Paul Streets: Leeds charity that provides solace to asylum seekers

Solace is just one of many refugee charities supported by Lloyds Bank Foundation writes our CEO Paul Streets. 

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This blog was originally published in Third Sector on 5 February 2019.

I recently visited Solace, a local charity in Leeds that focuses specifically on asylum seekers, who have unique needs within the broader refugee community.

It’s one of many refugee charities supported by the Lloyds Bank Foundation, many of them located in the “dispersal” cities and towns where, after being “processed”, refugees are sent to “settle”. Unable to work while their asylum pleas are being considered, they become dependent largely on local organisations just to survive. That’s the reason Refugee Action – a larger charity than we can fund – is fighting to Lift The Ban on employment, not just because refugees want to work, but because enforced worklessness demeans those who at home would often be regarded as industrious and highly skilled.

Ahead of my visit to Solace, I’d read how one of its psychotherapists, Divine Charura, describes what it means to work with asylum seekers. He talks of their complex psychological journeys, in which they address trauma, displacement and the loss of people, identity and homes. They’re forced to process complex mental health diagnoses while seeking out the basics, such as food and shelter.

He shares the challenges of conducting sensitive counselling sessions with interpreters in languages for which there might be no direct equivalent for some terms, or for people who might be used to different cultural norms – such as appointments not being scheduled by clocks and therapy sessions aren’t limited because “the hour is coming up now”.

When I met Kathryn, the chief executive, and Sarah, a therapist, their stories completed the picture, revealing how small and holistic charities like theirs are best equipped to address issues like these. They told me that people arrive in waves from different destinations, the current wave being dominated by Iranians and Eritreans.

Solace offers a wide range of support, but its core offer is psychotherapy, including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and body psychotherapy. Almost always this is provided alongside practical support around housing and access to legal aid.

Sarah’s descriptions (of a woman they helped, who had pain on the left-hand side of her body because she was hurt by a right-handed man, or of another who was recovering from the horror and humility of being raped on the streets) backed up what charities have long been telling us: that leaving family, friends and homes in favour of risk and almost certain danger is a sign of refugees’ true desperation.

When they arrive they are broken and they need rebuilding from the inside out. Sarah says women like these often see Solace as like family, seeking to make them proud, even when she has very little furniture and no money.

Solace is fortunate to be based in Leeds, one of the UK’s few Cities of Sanctuary, where enlightened commissioners such as the local clinical commissioning group recognise that dealing with this kind of trauma is beyond anything they can do and trust local charities like Solace, who step up to provide this kind of highly specialised, well-rounded support package.

Solace reaches 147 people each year for as long as they need it, a flexibility that commissioners recognise is a critical component of a service which, were it provided by them, would have to be limited to a standardised approach.

Without Solace and other charities like it, more refugees and asylum seekers would be homeless and destitute. But with the right support many will become valued members of society, contributing the entrepreneurialism and prosperity that has characterised successive waves of refugees right back to the Huguenots, who fled persecution in France in the 16th century and who first coined the word “refugee” from the French “refugie” and the Latin “refugium”, a noun meaning “hideaway”.

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Paul Streets: The dilemma of the bottom-up approach

It makes for accountability, but can lead to a patchwork of provision writes our CEO Paul Streets. 

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This blog was originally published in Third Sector on 21 December 2018.

It’s been a challenging run into Christmas and a time of reflection for me: a year of personal loss that’s made me challenge my assumptions about what matters and what works.

At the Lloyds Bank Foundation we launched our strategy on the back of our report The Value of Small, driven by a desire to absolutely understand and scaffold the work of small, local charities, which matter greatly to those with nowhere else to turn and whose approach very definitely works.

McGarvey’s book and Julia Unwin’s inquiry pose a challenge to people like me – a step removed from the front line – to be responsible for how we understand and respond to local need, rather than superimposing our own ideas.

Across the sector Julia Unwin’s Civil Society Futures inquiry has encouraged new debate and books such as Darren McGarvey’s Poverty Safari, which I’ve just read and which won the Orwell Prize for its fresh perspective on our times.

