It’s all about quality!

Let’s Talk About Quality… It might not be rock and roll, but it’s an essential part of systems change and ensures we’re doing our jobs well and for the right reasons. Mayday Trust’s Quality Assurance Manager, Ciara Killeen, looks at common misconceptions around the topic and how the Personal Transition Service Accreditation will be breaking the ‘Quality’ mould.

Did you know that it’s World Quality Day today? As a Quality Assurance Manager for Mayday Trust, working with Asset Teams to develop the language, culture and framework of the PTS, I was delighted to know that I had a day. Granted, it is not as good as International Pasta Day (October) or International Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (May) but it is a close 3rd in my diary.

The focus this year for ‘us quality buffs’ was the importance of trust in quality work. Now, I thought, this is something I can really get behind!

There is often an immediate, and natural, mistrust as soon as I say I am a Quality Assurance Manager. This became very obvious when a new member of staff greeted me with, ‘You’re the audit lady! I’ve been warned about you.’ This was only partly said in jest and I do understand why.

What does Google say?

You hear the term ‘quality assurance’ and you immediately think processes, audits, pass and fail, control, restriction. I Googled Quality Assurance… It didn’t make me feel any better:

Firstly, your typical checklist (I am never to be found without my clipboard obviously!). Next, standard services, high satisfaction, business, business, business…..and Quality Assurance is at the centre! Finally, there is that big tick that we all want to see!

The Power of Language

Imagery is only partly to blame – language has a lot to do with it too. This is an issue we reflect on a lot as partners; how the language we use has the power to set people free or entrap them. How the identity we give to people (you are homeless, you should attend homeless art class or this training course for homeless people) can lead to hopelessness, institutionalisation and isolation.

The systems change aspect of the PTS asks us to consider all language, such as how we describe ourselves and the roles we fulfil. So I am a Quality Assurance Manager and I will be working with partners through the PTS Accreditation process but that shouldn’t mean an immediate horror or mistrust because trust me when I say that this process is different.

An Accreditation with a Difference

As we begin to implement the new PTS Accreditation it is time for us to push the system reset button and develop a new set of expectations; what does a strength-based, personalised accreditation actually mean? Well, for starters, you can forget the clip board and checklist image. The accreditation is all about innovation – the clue is in our name! The accreditation team capture the innovative, localised, person-led responses to developing the movement for change. We are not here to cross check processes or look for problems. The Accreditation Team have real world conversations so that we can capture the experiences and voices of the people working with Coaches and frontline teams.

This all leads to the ultimate reason of why the PTS Accreditation, and my work as Quality Assurance Manager, is so different to expectations; it is not just a quality mark. That’s right, I said it! I am not here to rubber stamp a process. I am breaking out of the quality mould.

Over the initial 2 year prototyping period for the PTS Accreditation, the aim is to establish a benchmark; the evidence to show what a movement for change looks like in reality. The aim is to ‘influence systemic change by doing’, so providing the quality evidence, taken from the accreditation, to demonstrate that personalised, strength-based services work for people experiencing tough times. Immediately this aim places the PTS Accreditation into a completely different space. Organisational achievement is always great, and knowing people are receiving a quality PTS service is extremely important. But I am more interested in the PTS movement for change. The outcome of the accreditation extends way beyond our personal achievements; this could really change people’s lives.

Coming back to where we started….Trust!

And that is why trust in the PTS Accreditation and the Team is so important. I may deal in quality but I am working towards the same aims of the PTS as Innovation Partners and to achieve that we all need to work together, share experiences, be honest and review our practice. And I can give you a big tick too, if that helps?

Martini Shaken not Spilt!

Asset Manager, Rebecca Nelson, shares her initial experiences of joining Mayday as an Asset Coach. Reflecting on what it means to be a high functioning person, versus being a low functioning problem.

On writing this blog I had been in my role as an Asset Coach with Mayday Trust for about eight months and found myself reflecting on what I had learnt since embarking on the challenge.

Before I came to Mayday I spent most of my working life in Financial Services in a variety of roles including; sales, compliance training and coaching.  The bit I have always enjoyed most, my passion, has always been coaching – working with people to discover who they are and how they would like their lives to be.

I came to the role as an Asset Coach with a naivety about the homeless system and how it works – or as it happens, doesn’t work! What I brought with me was knowledge of working with people, coaching, creating direction, helping people to recognise their own strengths and how they can nurture and value these.

I have worked with a range of people and along the way I’ve learnt that tough times are not exclusive to people without homes. In our lives we will all experience something, in some capacity. This is because whether we have a home or not, we are all just people experiencing a range of emotions, including fear, confusion, vulnerability, creativity, strength, weakness, and resiliency.

Our circumstances may change, but this doesn’t mean that we change – we are still the same people inside, but with different external circumstances. The thing that does change is how society and the systems we’re engaged with start to amend their view of us and treatment of us, ultimately this changes how we see ourselves.

I used to work in central London, and I’ve been thinking about a couple of people I worked with during this time. The first was my Manager, we used to work in a small office in a beautiful building in the West End. Every morning he would come in to work, put the kettle on and then go to his office and rack up a couple of lines of Cocaine, which along with the cup of black coffee would  “start the day off nicely”.  I am not sure if the Senior Management knew, but he worked well and was a good Manager (well an ok Manager!). He functioned effectively, got the work done, often late into the evening and it was never perceived as a problem.

