Interviewing Mooch

Mooch Ashley EDITWe’ve taken a little time out of HI Future’s pacey schedule to talk to Keith – AKA Mooch – who’s personal insight into homelessness and experience working in the sector is bringing an invaluable take on the work we’re doing to create secure and stable futures for people who have experienced homelessness and are ready for work.

Ensuring that the voice of those people impacted by the issue is central to the homeless employment solution we’re designing with businesses, charities and public sector departments, Mooch’s own experiences in moving back into employment brings a much-needed perspective on how we can support people back into work.

Tell us about you, your work and interest in homeless employment.

I was born in 1956 – 10 years after the end of World War II – and was brought up in the slums of Manchester. I remember those early years clearly, but for me and my mates, they didn’t feel like slums. They were much more fun! No one had very much, but what we had we shared. It was very close-knit, no matter what part of Greater Manchester you visited. I had a kind of happy childhood, and we never really went short.

My interests are many and varied. They weren’t always on the right side of the law, but hey, living on the edge could be fun and kept me on my toes. What I’ve always found interesting is people, though. There’s nothing better than speaking to our older generation about their lifetime, and I also love to read. It’s somewhere I can go to escape.

When it comes to my job – administering funds from the Big Change to people looking to take their next step in their journey out of homelessness – not only is it very rewarding, but it’s also really interesting. I meet people from all walks of life, and it enables me to find my way to what’s important to me.

In addition to the people who are struggling, I work with over 70 support workers and the CEOs of over 30 charities on a daily basis, so every day brings a new conversation.

What encouraged your decision to go back to work?

I’m just your typical Manchester kid… always willing to help and always up for a nobble. The life I led didn’t really give me any encouragement to work for anybody, only myself.

Personally, I was supported back into work by the people behind the Manchester Homelessness Partnership. They encouraged me to make a difference and to help our homeless, and I soon realized that people listened to me, and the more they listened, the more I felt inspired to help.

That said, I think I had enough about me to be directed into something more than just a job. In reality, the Big Change job chose me and slowly helped me realize that I could really make a difference to some of the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, I’ve found it really easy to encourage others to find a journey they’re happy with too.

What support was available in getting back into work?

I’ve had so many people supporting me and a whole lot of people inspiring me. I don’t always know I’m being supported, as it’s not something I needed for over 50 years, but over the last four years since leaving prison, when I look back, I think the people who supported me didn’t do it for any other reason but to help and not for anything in return.

In particular, Eleanor Watts from the Big Change was a huge help. She backed me when I said I was ready to start working. At that point, I was already doing voluntary work, so I had people around me who could support me back into work. I was helped when I needed an up to date CV at the Mustard Tree, and there was a network at my local library, where I found others in a similar situation as myself.

How were you feeling when you started your new job?

When it came to starting at Big Change, I was nervous. My anxiety was beginning to build and my stomach was turning over and over, but I also felt excitement in the run up to my first day so together, it balanced things out.

All and all, it’s been interesting and fun. I’ve been in the role for over a year now, and I’ve never really been looking for support. I just got on with it because that’s how I was brought up. But – and it’s a big but – I realize not everyone wants something in return for their help. It’s taken me 50 years to realise it. I reach out for help now, and it’s always there.

I’m not a bad fella. It just took a while to accept it that’s all.

To find out more about Big Change Manchester and their innovative alternative giving fund, check out their website here. 

How to Help with Homeless Employment

With rising numbers of homelessness across the U.K. – the vast majority of those hidden from sight in hostels, temporary accommodation such as B&B’s or couch surfing – thinking of the long-term prospects, as much as the immediate needing of support and housing, is essential.

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That goes for those people struggling and the stretched charities and public sector teams addressing the increase in demand for services that comes with a 4% surge in homelessness since 2017 alone, and local government and funding budget cuts, meaning supporting those most in need has become increasingly challenging.

That’s why helping people achieve stability is so essential. Yet, with so many people seeing (and believing) rough sleeping as the only experience of homelessness, it can be hard to understand how some of the most vulnerable individuals we see on our streets might be able to maintain a job, bringing an income, the ability to afford a home and a community that so many in this position need.

