World Social Work Day: “I am because we are”

    Today (16 March 2021) is World Social Work Day, which recognises the hard work and dedication of social workers, as well as celebrating best practices in social work. This year, the theme of World Social Work Day is “Ubuntu”. Here, Toni-Lea John-Baptiste, a student social worker on placement with St Mungo’s, discusses the concept of Ubuntu and how it applies to the work we do with our clients.

    I have recently been working as a student social worker with the St. Mungo’s Wellbeing Team in Westminster. While working with the team, I have gained invaluable transferable skills that I will use in my future practice, and I have gained a deeper understanding of the importance of creativity in social work, as well as how social workers can use these skills to think outside of the box when working with service users.

    Due to the current climate of COVID-19, I have had to adapt to remote working. This situation enabled me to draw upon my creativity to engage service users and promote digital literacy in a time where we heavily rely on technology.  Upon reflection, I have realised how important creativity is as a social worker, to be able to adapt and work in any environment.

    The idea of Ubuntu is all about humanism. It is the belief that your sense of self is shaped by the relationships you have with other people ‘I am, only because we are’, and this was a key theme throughout my placement at St Mungo’s. As an example, we used this philosophy as the basis to create a postcard project which involved members of the Westminster community sending ‘messages of hope’ and discussing things that have helped them during this time, to residents within the different projects of the Westminster Wellbeing Pathway.

    At the heart of this project was a sense of community and helping one another, through encouragement, regardless of who the person is or if they even knew them. This was ubuntu in its purest form, as the project was all about helping one another as humans and extending love and hope to echo the philosophy that as a human ‘I am’ ONLY ‘because we are’. It was a truly beautiful project that I am grateful to have been a part of.

    My placement has encouraged my creativity as a student social worker, which has played a big part in me developing projects to engage clients. I found that when working remotely, using a person-centred approach to develop tailor-made projects for clients was the best way to engage and support them.  An example of this would be my work with a client, in which I used a strengths-based approach to create a project based on their artwork. This then led to working on an intensive 1-1 basis, to create a virtual art exhibit with this client, to not only showcase their artwork, but also potentially create a social enterprise opportunity.

    Throughout all of this, particularly because of COVID-19, I’ve realised that you can’t limit social work to a building or a particular place. It’s about treating people as humans, with respect and dignity.

    Housing First – achieving the aim of ending rough sleeping for good

    Housing first was once thought of as a radical rethinking of how homelessness could be tackled – but over the years it has become an increasingly important element to achieving the aim of ending rough sleeping for good.

    One person who has witnessed the scheme’s successes – and a few challenges – over the years is Stephen Brett, Housing First Service Manager in Brighton. Here he shares his thoughts on the scheme.

    A Pilot Scheme and Beyond

    I have worked in homelessness services in Brighton for 20 years. In 2014 I was part of a conversation on how we could adopt different approaches to ending rough sleeping.

    Through this discussion we uncovered aspects of the Housing First model and were afforded the opportunity to run a pilot Housing First scheme.

    It represented an exciting moment in service delivery, a chance to try something genuinely different for people who had exhausted many of the pre-existing resources the city had to offer.

    Housing First is a different model because it provides housing ‘first’, on the basis of right, rather than at the end of a process as a reward.

    And years later the bedrock of the model remains as exciting today as it was in those early stages as we have learned, adapted and grown along the way.

    Challenges and Successes

    I think it’s important to accept that Housing First is not a panacea, but rather as for many people experiencing multiple complex needs offered the prospect of attaining a way out from the risks, rigours and traps of enduring rough sleeping.

    From a burgeoning concept, the approach has now become a valid and established approach to ending rough sleeping. And our experience of delivering Housing First in the intervening years has demonstrated this based upon the achievements of the people that we support through this model. It would however be misleading to say that our growth has been without challenges.

    Housing First workers will work assertively to engage our service users, build lasting supportive relationships, work in a person centred and recovery focused way and manage and respond to any risks. The delivery of the support is therefore both rewarding and challenging. The Housing First model very deliberately attempts to re-frame the typical criteria applied to people sleeping rough accessing self-contained accommodation.

    And part of the journey has, therefore, involved highlighting and indeed contributing to the growing evidence base around efficacy and challenging scepticism.

    We are trying to turn well established processes on their head, we accept that there is an inherent risk within this and related wariness. As people engage in support and maintain their tenancy we aim to break the cycle of rough sleeping so that there is opportunity to address the factors that have contributed to people  ending up on the streets.