The inquiry challenges us all to question our practice around PACT: where do Power and Accountability sit? Are we genuinely Connected to and Trusted by those we claim to reach? Questions like these must be implicit in funders’ decision-making. But the mere fact that we ask them smacks of the power imbalance between funder and funded, leaving us to some extent between a rock and a hard place. Yet for me accountability is crucial: I don’t subscribe to the view that we should simply listen, give people the money and go. And I suspect I wouldn’t last long as chief executive if I did.

McGarvey’s book and Julia Unwin’s inquiry pose a challenge to people like me – a step removed from the front line – to be responsible for how we understand and respond to local need, rather than superimposing our own ideas. McGarvey’s book opens with lines from Tom Leonard’s brilliant satirical poem: “jist whut this erria needs… it last thiv sent uz a liaison co-ordinator.”

It can lead to a patchwork of provision, whether by issue or geography. A properly holistic approach can help us to focus on the person, not the service, but won’t guarantee great service across the board.

I’m not aware that the Lloyds Bank Foundation has ever funded one. Our grants are more often for chief executives or front-line workers. And we’d hope and expect that most of our grantees are “PACT-compliant”: rooted in and run by and for those they serve. They’re also an embodiment of the “kindness” Julia Unwin wrote about being the gap in public policy, calling for friendly, open conversations about what people and communities need.

But the bottom-up approach the inquiry and others call for poses a genuine dilemma. It can lead to a patchwork of provision, whether by issue or geography. A properly holistic approach can help us to focus on the person, not the service, but won’t guarantee great service across the board, which is why commissioners, especially those with statutory obligations, will often revert to large and national.

So next as a sector we need to harness the “PACT-type” benefits of the small alongside the “reach” benefits of the large, responding to an issue the economist EF Schumacher raised in his seminal book Small is Beautiful. Federated models such as Mind and social franchise models such as Emmaus offer some solutions, but fall short of the ideal – the best of small and large combined. In 2019 the Lloyds Bank Foundation, together with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Acevo, will grapple with this further.

Meantime, as you pack your Christmas stockings find some space for Poverty SafariSmall is Beautiful, the Civil Society Futures inquiry and Julia Unwin’s report on kindness. And save time too for reflection on what they mean for those who won’t spend prosperous, fortunate holidays with their nearest and dearest, or wishing they had a liaison coordinator in their stockings.

Paul Streets: The local charities that reach ‘invisible’ people

Niche organisations matter – they embody ‘lived experience’, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally published in the November / December 2018 edition of Third Sector magazine.

As a sector we have quite rightly been challenged to demonstrate our connection to the lives of those we exist for.

Large organisations frequently set up complicated, sometimes expensive mechanisms to do this. And they often don’t work, becoming highly unrepresentative or tokenistic.

But for many small local organisations it’s part of their DNA. I recently visited two charities with our London grants manager that exemplify this, but which highlighted for me that it’s not as common practice as it should be.

The CSO team has plans to use a Lloyds Bank Foundation grant to meet the demand of service users. It will create employment and business support for recently arrived refugees, in a community with many talented entrepreneurs.

The Council of Somali Organisations is an umbrella body of more than 100, often small, Somali groups, mainly in London. It has only one full-time employee and four part-time staff. By contrast, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service is much longer established, with a team of 20-plus.

The CSO believes there are about 400,000 people in Britain who call themselves Somali, although no one knows for sure because the data lumps all “Africans” together.

And the LAWRS estimates there are about 250,000 Latin Americans in the UK.

But the factors that brought these migrant populations to the UK are different.

The CSO and the LAWRS illustrate why local niche charities matter: they embody “lived experience”, reaching people and places invisible to most of us.

Britain has a historical connection with Somalia, with sailors serving in the Navy in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the chaos of Somali civil war driving a more recent exodus. Many Latin Americans came here for economic reasons, yet sadly often occupy menial employment here, as cleaners or, more tragically, trafficked as sex workers.

Both charities are largely run, staffed and led by their communities, and it’s this that drives their ambition.

The CSO team has plans to use a Lloyds Bank Foundation grant to meet the demand of service users. It will create employment and business support for recently arrived refugees, in a community with many talented entrepreneurs.

