Spring turned 5 last month, to recognise this we produced an Impact Report looking at what we had achieved.
For all of you that know Spring – you will know we like to look to the future and to support people we work with to think about their futures – what each of us can achieve and what we can become. However, there have been occasions over the past month or so where I think it is been a time for genuine reflection and acknowledging our past and where we have come from – Spring’s 5 year anniversary truly does feel like a significant landmark for our charity. I remember when we started – when a gang of 5 of us, who had all worked in the housing and charitable sectors decided to come together to do something different, to put our learning and experience into practice. We couldn’t wait until we got to this point – could we even survive 5 years, we started Spring in some of the biggest welfare changes in 70 years, huge swathes of cuts to public services, but they we would remind ourselves this is why we are doing this!
We cobbled together 20 grand which felt like a really big ask at the time. Thank you to our families that backed us, and not just with money, but with bed and board alongside tea and sympathy. The knowledge that I wasn’t going to take a salary home for a significant period of time felt like a huge risk, but in the end, I knew that all of us would only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make. So, we did it.
We had just about enough money to lease a property. I used my last month’s wages as the first month’s rent of a property on Reservoir Road Erdington and do it up. I think the best you could call the furniture in our early homes is best described as vintage! I also think it’s safe to say my curtain hanging wasn’t the best. But I believe what was special about those early months and years is that it did feel like we where in it together. We took tremendous pride in all that we did. Our biggest challenge as we grow and develop is – do we have the same pride in our properties and support our colleagues up the same way as we did in the early days?
The very meaning of Spring to me is this. There are no secrets to our successes other than that we have backed each other through good times and bad. Every aspect of any success or indeed our failure’s stops with us. Being a start up company, we had the privilege and the challenge of not having a legacy or inheriting good or bad aspects of a company’s culture – we had to create our own and that accountability hangs on us, but it isn’t heavy it’s a privilege that we share within every level of our charity.
It was interesting reflecting on all of this, and our ethos when we started. We came up with four unwritten rules that are still important values to us within Spring.
- We wanted to use the private sector for a social purpose. There are so many bad things about the private sector within our public services that are undisputable whatever your politics. Think of the NHS, social housing, energy, railways and the selling off of our state assets – leaving our country and our people demonstrably poorer both socially and economically. We wanted to be a small antidote to this, by using private sector stock for a social purpose. I proud to say that 30% of our housing stock is at affordable rents or below. That’s a significant achievement when you think of the freezing of LHA rates and the huge hikes in private sector rents during the time we have been operating. This is not to our credit but the credit of the many people and organisations that have wanted something good to happen with their property and worked with us to achieve it. Let’s not forget the many other properties that we use for supported housing for homeless and young people which has also come straight from the private rented sector. In fact, 97% of all of our property is directly sourced from the private rented sector.
- The second thing we wanted to achieve was not to be reliant on local authority contracts or grants. Since the financial crash, we have seen huge swathes of public and charitable services either diminish or disappear, leaving people and communities isolated, rejected and perhaps most worryingly without hope or ambition for their lives and the lives of their families. We wanted to create services that would be there, come what may, by hell or high water. It may not be fancy or with bolt ons, but we would be there. We knew that our housing management would need to be better than most to achieve this. Our Housing and Communities Team have done an incredible job in ensuring that housing has become such an enabler for Spring. The grants and contracts we now have are fantastic and are helping us to realise so many of our dreams and ambitions, but if we lost them all tomorrow, we can still deliver a service to every one of our existing customers and tenants and this is something we must continue to hold dear.
- The third point was that we wanted an unwritten rule to keep our central costs under 10% so that our IT , management and central services would not be a burden for our charity to sustain but instead an enabler for our charity to thrive. We have achieved this for 5 years running. It remains a challenge to keep to this fiscal rule, but our impact report provides clear evidence of what this principle has help us to achieve and
- Lastly and perhaps most importantly, is that we said that if we wouldn’t live in our properties ourselves, or let our children and grandparents live in them then it isn’t good enough for any one of our residents or tenants. We have recently revisited that test and know that next year there are a number of our properties which no longer live up to that test. These properties have now either gone into our Asset Plan as major refurbishments, (such as the redevelopment of our young people’s scheme at St Georges in Worcester which will require planning permission), or we will be letting stock go sticking to our original principle of quality homes.
Applying these simple rules to our day to day thinking has allowed our business model to stay simple, despite the complexity of the services we deliver and manage. We hope you like the stats and the case studies in the report and they tell a good story of the many achievements of our residents, tenants and staff. This whole process of preparing for our 5th year anniversary got me thinking of what it really means to be Spring – why do we exist?