    Our longer-term aim is for people to achieve long lasting recovery.

    In Brighton, where I have worked for St Mungo’s since 2016, we have received extra funding from NSAP (Next Steps Accommodation Fund) to offer an additional 20 places – growing from 40 to 60 offers of Housing First.

    The accommodation is dispersed across the city, consciously so and the bedrock of Housing First remains ‘housing as a human right’. We believe that for some people living within a congregated setting hinders their chances of moving away from homelessness.

    We also acknowledge that there are challenges inherent within this offer, and work hard with people to reduce the risk of isolation, maintain regular and consistent contact, coordinate support and provide motivation and encouragement to engage in their recovery goals thereafter, and indeed their new community.

    We make the offer of stable accommodation alongside intensive long-term support, but don’t act as landlords. If people choose not to engage with the support or indeed get to a place whereby the support we offer is no longer required they can still occupy their home.

    That said, the model works best when people engage with intensive support and the adoption of assertive engagement is crucial to this relationship.

    There has been many compelling stories of success:

    • We have had high rates of tenancy retention and continue to contribute to ending rough sleeping in the city
    • We have seen positive engagements with health care support such as completion of treatments for hepatitis and cancer and more generally a reduction in missed appointments
    • We have seen people move away from a cycle of offending
    • We have seen a reduction is substance misuse
    • We have seen abstinence based recovery
    • We have seen people parenting their children
    • We have worked with people on longer term aspirations such as accessing training and employment
    • We have seen people reconnecting with family after many years of disconnect
    • We have seen people connecting with the community they live in

    Hopes for the future of Housing First

    Key to what we are attempting is to offer something of quality to someone experiencing multiple disadvantage that they in turn actually want to accept – I hope that this facet of the Housing First model becomes more prevalent in our approaches to ending rough sleeping as we move forward.

    Given the challenges presented to us all during the pandemic, one of the clear silver linings has been the opportunities created to reduce street homelessness and the incredible work undertaken to implement such opportunity.

    My desire is to see a continuum of this trajectory by affording people lasting, well considered, move on options alongside person-centred, robust support.

    St Mungo’s Housing First

    St Mungo’s is one of the largest providers of Housing First services in England, supporting more than 282 clients and currently delivers Housing First to 14% of places available.

    We have Housing First services in Bournemouth, Brent, Brighton, Camden, Ealing, Hackney and City of London, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Reading, Sutton, Tower Hamlets and Westminster. Camden and Brighton are our largest schemes, supporting 72 and 60 clients respectively, while our Reading and Sutton services each support five clients.

    As an experienced Housing First provider we have been at the forefront of designing, implementing and running Housing First services in the UK for several years.

    For more information about St Mungo’s Housing First schemes click here.

    Why the cold weather feels a little bit different this year

    Petra Salva, St Mungo’s Director of Rough Sleeping, Westminster and Migrant Services, explains why our services ramp up as temperatures drop. And why Covid-19 is making things a little different this year.

    I’ve dedicated my whole working life to supporting people out of rough sleeping and homelessness. Over the last 20 years or so, I thought I had seen everything in terms of the impact rough sleeping can have on a person and their families.  I’ve seen the harm, the hurt and the pain that people experience, and then came the Covid-19 pandemic.

    All of a sudden, the physical and mental vulnerabilities people already experience whilst sleeping rough came into even sharper focus and became a greater emergency.

    Just imagine what it must feel like, sleeping on a pavement, in the dark, alone, fearing for your safety, maybe taking drugs or drinking, just to numb the pain of your situation, feeling physically unwell because of the toll of this lifestyle or because you have another physical problem that has gone untreated or not even yet diagnosed .

    Then you are faced with the fear of a pandemic, a virus that if caught by you, is likely to make you even more vulnerable and possibly kill you.

    I, and colleagues and volunteers across our organisation,  have had the privilege of helping to house and support hundreds of people since the start of the pandemic to try to address all these risks, but despite our best efforts and that of many charities and local authorities, we have not been able to house everyone, so tonight, too many people are still faced with the grim reality of sleeping rough.

    And now comes the winter and the cold.

    Sleeping rough is dangerous at any time of the year but when the cold strikes, it is even more deadly. Cold weather can, and does, kill.