Lucila Granada, director of the LAWRS, told me about the women she serves. Some were facing abuse from violent partners or severe domestic exploitation. She also spoke of people experiencing “honour-based violence”,”corrective rape” forced upon gay women, forced abortion or pregnancy. Intra-family rape is often unrecognised to “protect the family”.

Combined with the undocumented status of many of the victims, or the fact that their continued residency is sometimes dependent on EU nationals, you have a number of crimes that are often unspoken and rarely reported.

It’s why the LAWRS is running its Step up Migrant Women campaign. It is making headway in its influencing work with the London Victims Commissioner and the Mayor of London, bringing together about 30 local and national supporters, including Amnesty International and Liberty. But it has some way to go.

It’s hard enough to contemplate how domestic abuse victims cope, even with possible recourse through the law, and many of these people can’t even count on that. So it makes sense that you’d need a charity that speaks your language – literally and figuratively – to fill that gap.

The CSO and the LAWRS illustrate why local niche charities matter: they embody “lived experience”, reaching people and places invisible to most of us.

Paul Streets: Local austerity stories are corroborated by the statistics

And it’s this that helps to give the sector a voice on the most pressing issues of all, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally published on Third Sector on 29 October 2018.

In the last month The Mighty Redcar hit our screens – the compelling docudrama of real lives played out in a small town where austerity and de-industrialisation have taken a massive toll.

Described by The Guardian as the antidote to the “poverty porn” of Benefits Streetand the like, it’s good to finally see the story told in a way that helps to illustrate how complex social issues occur and how hard they are to overcome.

But what’s also important is that the story of the micro – a single northern seaside town – is corroborated by the macro: a wealth of stats and reports on local authority spending cuts, which together command us to sit up in our armchairs and pay attention.

The Lloyds Bank Foundation’s recent research with the New Policy Institute revealed A Quiet Crisis in the distribution of the brunt of local authority cuts.

Its analysis of government spending data in England on a range of services for adults and children facing disadvantage shows that, though it looks like some councils have done their best to protect the disadvantaged, the most deprived areas have been hit the hardest.

And, faced with the increasing demands for help, cash-strapped councils have cut spending on the preventive measures that stop problems such as homelessness or having to take children into care in the first place.

In parallel, 360 Giving data crunched by data scientists shows that the pattern of our funding for small charities maps directly onto deprivation. It’s encouraging, because at the Lloyds Bank Foundation our spend is driven entirely by demand and need: we don’t target the most deprived areas; it’s just where most of our money ends up.

While small local charities are playing a vital role in trying to fill the gaps, we’ve yet to see the rise in unmet need that A Quiet Crisis warns us of, as funding reductions play out for anything that looks like prevention and is deemed non-statutory (think youth services or Home Start).

It’s little wonder, then, that the demands on those we fund are rising inexorably at the same time as their publicly funded grants evaporate. This is a story they have been telling us repeatedly for years as they fight for survival in a society that hasn’t yet heard them.

What’s more, we also know from research by Southampton University and the ESRC, and from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, that charities do not map well onto need overall. A more recent report, Patchwork Philanthropy by The Young Foundation, used 360Giving data to show that the combined pattern of philanthropy and public spending maps poorly onto need. Camden, St Albans and Kensington & Chelsea are spending hotspots, while Mansfield, Great Yarmouth and West Lancashire are coldspots. And Blackpool has the lowest charitable spend per head, which makes no sense at all.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government response to the cuts, which said that “local authorities are responsible for their own decisions” doesn’t offer much hope. Tracey Crouch, through the Civil Society Strategy, seems to understand the need to focus on deprived areas, but it looks like she’s going to have an uphill battle to kick the ostriches at the top of the hill out of their bunkers.

Maybe it’s the link between coldspots and pro-Brexit areas that, as The Guardian’s John Harris recently flagged, could act as the catalyst. Once complex social issues start mattering to politics and power, something might happen.

As a sector, we’re now in the fortunate position of having more data than we’ve ever had to make our case, enough to make sure the parties and interests that will fight the next post-Brexit election know the facts. But knowing about a problem doesn’t translate into caring enough to act.

Given the importance of this to the people who need us most we should be testing the Civil Society Strategy’s recognition that charities should have a “voice” – lobbying act and all – to its limits, in making sure politicians of all parties heed the warnings of the charities surviving against the odds, while they’re still there to be heard.

