The view from: Derventio

May 26, 2020

Our blog series, The View From, explores how housing associations have been responding to the Covid-19 crisis. In this blog, Jackie Carpenter, Assistant Director Strategy at Derventio, discusses how they’ve been responding.

Derventio Housing Trust started in 2002 with a temporary winter night shelter that had 10 beds. Since then, we’ve grown exponentially, and now have 600 supported housing units across twelve local authorities, helping over 1,000 people a year.

The model we adopted for our supported housing was to find 2, 3 or 4 bed PRS-leased homes in the community. We talk of them as being ordinary houses in an ordinary street. We wanted them to be like this so that the people living next door wouldn’t know they were living next to a supported housing unit: it’s proved to be much better for residents, as it gives them more dignity.

Our supported housing is 90% of our work. The other 10% is specialist projects to support people, including a homeless hospital discharge project.

We also have a couple of ESF and National Lottery Community Fund programmes that don’t just support homeless people, but also people facing challenges to help them access employment opportunities.

And lastly, our Growing Lives project, that’s based in a community centre in Ilkeston, where we help people rebuild their confidence and skills. We’ve got a garden with chickens, a bike workshop, arts projects funded by the Arts Council and a training kitchen where anyone who wants to can join in and help cook a meal.

Some people have skills. Others are learning them. Growing Lives is a place where they can share skills with each other, breaking down the barriers between them and us.

Since lockdown was introduced, we’ve had to change the way we work. We had to close the centre but knew that for the 15 to 20 people who come to it every day, the social aspect was important to them. A lot of them come from broken or non-existent relationships with their families. So without Growing Lives, they were more isolated and vulnerable.

We’ve been taking packs round to them and dropping them off outside their homes. These have included craft packs, sewing packs, art packs, recipe ideas for meals they can cook for themselves at home. It’s also an opportunity for us to see them and check that they’re ok.

There’s been a lot of talk about the value of distraction packs, so we’ve created one for the people we work with. It contains activities and puzzles and suggestions for things people can do while they’re in isolation. It also includes some tips for keeping your mental health and wellbeing good. It’s available on our web site as an interactive PDF. We also printed 750 copies and have been delivering one to each residents – and taking the opportunity to make sure they’re ok as well. We’ve also made this freely available to anyone who wants to use it, and organisations from around the country have downloaded it.

After the lockdown was announced, we contacted all residents to check they were ok and find out about any additional vulnerabilities they might have. We also made sure that everyone has a phone – we got funding to buy some phones and also have had phones donated to us. We want to ensure people have the means to get in contact with us or the health service as and when they need.

Now we’re keeping in touch with people with regular phone calls, at least twice a week, sometimes more.

We also visit our homes to check people are ok, to carry out our legal safety checks, and to check on any potential ASB issues, because of our duty towards our community and neighbours. We do this once a fortnight.

In Derby and across the county, we’ve been part of the local response to homelessness. We’ve had weekly phone calls with our colleagues from local authorities and other organisations, so that everyone knows what is happening and we can coordinate our response. Initially, we needed to work out what that response would be, liaising with street outreach teams, hotel managers, hostel providers, so we could get as many people off the streets as possible.

There’s been a lot of flexibility locally which has been really impressive. It’s helped that we had some existing relationships with other providers and local councils. Strategically, it’s all felt very joined up.

Now with lockdown easing, the focus has switched to what’s going to happen next. There’ve been a lot of conversations about what each provider can offer and ideas about how we can help those who are more challenging to house, like chaotic rough sleepers. Recovery plans are already well developed, and it’s good to feel that Derby and Derbyshire are at the forefront of good practice.

We’re hoping to be able to start moving people into new, permanent accommodation now. If we can do this, we can move more people into our own supported homes and help them make that transition off the streets.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep in touch with people already living in our homes and making sure all the people living in our accommodation feel supported.