    On top of that, we know many people who rough sleep already have underlying health conditions, so the risk of Covid-19 makes it even more vital that our clients have access to safe accommodation which will protect them from not just the weather, but from contracting the virus as well.

    There is no doubt, this year will probably be the most challenging that I and our outreach teams have ever experienced but, that won’t stop us from working around the clock to try to save lives by bringing people in from the cold and supporting them when they need us the most.

    The Severe Weather Response, also known as ‘Severe Weather Emergency Protocol’ (SWEP) is triggered when the Met Office forecasts freezing temperatures.

    This can vary from region to region. In London, it is called if it’s going to be zero degrees or below for one night. In our regional areas, it will be activated if zero degrees is forecast three nights in a row, except for in Brighton where our commissioners use a “feels like” temperature.

    In previous years, when local authorities have informed us that our severe weather response is needed, we have provided emergency shelter in the form of communal spaces.

    This year however, we will not be able to provide this type of accommodation. Our clients must be able to sleep somewhere which also allows them to self-isolate, away from others so that they are not at increased risk of contracting Covid-19, but this doesn’t mean we won’t be helping people this year. Instead, we have found new ways to keep our clients safe this winter.

    Our teams have been as agile, adaptable and creative as they always are – seeking out every possible option which can be used to provide much needed accommodation – cleaning rooms previously used for storage, converting meeting rooms to bedrooms – resourcefully adapting as many spaces as we can. As well as working with local councils to find other suitable places.

    Protecting people from the elements is just the beginning for us. Because I know that providing somewhere warm and safe to stay is just the first step.

    Often, when it’s really cold, we have a valuable opportunity to engage with people who, under normal circumstances, might be reluctant to come indoors. So our teams are committed to trying their very best to ensure every person brought inside never has to go back to sleeping outside again.

    They go above and beyond to help people with their future plans, including reconnecting them with family and loved ones, providing permanent housing and linking them to health services, as well as assisting with benefit and employment support.

    Like I said at the very beginning, I have seen first-hand the harm and pain that rough sleeping causes people, but I have also seen how, with the right help and support people can and do recover from homelessness.

    The reason I am still here fighting is because I have hope and belief that mass rough sleeping really can be a thing of the past.

    Anyone concerned about someone sleeping rough should contact StreetLink via their website or app. Alerts will be passed on to the local outreach service or council who will attempt to find them and offer support within 48 hours of being contacted. StreetLink is not an emergency service. If anyone is in need of urgent medical attention, please call 999.

    Using lived experience to become an apprentice at St Mungo’s

    This National Apprenticeship Week, Andrew a Support Worker at St Mungo’s shares his experience of recovery and being a part of our apprenticeship scheme.

    I moved to London late 1980s as a young gay man from Blackburn in Lancashire. My childhood had been very lonely, part of a large dysfunctional family in a town where I experienced homophobia. Once in London I found what had been missing from my life, I could be myself and be with others like me. But in the early 1990s, I contracted HIV. At this time, there was still a lot of stigma attached to it. I became outcast from the community I had found and my loneliness returned. A friend of mine introduced me to ecstasy, and a culture of extreme partying. I thought “why not?” as the diagnosis I had been given came with a life expectancy of two years.

    But with medication for HIV becoming more advanced and understood, the two years passed quickly. However I did not stop the partying. This consumed my life eventually leading to an addiction to stronger drugs. I felt there was no hope.

    Road to recovery

    Several years ago I started a long journey of recovery when I was fortunate enough to secure a place in a rehab centre. I then started a volunteering role at a local Community Centre in Westminster. During my time there, I was able to develop new skills, such as how to communicate properly in a world outside of what I had been used to and the importance of being reliable, punctual and accountable. Over time I gained the trust of the management and was given a lead role in providing the ‘Hot Meal Service’ at the centre. I was soon inducting new volunteers and started to see how my lived experience could be used positively to help others.

    I was being supported through my recovery by the Terrence Higgins Trust. My support worker there suggested that I try their ‘Back to Work scheme and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to move from volunteering into a full-time job.

    Whilst working with my mentor at Terrence Higgins Trust, I applied for the apprentice Drug & Alcohol Support Worker role at St Mungo’s. The news that I had been successful in my application was overwhelming, but very exciting. I was going to be able to sign off benefits for the first time in my life, I was becoming an active member of society. I was offered an opportunity to take a position within the team at a St Mungo’s mental health service in South Camden.