With rough sleepers estimated to account for less than 2% the country’s homeless population, and 88% of those who have experienced homelessness willing to work according to  Crisis, there is more potential and opportunity than initially meets the eye, and the possibility of a secure and stable future within all our collective grasp.

With the HI Future project, our community of businesses, homeless charities and public sector teams will be working with those people impacted to co-create a homeless employment solution that will remove business barriers to offering opportunities and working with those organisations already helping people get ready for work.

For those looking to have a direct impact sooner rather than later – we’ll be researching, mapping and building the HI Future solution throughout 2019 – here are some of the amazing initiatives across Greater Manchester that you as a business can support now.

Jobs Clubs

Many homeless charities run jobs clubs, with CV writing sessions, interview technique practise and support applying for jobs are all available for those willing and able to re-enter the jobs market. Our partner organisation, Mustard Tree, runs two sessions weekly in Ancoats, Manchester, on Tuesday and Friday from 10am to 12pm.

The Booth Centre in Cheetham Hill too supports people looking to access training and additional qualifications, and like One Manchester – a local housing association – also arranges volunteering or work placements for people in need of experience before placing a person with personal insight into a full-time role.

Get Involved: Volunteer to support with CV building and interview training or hold “meet the employer” days and provide work placement opportunities with your local charity.

Ready to Work

Beyond the practical needs, people often need more personal support to ready themselves for work. Self-esteem, motivational skills and expected workplace behaviours, especially for those people for whom experiencing homelessness may have exacerbated personal challenges, is why programmes like Business in the Community’s (BITC) Ready for Work programme is vital.

“Ready for work” however, can be seen as a subjective assessment, as there are broader needs that are essential, for both the individuals and employers looking to sustain work opportunities. Having a bank account is a typical stumbling block, which our supporter organisation Lloyds Bank are addressing in Greater Manchester,  as is the need for a secure and stable home, which the Job Centre recognises as it supports people on benefits as they search for work.

Get Involved: Signing up or sponsoring BITC’s Ready for Work programme is one way of supporting people experiencing homelessness back into work, as is partnering with the DWP on work trials, traineeships or apprenticeships.

Homeless Sector Roles

Experience prior to entering the work place is often essential to help people who have experienced homelessness gain the confidence, routines and support network needed to secure and sustain long-term employment, and the third sector – like our partner organisation Groundwork in Greater Manchester – is particularly adept at creating opportunities.

Launching social enterprises like HM Pasties and Blue Sky North, Groundwork provides jobs for ex-offenders, and for organisations like Shelter, GROW trainees are employed and trained whilst helping develop services for others who have experienced homelessness Manchester.

Get Involved: Hiring a GROW trainee, or making use of the services that enterprises like HM Pasties provides is a great way to offer support, and ensure those gaining confidence and experience continue to develop in their chosen employment paths.

If you’re game to support our cross-sector, collaborative solution to homeless employment, you can always support the HI Future community too.

Get In Touch

Our Journey So Far

HI Future – the HI standing for homeless inclusive – came into being long before we created the community that lives and breathes it now, though its collaborative way of working has been fundamental to its existence since day dot… and, it’s our cross-sector community, co-producing an employment solution with those people impacted by homelessness is what will see it through to success.

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It wasn’t always this way, though. Two years ago, not long after I launched Noisy Cricket, I started working on homelessness. With people I love personally impacted by the issue and seeing how the rise in homelessness was impacting a human I’d come to care for who slept rough on the same street I lived in central Manchester, how could I not?

A year later, and I’d been taken in by the Manchester Homelessness Partnership (MHP). An inspiring collective of public and third sector organisations, Viv Slack of Street Support, Jez Green at The Mustard Tree and Beth Knowles of GMCA had all shown me the power of co-production – working with not for those impacted by an issue – and a core principle of Noisy Cricket’s work was born.