Paul Streets: My own loss reminded me why charities matter

For many, charity staff are the only people ‘in the corner’ of their beneficiaries, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally published in the September / October edition of Third Sector.

This summer has been a sad one for me. My mother died. She was 85. She had not been well for some time, but it already feels like she leaves a huge hole, especially as my father also died three years ago, also aged 85.

Who will listen unconditionally? Who will support me whatever I do? Who knew me from the moment I arrived and has been with me ever since?

The lack of any effective family support network is one reason they end up turning to the charities we fund.

I was already aware, but have been reminded, that I’m among those lucky enough to have lived life as part of a stable, supportive family and, at times, I have taken that for granted. It is not so for many of the people we seek to reach through the charities we fund: the single homeless man; the refugee; many of those who leave prison; the woman fleeing home for a refuge; the young person who leaves care. The lack of any effective family support network is one reason they end up turning to the charities we fund.

Nothing can replace the wraparound of a supportive family, but from what I see from visiting small charities, and as evidenced by our recent report The Value of Small, this ability to provide unconditional, flexible, yet structured support is one of the main reasons small charities work. No contract would ever specify this approach and no state institution could ever provide it. It’s intimate, immediate and initially intangible. Yet, without that kind of support provided throughout my life I wouldn’t be the person I am.

The other brief glimpse I had into the lives of the people we seek to reach was during mum’s tortuous last two weeks, as she experienced the ill effects of a well-meaning and benign, but confused and disconnected NHS. She was told one thing, then another. Doctors dropped in and out, issuing rapid verdicts, then leaving the excellent nurses to pick up and interpret the pieces. At times it felt like she was an interesting case study. It was agonising. Yet we as family faced all of that with her, as advocates.

For many, those charity staff represent the only people “in the corner” of their beneficiaries

It reminded me that small charities are family in all but name for people with chaotic lives. They’re the people advocating and joining up different state actors: welfare agencies, social services, health services, housing, the police and criminal justice system, and so on.

For many, those charity staff represent the only people “in the corner” of their beneficiaries, reading letters for people who aren’t able to, arranging transport to appointments or appealing decisions made in offices based on statistics for people who don’t value themselves enough to know they deserve better. In my mum’s final weeks it felt like my family had given over control. It’s hard to imagine how that must feel when that’s all you know.

No wonder it is to so hard to turn people’s lives around. We are so lucky to have dedicated people on the front line of thousands of charities around the country committed to trying to do just that.

Paul Streets: The devil of the Civil Society Strategy lies in the delivery

We should applaud the supportive tone. We should welcome the commitments to smaller charities. But we should equally question the lack of concrete proposals, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 10 August 2018.

The long-awaited Civil Society Strategy  has been published. There’s much to welcome, especially its tone. Even in the ministerial foreword the strategy recognises the “pressures civil society is under” and the “extraordinary job” it does alongside the role of government as an “enabler”, citing the strategy as “the beginning of a process of collaboration”.

As Lloyds Banking Group’s corporate foundation, it is good to see the recognition for cross-sector support in addressing societal issues, and the important pressure of ethical consumerism.

Crucially, there is a recognition of the importance of giving charities more of a voice, allowing them to feed into policy and taking steps to strengthen their confidence around campaigning. The strategy sets out promising plans around new guidance on commissioning for small and local charities and also around new approaches to strengthening social value.

It is broad in scope, encompassing civil society as inclusive of all activities whose “primary purpose is social value, independent of state of control” and, critically, the role of government more broadly in enabling that. While charities are at the heart of a strong civil society, as Lloyds Banking Group’s corporate foundation, it is good to see the recognition for cross-sector support in addressing societal issues, and the important pressure of ethical consumerism.  We see first-hand how valuable a truly responsible approach to business can be – not just in terms of funding but in skills transfer and in-kind support. Public, private and social sectors need to work better together.

And it is helpful to see supportive acknowledgement of the role of civil society from other government departments, having long called for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to influence the approach to the voluntary sector across government as an exemplar.

The breadth and scope of the strategy risks the government appearing as a convenor, rather than the central actor it needs to be. So while it’s a good framework, the devil will be in the delivery.