    Experience of my apprenticeship

    I had very little education as a child, always being reminded that I was thick and I would never amount to very much. This was a cause of some anxiety for me in regards to the studying part of my apprenticeship at St Mungo’s. But I had tutors that would support me throughout the apprenticeship, as well as in subjects such as Maths & English. At first, I thought there was no way I could manage this but I was given support, time, encouragement, and understanding.

    I remember at my first team meeting, being introduced as the new apprentice, I was so nervous. But the team were great, I was made to feel a part of the work straight away and I soon found my confidence.

    I even ended up enjoyed the studying part of the apprenticeship completing with a Pass. On completion of my apprenticeship, I was offered a full-time position at a St Mungo’s high support service in Westminster. I really enjoyed my experience there, helping residents with their mental health and substance abuse. This role allowed me to learn and grow, and when the service was being decommissioned, I worked with a great team and external parties to ensure that all the residents were appropriately rehomed.

    I was then offered my present position as Support Worker. I currently have ten clients that I’ve been supporting throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in different ways; moving on into independent living or helping them make their first steps into low support living away from the streets.

    My apprenticeship at St Mungo’s has allowed me to become the support worker I am today, using my lived experience to support others and better my own life. I am very thankful for the experience.

    Find out more about the St Mungo’s apprenticeship scheme here.

    Our severe weather response will save lives

    Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is triggered when the Met Office forecasts freezing temperatures. This trigger can vary from region to region, for example in London it’s zero degrees or below forecast for one night, in Brighton, our commissioners use a “feels like” temperature. Most boroughs will activate SWEP when it’s a three night zero forecast. Due to the pandemic SWEP will be different this year. Here Wendy Dodds, Outreach Coordinator in Reading shines a light on what this means and what’s been happening on her streets.

    Photo of Wendy Dodds, Reading Outreach

    I have worked in outreach for sixteen and a half years. In that time I have seen many system changes but the heart breaking circumstances for people remain devastating.

    St Mungo’s were first commissioned to run the outreach service in Reading on 1 January 2008 and we have managed it ever since. We took it over from an organisation called Crime Reduction Initiative, where I had been working since April 2004 and when St Mungo’s took over I moved to be on the team.

    The past context and why SWEP is important

    The homeless picture was very different then, we didn’t have a homeless pathway and it very much depended on our relationship with housing providers to enable a client to access accommodation. This saw an imbalance in service provision and often people with the most complex needs suffered the most. People were more willing to accept a person with low support needs into their accommodation. We saw people who were more entrenched in rough sleeping because there was no pathway for them, yet some people new to rough sleeping were picked up quickly while others remained on the streets for years. It’s shocking to reflect back and I’m glad that has changed.

    We didn’t have a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) back then either. SWEP was introduced as a life-saving initiative by central government. I have a love hate relationship with SWEP, I love that we get more people in and treated as a priority but it adds a lot more pressure to an already pressurised team.

    Some people still refuse help and it happens a lot, mainly because people do not want to share accommodation – especially if a person had experienced trauma there can be a lot of triggers sleeping in a noisy environment where people are wrestling with all kinds of issues, people often say they don’t feel safe and would prefer to sleep alone on the street. The worry never leaves you, I get frustrated and I make sure people know they are at risk of death, you have to be blunt sometimes – there’s no point dressing it up SWEP is lifesaving and there is no doubt cold kills. In Reading we have people refuse to come inside, people who will accept our help and people who are sofa-surfing booking a space in the hope they will be escalated through the pathway into housing. It’s a tough call, as all are vulnerable but SWEP is emergency provision to save lives. If I give you an example on one night during SWEP last year we had 14 people stay and 9 were sofa surfing.

    During the pandemic

    So with the Covid-19 pandemic and our policy to offer everyone a room of their own in a local B&B will bring a new SWEP. I will be really interested to see what the landscape is like this year. It’s going to be very interesting. The barrier to shared accommodations has been removed so I’m hoping we will be able to help people who tend to refuse support.

    This year has been a difficult year with constant changes to our service provision to adapt to Covid-19 restrictions.

    The highlights of my job and what drive me

    Housing First! In Reading we received funding for a Housing First Outreach worker through a philanthropist. I am a huge believer in housing first and I would love to see it expand across the UK. Seeing the progress people make has been inspirational. It makes me proud to have played a small part in it. Watching a client on their road to recovery and bumping into them on the high street and seeing the difference… it makes me so proud even when they are not my client.

