come into being, hundreds of vulnerable people would have had even harder lives. Now that number is tens of thousands in a year, and growing.
That has to make me angry on one level, but also proud to have played a very small part in the story of St Mungo’s so far. I have to hope you won’t need to be around in another 50 years’ time, but I sadly suspect that you will.
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.