Throughout 2017, I was able to bring businesses to the work the MHP were doing. Using Noisy Cricket’s root cause research, we were able to educate 250 businesses on the “why” of rising homelessness and channel them into an MHP support group to take action. Yet, with the power, platform and resources available to so many businesses, I suspected there was bigger potential at play.

high five editCue Mooch and Woody. Bringing their own experiences of homelessness and the sector to the work we were doing at the business support group – now part of a much bigger programme run by the inimitable Dee Lowry – I was told in no uncertain terms that we needed jobs. A root cause, strategic and sustainable response to an issue that impacts the whole city and every person in it. Got it!

Yet, with numerous brilliant initiatives across the UK readying people experiencing homelessness for work, where were the businesses? Despite the Booth Centre’s weekly jobs clubs, Business in The Community’s (BITC) ready for work programme and the programmes and platforms developed by Manchester City Council ready for the regional skills gaps in tech, construction and hospitality, where were the jobs?

A chance encounter with Tash Willcocks of Hyper Island presented an exciting opportunity to get under the skin of the issue. With a growing body of insight on the issues underpinning the business barriers to employing people who have experienced homelessness, Noisy Cricket put a brief, to the 30 plus bright, proactive and creative students at their Manchester MA programme, and let the innovation roll.

raised hand editThree months later, with the support of BITC and Pret a Manger – an organisation running their own homeless-focused employment programme – Woody, Mooch and I worked with the student to support the development of eight solutions, addressing the systemic, cultural and personal challenges inherent in employing people with personal insight into homelessness.

With so many potential options, we went back to the business community, and with feedback from the Co-Op, KPMG and Manchester Airports Group (MAG), narrowed our options down to two key solutions. One, a matchmaking solution, helping businesses find those individuals willing and able to work. The second, a support system, to add on to the great work being done up front by the public and third sector.

Yet, indirect feedback came our way too. Assumptions regarding the type of work people who have experienced homelessness would be suitable to do. Fears surrounding mental health, addiction and criminality. Concerns around cultural fit, another perception which we knew needed to be challenged if we were ever to encourage businesses to open their doors and offer up opportunities.

open hand editNow, to make it happen. We knew if HI Future, were ever to succeed, it would be the community we create created around it that would be the deciding factor. Taking our solution out to the progressive, pro-active and committed businesses, charities and public sector departments across Greater Manchester, it became clear the potential HI Future had to create the systemic and cultural shift needed.

As 2018 closed out, we were delighted to welcome Manchester Airports Group and Balfour Beatty on board as runaway sponsors, providing the funding necessary to kick start the user research and education sessions needed to understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in employing people who have experienced homelessness.

To Sophie Stephens and Kelly Singleton, thank you, for passionately championing such a new and exciting approach. 

Throughout 2019, as we bring on board new sponsors, and with the commitment of supporter organisations of the like of KPMG and Lloyds Bank, we’ll bring together directors, HR professionals and line managers to work directly with people who have personal insight into homelessness, to co-create the solution we need to shift attitudes and test the platform making recruitment as simple as possible.

To Rebekah Ingham, Alex Roche and Jonathon Summerlin, so much gratitude, and to James Hargraves and Simon Chapman, for all making waves within your organisations!

open doorThe expertise of the DWP and our local partner organisations – the Mustard Tree, Groundwork in Greater Manchester and The Growth Company – which already work, on the ground, with impacted people to ready each-and-every individual for work will be essential too. There’ll be a lot to learn, but working as an open, collaborative and caring community bring better insights and a brilliant outcome.

To Nina Cioffi, Chris Hulse, Chris Gopal, Venetia Knight, Aileen Stirman, Ellie Jess and Naomi Ilagoswa, a huge thank you for the brilliant work you already do, and the support you’re lending to the HI Future project!

It’s an exciting year ahead of us, and with the talented team we’ve now assembled around Noisy Cricket to research, educate, design and build the solution you tell us is needed, we’re aiming for a later 2019 launch, to pilot across Greater Manchester in 2020, and roll out across the UK thereafter.

We can’t do it alone though! We’re still on the lookout for sponsor organisations, and need all the help we can get – from the tech, retail, and hospitality industries in particular – to make sure we launch a solution which provides opportunities, choice and acceptance, all to help us achieve our vision of creating secure and stable futures for all.

Get in touch!

Much love,

Lauren x