    It’s a massive privilege to do a job I really love. These are people that have fallen through every single safety net in society. We should be the ones that feel privileged that they even engage with us. We need to look at the barriers to why people don’t want to engage. Housing is a right, it shouldn’t be deserved, and it is disgusting. People shouldn’t have to be on the streets but unfortunately they are. If I came in to work tomorrow and was told I had no job because we had solved homelessness – I would skip all the way home.

    Cold weather can kill. Our clients are at greater risk due to underlying health conditions and the year round dangers of sleeping rough. But in extreme cold, these challenges are brought into sharp focus for our clients, for our staff and for our partners and supporters.

    It is vital that everyone who is on the streets, or who is at risk of rough sleeping, can access self-contained accommodation as soon as cold weather hits, alongside the support they need to recover and rebuild their lives. Find out more how you can help here.

    Elvis the elephant: a heart-warming story raising awareness of homelessness

    Our specialist move-on worker Helen Brian has written a children’s book about homelessness called Elvis. Here she shares her creative journey of writing Elvis the elephant’s story.

    I have worked in the homeless sector for years now and I love what I do. I spent a lot of time feeling very lost in my early 20s after a period of severe anxiety caused me to leave my creative writing course at university. When I was better, I fell into my first job as a support worker by accident and I have never looked back. I have worked as a rough sleeper outreach worker, a prison resettlement worker and I now work on a hospital ward supporting people who face homelessness on discharge.

    I am lucky enough to have a job that I enjoy and, although I still suffer with anxiety, I’ve learned to manage it better. There was one thing that I had never been able to bring myself to do since leaving my course and that was writing again. I just couldn’t face it, until…

    The inspiration behind Elvis

    As my son has gotten older, he’s been asking me to tell him stories. Although I began to do it very reluctantly, I will always believe that it was his little imagination that restarted mine. When I was at university, I remember one of my lecturers saying that when you have character ideas for a book that you should write about, you will just know –  I had always wondered what he meant.

    I was at home watching something trashy on television with my husband and my son and suddenly, from nowhere, this elephant popped into my head. I could see Elvis, what he was wearing, how he spoke, exactly what he looked like and I knew his story. Without telling my family what I was doing and for the first time in eighteen years I went upstairs and wrote a book draft.

    The only person who knew about that book for the next six weeks was me. I was too nervous to show anyone else until one evening when I read it to my four year old son. About an hour afterwards he started to ask me questions about why Elvis was homeless. The following week in Bath, he asked if we could buy a drink for somebody who was sleeping by the Abbey. I knew then that I might have something worth pursuing and  that Elvis’ story had a purpose.

    After a fundraising campaign to turn the book idea into a reality, I contacted Steven Kynman to tell him about what I had written and he asked me to send the story to him. To my amazement, he sent me a message suggesting we have a chat and two days later we were on Facetime planning an audio book.

    I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people through the book development and I have never learned so much. Carly at Peahen Publishing taught me endlessly about editing and the publishing process and she is always around when I need her, even if it’s just for me to talk about how nervous I am.

    I absolutely loved working with Chantal, the illustrator for Elvis and, developing the characters in my head on to paper. I will never forget the moment that I first saw a sketch of Elvis, I am not ashamed to say that I dissolved into tears (of happiness)!

    When Steven talked about the fact that we needed some music for the audio book there was only one person that I wanted to work with. Sam Eason is a brilliantly talented singer songwriter and I knew that he would understand Elvis’ journey and do something magical with it and I was so right.

    Elvis is in the building

    I wanted to raise as much awareness as possible about the book and needed to be brave and pitch my book with confidence but this isn’t easy when it’s your own work! d I would be lying if I didn’t experience several of those 3am moments when I was awake asking myself what on earth I was doing!

    I sent the book draft to Kerry Howard, a British TV actress local to Bath and asked if she would be interested in supporting it, she was very kind about my writing and even agreed to be interviewed for the promotional launch film, she gave me a massive confidence boost.

    When Elvis arrived, I was so thrilled to see it in print (I cried again)!, The book isn’t about me, it’s about all the incredible and brave people facing homelessness that the charities and I have supported and I could only do them all justice if I absolutely went for it and did as much promotion as I could.

