“We’re creating opportunities for people who have experienced homelessness or rough sleeping to live the life they want.” Welsh homelessness charity wins Inspire! Award for life-changing work

A Welsh rough sleeping and homelessness charity that gets people off the streets and creates opportunities for people who have experienced homelessness has won a major award for its life-changing work.

The Wallich has been housing and supporting people who have experienced homelessness for over 40 years. As well as helping its service users to find housing, The Wallich has a Participation and Progression (P&P) team which creates learning and employment opportunities to help break the cycle of homelessness.

The Participation and Progression team runs four programmes to help service users gain essential skills and work experience – The BOSS Project, an employability and well-being programme for those with a criminal record in South Wales; a Peer Mentor Scheme to actively engage service users; WISE, a structured employability programme and a Creative Arts programme.

The Wallich was awarded the ‘Life Change and Progression’ Inspire! Award in recognition of its life-changing work breaking the cycle of rough sleeping and homelessness.

The Wallich was one of 12 winners to be recognised at the 2021 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards recognised those who have demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.

The Inspire! Awards are were part of Adult Learners’ Week, which took place this year from 20-26 September offering taster sessions and live online sessions to inspire people to keep learning throughout their lives.

Previous service users are heavily involved in designing and delivering the programmes run by the Participation and Progression team. David Bennett, who manages the BOSS Project, says this is key to their success.

“People who have experienced rough sleeping and homelessness can be mistrustful of others – especially people in positions of authority. All our programmes are at least partly run or delivered by people who have lived experience of homelessness. We find this helps to engage service users and build trust, but it’s also inspiring.

“This was one of the drivers for setting up the Peer Mentoring Scheme. We currently employ six peer mentors across Wales. By offering service users support from someone who has ‘walked in their shoes’ and who understands the barriers they face, we’ve seen an increase in positive engagement and outcomes for service users. Similarly, the BOSS Project is delivered by people with lived experience of the criminal justice system who support clients to find employment, complete qualifications, and access counselling services.

“This also helps to create an employment pathway for previous service users. Employing people who’ve experienced homelessness or rough sleeping, or who have experience with the criminal justice system is really important to us. Plus, we have to lead by example. There’s still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around employing people who have had these experiences, but that means businesses are missing out on a rich talent pool.”

The Wallich aims to create opportunities for service users to find employment doing something they’re passionate about. Programmes like WISE (Working In Sustainable Employment) are designed to arm them with the new skills and confidence they need to get back into education or find a job.

David continued: “We’ve seen some exceptional outcomes from WISE. In the last two years, 15 people have gained stable employment after completing the programme, with 11 more actively seeking employment. Almost 80 people have become digitally included or improved their computer skills and 28 have gained industry standard qualifications.

“But it’s not just about those ‘hard outcomes’ – there are lots of benefits to learning and the ‘soft outcomes’ are just as important. Like the 44 people who say they have improved feelings of stability and control, and the 15 who have improved mental health and wellbeing. Our Creative Arts programme also focuses on these benefits. Embedding the creative arts within our projects creates opportunities for social interaction and gives our service users a way of expressing their feelings. This helps to reduce the risk of health-harming behaviours, while also teaching new skills.

“Anyone who’s experienced rough sleeping is used to being part of a culture – they look out for each other. Coming off the streets and into a home can be lonely. If we want to break the cycle of homelessness, our solutions need to be sustainable. That’s why the programmes run by our Participation and Progression team are very much tailored for our clients. Almost all our clients will have experienced some trauma during their lives, so the courses are designed not to be triggering and are delivered by trauma-informed tutors. Courses can be adapted depending on the needs of the group, and we gather regular feedback to constantly improve the programmes in line with that feedback.”

The Wallich works with employers to support service users into work after completing its employability programmes. It aims to challenge stigma and offers mediation and ongoing support to help them settle into working life.

David said: “Everything we do is about creating opportunities for people who have experienced homelessness or rough sleeping to live the life they want. It’s amazing when our service users go on to university, or a job, but it isn’t just about that. The sense of achievement and hope for the future is every bit as important. We hold a graduation ceremony at the end of the WISE programme and people are in tears. They never thought they would be able to graduate from anything; it’s truly inspiring.”

Danielle, 39, graduated The Wallich’s WISE programme and has also been supported by its BOSS team. She said: “The Wallich gave me a chance when no one else would, who saw my potential regardless of my past, and helped me become the woman I am today. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone I have worked with. You’re all amazing people, keep doing what you’re doing!”

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to all the winners and nominees in this year’s Inspire! Awards. There’s some really powerful stories behind this year’s participants, with some great examples of people overcoming personal challenges in their commitment to learning, and it’s important to celebrate the achievements of everyone who took part. Well done everyone!”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: “What better way to realise the value of adult learning than to hear the uplifting stories of our Inspire! Award winners. Each and every one of our winners demonstrates the benefits lifelong learning can bring – from improving mental wellbeing, to gaining the skills to land a new job.”

“We hope their incredible stories will inspire people across Wales to take that first step back into education. Whatever your motivation for gaining new skills, there’s never been a better time to change your story.”

For personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or search www.workingwales.gov.wales.