There are a few I’d like to mention:
- The first has to be the Adam and Eve. We worked with our friends from New Leaf and identified a pub in Digbeth that was going to auction at Aston Villa. This development not only created 14 bed spaces for homeless people, it enabled our friends at Aquarius, to create a café called Evolve. We gave them the space rent free for 3 years with two simple provisos – firstly that they helped with the refurbishment of the Cafe and secondly, created employment for young brummies affected by drug and alcohol issues either directly or through their parents. https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/food-drink-news/digbeths-adam-eve-pub-reopened-13399817. The project has been so successful they have gone and done a another one! That wouldn’t have been possible without Spring being a genuine enabler. THIS IS SPRING
- The second one is around our young people’s services, in Worcester. The young people there were constantly telling us that they needed their own space, that sharing with other people often with complex needs was a fraught and sometimes frightening experience. However, building or converting homes (especially in Worcester for those of you that know the area) is very cost prohibitive. So, in partnership with the Homeless Foundation, we developed a high quality modular self-contained home based on yacht design technology to make sure it was as eco-friendly as we could make it. Its small but the young people that have lived in it so far have loved it. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/14/home-sweet-micro-home-sleep-testing-a-pod-for-the-homeless. There have not been any tenancy breakdowns for the people who have lived there so far. Kieron – the Ikozie’s first tenant – has set up his own business and tenants who have lived there since have thrived. So, what our young people told us was correct. You give us our own space and we will take responsibility for our home and environment. THIS IS SPRING
- One service initiation came at a good time for me – reminding me why we do what we do. We opened a scheme in partnership with the Bournville Village Trust to create a housing pathway into accommodation. I called in with a colleague and met a man who was with his three children in a safe space. When he initially came to us, he had lost his job, his wife, his home and he thought he was going to lose his children too. He was desperate. Seeing him that day – reconnected to his three children – was something else. He had just fed them a roast dinner and they were eating ice cream on a hot summer’s day. https://www.bvt.org.uk/news-and-events/news/former-care-home-repurposed-to-help-the-homeless/ Being at Raddlebarn had given him hope but more importantly than that – increase self value and understanding of what he meant to his children, who had their dad back, and to see him now in his own flat with his children, and still connected with the other people he lived with at Raddlebarn has created him with a future he understands, where he has regained his hope and reconnected with his family. THIS IS SPRING
- I am proud of our social policy work – around social rented accommodation, housing benefit but none more so that our work on Exempt Supported Accommodation. Usually when you campaign its either against a specific government policy or championing a cause of something or another – but ours is slightly different. We were absolutely blessed at our organisation to have a homeless practitioner with an academic mind in Thea. The reports we have produced are different as they critique our own sector. It’s very difficult to challenge your own peers, without seeming pious, contradictory or condescending and I think both the Safeguarding Report and the Exempt from Responsibility reports which were launched last month, stands up to the highest scrutiny. Its been ground-breaking! It’s allowed us access to barristers, government, regulators and different authorities up and down the country. It’s incredible that Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority have adopted the recommendations contained within the report. I have to say it’s not a space we necessarily wanted to enter, but we feel that there are thousands of hidden people without a voice that are being damaged by the very system that was intended to help them. We stand by every word written. https://www.commonwealhousing.org.uk/static/uploads/2019/11/Exempt-from-Responsibility-Full-Report-November-2019.pdf. The fact that they latest research has hit the national press and publications is significant, and we will continue to campaign until there is better oversight of this important sector. THIS IS SPRING
- The people that have been homeless and have now been employed by Spring in a variety of roles, from admin, maintenance and housing. THIS IS SPRING.
- To be proud to work and co design a “Statement of Rights” for people that have experienced homelessness. THIS IS SPRING
- Over the five years we have spent over a hundred thousand pounds of our own money straight off our bottom line on our Rent Relief Initiative so people in low paid work can sustain their tenancies. Its tremendous that we have Trustees that back us. THIS IS SPRING
- With our partners at Refugee Action and the Refugee and Migrant Centre – we have created over 200 family homes in 6 different regions for people from Syria fleeing persecution. Families that have been victims of torture deal with the loss of their loved ones, losing their homes, their possessions and leaving/fleeing their country and that despite this adversity, that so many families are thriving on their resettlement journey and settled in their homes. Is a great testament to them and our partners. THIS IS SPRING
- The theme of our message of our Impact Report is “From Crisis to Prevention”. Why we think that this message is important is that we, as a sector, and in particular our government has created a housing and homeless eco system that is focused on crisis. When we look at all the current initiatives, for rough sleepers, Housing First and indeed exempt accommodation – it is focussed on the symptoms and not the cause. We want to focus on what works, pushing for interventions to be evaluated and creating a movement that believes in evidence-based practice and uses it. THIS IS SPRING
We have damaged our social structures and the results are in front of us. Anyone that walks through Birmingham City Centre today will see that it resembles New York in a 1980’s movie. Where what used to be fleeting glimpses of homelessness, is now all around us and helps create an unhealthy tension between the haves and the have nots; the deserving and the undeserving, and like most things at the moment in our political discourse it’s polarising opinion. Spring has made a good name for ourselves with some of our crisis and emergency work, but as I said in my foreword to the Impact Report that might be great for sustaining our charity but it’s not where we should be longer term if we are putting our evidence base practice into reality.
We know that the best way to create stronger communities is through social rented homes. Affordable housing has become too complex – with many affordable homes not being affordable for so many. That is why it remains our ambition to become a registered provider of social housing, where we will aim to build our own socially rented homes, using high quality, environmentally sound construction methods, that are both cost effective for our tenants and kind to our planet.
We will test this with our first development up in Stratford which is a Housing Plus Centre creating 15 apartments using “Housing First” principles, whilst creating space for health, housing and employment, creating a centre of opportunity for people that are in housing need hopefully in partnership with our friends at St Peters. https://stratfordobserver.co.uk/news/stratford-residents-invited-to-consultation-event-for-new-homeless-centre/
We are delighted to working in partnership with Birmingham City Council and Staffordshire Council on Housing and Wellbeing Services for homeless, young people and offenders. We don’t see us just being there to deliver contracts on behalf of the council, as important as that it is, we believe it’s our duty to work strategically with the council and our partners to drive up standards in the non-commissioned sector alongside our general wider campaigning.
But what our 5 years of existence has told me is perhaps our greatest achievement has been our people relationships. We have created a collaboration and a consensus to work together to give people better life chances in a very wide variety of different ways.
I’d like to thank you all for the part you have played in making what Spring is what it is today. We are 5 and very much alive.
Thanks for reading this – if you want to read a copy of our impact report you can do so here