    I will never stop being grateful for everyone’s support, the reception of Elvis has blown me away, I ordered 325 copies worrying that I would have boxes of books gathering dust in my house, within three days of going live on pre orders we had to request a reprint.

    Seeing Elvis in bookshop windows is amazing but what gives me the biggest buzz is the messages that I have had from parents telling me that my story has started an important conversation about homelessness and that their children are now acknowledging the issue in a different way, that’s why I wrote it and if that’s what Elvis and Cilla do, then they’ve done their job.

    Elvis is available to buy online here. Profits are going to Julian House and towards our work to end homelessness and rebuild lives.

    Housing First can be an integral part of ending homelessness

    As new research is published about Housing First in England, St Mungo’s Chief Executive Steve Douglas CBE explains why its client-centred focus means it can be an ideal fit for us and our clients and echoes our recovery approach. A version of this blog has been published in Inside Housing magazine.

    I read a great piece this week about Housing First by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary group for Ending Homelessness Bob Blackman MP.

    He recognised the diversity and range of needs our clients have and that “homelessness is complex and every case is unique”, before calling for a much wider roll out of Housing First.

    We agree. Housing First may not be the right option for every person but it is an important contribution to accommodation and support solutions to end homelessness and rough sleeping.

    This is evidenced in the research published today by Housing First England and Homeless Link.

    This detailed and comprehensive research estimates an almost six-fold increase in the capacity of Housing First services across England since 2017.

    I am pleased that, working with our local authority partners and housing associations, St Mungo’s has been part of that expansion. We now run 11 Housing First schemes in London, Brighton, Bournemouth and Reading.

    And in the last few weeks we have been given approval to expand our existing service in the London Borough of Camden, meaning we will soon be able to support more than 70 clients there.

    We also have a new expanded contract for our Brighton Housing First service to support up to 40 clients.

    These service expansions give us confidence that our Housing First models work for our clients and for our local authority commissioners. We’ve seen the results.

    Importantly, though, we think that this is linked to following certain principles carefully. It’s not a ‘quick fix’.

    As many readers will know, Housing First is an internationally recognised approach to tackling homelessness for people with high and complex needs who have been unable to sustain a long term home.

    In the model there are no conditions attached to being ‘housing ready’. Instead people are provided with accommodation first and then given access to intensive, multi-faceted ‘wrap around’ long term support with case workers who are able to work intensively with just a small number of clients. 

    It is based on people having control of the services they receive. That client centred recovery approach is very much our ethos overall at St Mungo’s.

    Housing First projects, by their very nature, are time and resource intensive. They don’t work for every person experiencing homelessness, but for a specific cohort of clients they are extremely effective.

    It naturally follows that people with the most complex needs often need the greatest support.

    However, long term help, requires long term funding.

    That is why the Government’s recent commitment to provide multi-year support via the Next Steps and Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programmes is so important, with several Housing First projects already in line for this funding.

    But, as highlighted in today’s research, the lack of more secure long term revenue streams is often a factor in why local authorities don’t commission more Housing First services.

    If these projects are to have the longevity they need, dedicated mutli-year Government spending commitments are vital. 

    There is the determination and increasing momentum to end rough sleeping and homelessness, and our experience and this research shows that Housing First can be an integral part of achieving that.

    Read more about St Mungo’s Housing First services here.

    St Mungo’s Recovery College – online for our clients

    By Holly Smith, Strategic Marketing Officer

    St Mungo’s Recovery College offers our clients the opportunity to engage with learning, training and employment, and to rebuild their lives.

    When the pandemic began, we were in the middle of making a film about a proposed move to a new Recovery College base in London.

    But if there’s anything that I’m sure we’ve all learned in 2020, it’s that every tale can take you somewhere you didn’t expect.

    So we used the opportunity for clients to talk about how the Recovery College responded to the pandemic by moving its classes online.

    The four people involved, Adrian, AJay, Charles, Mincer, plus our Digital Inclusion Coordinator James, have shared their creativity and resilience every step of the way during this strange time.

    They adapted to new technology, learning to work differently and navigated connections – both badly behaved internet ones, and the welcome surprises of those connections forged with others as a result of the pandemic. 

    AJay said: “I am glad to be part of [the film] as I really valued what St Mungo’s is doing for our community. I hope that the organisers of the digital courses continue to thrive in making sure that everyone feels valued in the community so both old and new students enjoy the experience of taking part in more classes as they get to meet more students and tutors.” 