But this scope and breadth is also its weakness. It risks being everything and nothing.

Without concrete action on issues such as commissioning and joint working, there is a risk that this is simply warm words. We will watch with interest to see what replaces the community rehabilitation companies contracts under Transforming Rehabilitation given recent commitments by the Justice Secretary David Gauke: a critical litmus test for whether DCMS has the clout it needs.

The strategy recognises the need for “new approaches in communities that have not benefited from growth” but it fails to translate that recognition into tangible and targeted action to address the most marginalised people and places. This is a critical issue for small and local charities working right at the coalface.

And while it hints at the potential significance of dormant assets and The UK Shared Prosperity Fund, small nuggets are offered rather than the wholesale and targeted significant investment where it is needed most.

We have elsewhere highlighted the critical need for the sector to rethink sustainability post-austerity but doing this will require commitment and clarity of purpose and not just from the sector but from government. Without this there is a risk that what could be large amounts of money are frittered away on disconnected piecemeal approaches. We need to see these opportunities as we did the post-war Marshall plan, an opportunity to restructure the support we provide to the most in need in society and to the poorest places – alongside more effective welfare provision, which doesn’t get a mention.

The breadth and scope of the strategy risks the government appearing as a convenor, rather than the central actor it needs to be. So while it’s a good framework, the devil will be in the delivery. Can DCMS translate these welcome and very broad intentions into tangible and substantive action on the ground?

Paul Streets: The value of small is far bigger than imagined

A visit to the buzzing Hive Avon in Bristol brought home the value of small charities, writes our CEO Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 31st July 2018.

The Hive Avon works with people who have learning disabilities and their families in Bristol and surrounding areas. It is based in an unprepossessing building some way up a hill beside a shabby garage on the outskirts of Bristol. It has one full-time staff member, a couple of part-timers – including the chief executive – and about 30 volunteers. It has an income of about £100,000 a year. When I visited earlier this year it was celebrating its 50th year and was buzzing with people and ideas for how it could do more.

The research is clear: small and local charities make a real difference to individual lives, they help local economies and are often the glue that binds communities together.

The charity’s Bringing Independent Lives Together programme brings together parents and their disabled sons and daughters in separate structured sessions to tackle the tough questions about how ageing parents help their children to plan for a life after they’re gone. It’s challenging stuff. The first parent-focused session starts with discussion on what happens when they die and the consequences for their children, some of whom might be in their fifties, but still live at home.

Many people with learning disabilities who live with their parents don’t make basic life decisions for themselves, such as when to get to up, what to wear or what to eat. Hive talks parents through what they can do to help their children become more independent. Some of those who access Hive’s projects are hidden from statutory services because their needs are not acute. They don’t have social workers, they have no personal independence plans and nor are they on housing lists. Instead, it’s all “been kept in the family”.

Adults with learning disabilities who’ve made the break to live independently provide useful role models at this time. This sharing of lived experience, fears and hopes is critical, but it is possible only through the hard work of the charity. About 250 families receive support from Hive, and it is vital stuff.

Small Charities Week took place between 18 and 23 June. It was an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the work of the thousands of small charities such as Hive. But welcome as it was to have that focus for a week, too much debate and policy in government, and within our own sector, focuses on the much fewer, much larger charities.

Small charities need all our help to enable them to do and be their best. That’s why they need to be at the front and centre of the government’s forthcoming civil society strategy.

That’s why the research The Value of Small, commissioned by the Lloyds Bank Foundation but done independently by academics, is so important. Published during Small Charities Week, it concludes that size does indeed matter and there is something clearly distinctive in who small and local charities work with and how.

The research is clear: small and local charities make a real difference to individual lives, they help local economies and are often the glue that binds communities together. Yet there is a critical mismatch between the benefits, distinctiveness and value of small and local charities and the way commissioning is undertaken. Eighty-four per cent of local government spending on charities is now going to larger charities as they shift from grants to ever-larger contracts. This is despite the clear benefits of small charities to local communities and economies.

Small charities need all our help to enable them to do and be their best. That’s why they need to be at the front and centre of the government’s forthcoming civil society strategy.