    St Mungo’s Recovery College is a completely fundraised service, made possible by the generosity of our partners and donors. Pre pandemic, there were a number of College bases in London and Bristol with another set to open in Leicester.

    By early June there were 24 Remote Recovery College activities for our clients to choose from, with 15 regular weekly group sessions, in addition to personalised progression coaching and employment support.

    The most popular individual sessions have been the happiness and wellbeing project and creative writing, delivered through Google Hangouts and over the phone. ‘Music, arts and culture’, ‘health, wellbeing and personal development’ and Maths and English have all been popular classes. By June we had delivered 60 one to one digital support sessions to enable people to engage with the College and use their digital devices to stay connected.

    One Recovery College client was supported by a progression coach to sign up to an online Level 2 diploma in counselling. This was something he had wanted to do for a number of months, to work towards his long-term ambition to work in mental health.

    Reta Robinson, St Mungo’s Director of Fundraising, said: “The way the Recovery College adapted so nimbly to the challenges of the pandemic has been a real reflection of the innovation and resourcefulness of our staff, clients and volunteers.”

    Gavin Benn, Head of St Mungo’s Recovery College, said: “It’s great to see more and more clients joining our remote Recovery College programme and to hear how it has supported their journey to learn, grow and be inspired, despite often challenging personal circumstances. My thanks to all those involved in making this fantastic film.”

    The Recovery College is running a summer programme until 28 August and then starts its autumn term on 5 October, until 27 November.

    Find out more about our Recovery College here, and watch more on YouTube. Thanks also to film makers Chocolate Films.

    The Independent Review on Drugs is an opportunity for bold change

    Today, St Mungo’s put forward a written submission to the Independent Review on Drugs by Dame Carol Black. Here Emma Cookson, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at St Mungo’s explains what this review means and the primary calls St Mungo’s is making towards it.

    This is the second part of the review which is examining drug prevention, treatment and recovery (the findings of the first part were published in February this year).This is a huge opportunity to reflect the needs of St Mungo’s clients, and the many other hundreds of thousands who are homeless and face multiple layers of disadvantage.

    Sadly, as we are all too aware, there is a significant relationship between homelessness and drug and alcohol problems, which becomes even more pronounced amongst people sleeping rough. Data from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), a multi-agency database recording information about people sleeping rough in London, shows that 62% of people sleeping rough had a recorded drug or alcohol need in 2018-19.

    And it’s not just that people who are sleeping rough have a higher likelihood of drug use – they are also more likely to die from it. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that in 2018, 726 people died while rough sleeping, with a staggering 40% of all those deaths related to drug poisoning. And it’s getting worse. The St Mungo’s Knocked Back report earlier this year showed that the number of deaths caused by drug poisoning increased by 135% between 2013 and 2018 and by 55% in just one year in 2018. This is an alarming increase.

    For many of our clients, drug use, alcohol use, poor mental health and homelessness are interlocking and mutually reinforcing problems. CHAIN data shows that over half of all people with a recorded drug and alcohol problem have a co-occurring mental health problem. These problems create a vicious cycle from which it is hard to escape. If you just address one of these without tackling the other, you are unlikely to be successful. But this is all too often what the current system does.

    A St Mungo’s Manager set out the disjoint between systems:

    Someone goes into prison and whilst they’re in prison they’re detoxed. But then they’re released and told to go to housing department who say they’re not priority need. They’re then picked up by an outreach team and the only place available is a hostel where there are lots of drug users. This isn’t going to help them in their recovery.

    The vicious circle continues. 

    Health, homelessness, and drugs and alcohol services are all designed and funded as if people fit into one box, rather than the reality that people’s problems are complex and interwoven. They cannot be addressed one-by-one but need to be approached holistically.

    This is why in our written submission to the Black Review we’re calling for the following:

    • Integrated, person centred and holistic services.

    To best support people we need integrated support and housing pathways, with a treatment package arranged for them in a way which works for them in that particular point in their recovery journey. One of the best ways to do this is through increasing joint commissioning and explore longer contracts. This would help health, homelessness and drug and alcohol services to work better together and encourage them to treat clients holistically rather than providing insular support related only to one need, whilst clients are caught in the gaps in between services. Longer contracts provide the time to build practice and culture change.

    • Access to affordable and appropriate housing.

    Access to affordable and appropriate housing can act as both prevention and cure for drug misuse. Therefore we want the Government to improve access to truly affordable housing by increasing investment to build 90,000 homes for social rent every year for 15 years, and improving security for tenants in the private rented sector by, for instance, re-aligning Local Housing Allowance Rates to cover the 50th percentile of local rents. There also needs to be an expansion in Housing First services (backed by sufficient funding) and an increase in supported housing provision. This would help prevent individuals from becoming homeless, and rapidly relieve their homelessness if they are forced to sleep rough.

    • Further funding for drug support services.

    There needs to be more funding for services which are interlinked with drug misuse, such as homelessness support services, to support an integrated approach which looks at the whole system and situations which both cause and exacerbate drug misuse. Previous research from St Mungo’s has shown that £1 billion less is being spent on housing related support services per year (which help many people with complex needs, such as drug misuse, gain and retain accommodation) than a decade ago. We are therefore recommending that the Government invest an extra £1 billion a year in services that prevent homelessness and end rough sleeping. This money should be ring-fenced so it can’t be spent on anything else. This echoes our calls in our Home for Good campaign. 

    This review is timely. In the midst of this global pandemic, the health inequalities suffered by those who are homeless have become even starker. This is a chance to put forward bold solutions, which recognise the need to see drug prevention and recovery as interwoven with other systems and services. People aren’t boxes — they have messy, complex lives. We need a whole systems approach which recognises this, so that we can effectively help people.

    St Mungo’s Remote Recovery College for summer 2020

    Following Government coronavirus guidance, the St Mungo’s Recovery College has reinvented itself to become a flourishing Remote Recovery College. Gavin Benn, Head of Recovery College, shares what’s now available to our clients online.

    Though we have had to suspend face to face activities, our Remote Recovery College is well and truly open and offering a range of classes and activities for our clients in any location to join, either online or over the phone.

    So whether clients are interested in music, art, digital skills, meditation, employment support or more, they can continue to Grow, Learn and Be Inspired through the Remote Recovery College. See how in this short video. 


    What are we doing and how

    We are currently providing a total of 24 activities for clients to choose from, with 15 regular weekly group sessions, in addition to personalised progression coaching and employment support. 

    Alongside staff, there are 16 volunteers providing sessions and we have three social work students supporting engagement in digital activities. Thank you so much to them for their generous support.

    Since we started the Remote Recovery College towards the end of April, the most popular individual sessions have been the happiness and wellbeing project and creative writing, delivered through Google Hangouts and over the phone, with 26 people attending the happiness sessions a total of 84 times, and 25 people attending the creative writing course 116 times. 

    Music, arts and culture has been the most popular curriculum area, followed by health, wellbeing and personal development. 

    We have delivered 60 one to one digital support sessions to clients to enable them to engage in the Remote Recovery College and use their digital devices to stay connected.

    One Recovery College client was supported by a progression coach to sign up to an online Level 2 diploma in counselling. This was something the client had wanted to do for a number of months, to work towards his long term ambition to work in mental health. 


    One of our main challenge remains how clients can access courses. We are using a mix of Google Hangouts, phone calls and uploading some YouTube tutorials and short videos via private links. 

    We are also working with Accumulate, a homelessness arts charity, to get arts resources and activities to clients. Over 400 art packs have already gone out to St Mungo’s clients. 

    Our Client Involvement team and our client representative group, Outside In, are also helping to deliver courses, uploading short wellbeing and peer support videos.  

    And in one of our London hotels, Cardboard Citizens and The Reader have undertaken pilots on art and reading activities as well as puzzles and crosswords.  

    What our clients think 

    We have had very positive feedback from our Remote Recovery College clients already. 

    Attendees of the book group said that it made them feel safe and comfortable”. It was also described as uplifting’ and a “welcome distraction from the boredom of isolation”. Many attendees said that they found the book group so supportive that they were “confident enough to read out loud.”

    Clients said of our happiness and wellbeing course, that it was an “opportunity to express themselves and share their experiences.” They also said that it has helped them to feel less alone. 

    This has been great to hear. We want to continue to help people Grow, Learn and Be Inspired this summer – and keep clients thinking positively about their recovery.

    More information and the full prospectus for the Remote Recovery College is up online. The Remote Recovery College is accessible to all current and previous St Mungo’s clients. 

    If you would like to talk to the Recovery College team, please get in touch on 0203 239 5918 (Mon-Fri, 10am to 5pm) or at

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