The other colleague was someone I met later in my career, at a different organisation. We were responsible for the same team of Financial Advisors. I took care of their training and compliance and he worked within business development. He was a lovely gentleman in his late fifties and very good at his job. He used to always smell of alcohol but it wasn’t a massive problem because back in that era, after lunch time in the city, most people would smell of alcohol! He was always on time, but one morning he arrived slightly late for a meeting and was very cross. I asked him if he was alright. His reply was no. He was really annoyed as the 7.45am to Waterloo was so packed someone had bumped in to him while he was drinking his morning Martini, it had spilt down the front of his shirt and there was barely any left!

Both of these individuals maintained their jobs, they were good at what they did, so no one was worried about the fact that one was a drug addict and the other an alcoholic. They both wore suits, they both lived in big houses, they delivered the required level of occupational output, and therefore it was accepted behaviour.

Many of the people I am coaching now have similar relationships with drink and drugs. The difference between them and my two ex-colleagues, is not the people; the difference is how we as a society view them.  Whether they are sitting on a bench drinking a bottle of Lambrini or drinking a Martini out of a silver hip flask, whether they are snorting cocaine or injecting heroin, it is the same thing, but why is one a “problem” and the other not?

We would label my Martini drinking colleague as a “high functioning alcoholic”, but imagine if because of his morning cocktails he had been sacked, consequentially he could not pay his mortgage, resulting in the breakdown of his relationship, leading to potential homelessness. He would still be the same person, smart, funny and kind, but would he still be considered “high functioning” or would he now be viewed as “low functioning?” It appears that as a society we have decided, we have labelled, we have judged and then we have determined who is worthy and who isn’t, based on circumstantial evidence. If you have money and a house and no visible problems you are marked as acceptable in society. However, if you don’t have a house, no money and have evident problems – you become the problem.

The difference seems to be determined by where you are and what you have, not by who you are. When someone ends up in the homeless system there is an assumption that there is something wrong with them and they need to be fixed. We stop seeing them as a person, but as a problem. Decisions are made for them, that they need to be clean and sober. These decisions of course are made in a “person centred- strength based” way – a term I have heard a lot in the past few months. From what I’ve seen, this manifests itself by someone completing a very lengthy questionnaire which is generally very personal and deficit based, but they’ve learnt that the person likes music and reading, therefore they’re working in a person centred, and strength based way!

If the two gentlemen I had previously worked with had turned up to work and were only seen as problems that’s what they would have been – problems, with no known solution. Their lives could have been very different, they were lucky they were in a place that put more value on what they could bring to the company. People put the emphasis on their strengths, not their deficits, which meant their strengths outweighed their issues. As it happened in time the Martini man did get sober, when he was ready, and this was supported and his treatment paid for by the company insurance. His job was left open for him until he was ready to pick it up again – because he was good at his job and they knew that.

When I discovered Mayday and the Personal Transitions Service (PTS), I found an organisation that knew something was very wrong with the homeless system and they were brave enough to stand out and shout about it. I found an organisation that wasn’t frightened of change, would chance sometimes getting things wrong and was courageous enough to step away from the normal approach. I like that about Mayday, but what I LOVE about Mayday is that it’s an organisation which puts the PTS and strength based work at its core. It is an organisation that wants this to be its heartbeat and the driver for everything they do, and it genuinely is.

In the first few weeks of working with Mayday sadly my Mother passed away. It was a difficult time, where I felt my world was spiralling out of control. I was in a new job, I was finding the homeless system frustrating and I was organising a funeral and dealing with my own emotions. My first thought was maybe this is too difficult now and maybe I will just hand in my notice, I had only been at Mayday for 4 weeks. I obviously didn’t leave and this is why; my manager checked in and asked how I was and then crucially she asked how I wanted to manage this, I had been here 4 weeks! I wasn’t told to stay off work, I wasn’t told I had to be back in a certain time, I wasn’t quoted a standard company bereavement policy. I was handed control of a difficult, emotional situation and trusted to make decisions which would make this as easy as it could be for me. My Manager checked in regularly to make sure I was ok and was available if I needed to talk, but ultimately I was in control. This might not seem like much but it was huge, it had felt like everything was slipping away but I was given an anchor, a foot hold. This is strength based, it was about me making decisions which were best for me, and not being dictated on what was good for me.

I have learnt from this and it has helped my understanding of what the PTS really feels like. I take it into my coaching role and I believe that it has made me a better Coach. I work with people to recognise their own strengths and how they can nurture them. I try to assist them to broaden their worlds, I broker opportunities, but much more than this, I give people the trust and ability to make decisions for themselves, to have control in a world which must seem like it is very much out of their control.

I work with people to be “high functioning” individuals, even if they are caught up in a “low functioning” system.


Resident Meetings!

Mayday Trust CEO, Pat McArdle reflects on her experience working in supported housing, resident meetings and how sometimes we need to question whether we really are providing a psychologically informed environment (PIE)

This week at our Housing Moving the Model Forward (MTMF) day we had a really interesting discussion about resident meetings within supported housing schemes. It took me back to a previous situation and reminded me of how important it is to question and reflect on our practice, even if it is something we have always done.

Years ago I was a Director of Homelessness Services which included a 30 bed shelter. We had weekly resident meetings and staff raised the same frustrations time and again; how do we get more people to attend? How do we get people to take responsibility and set their own agenda? How do we stop X from taking over the meeting?

We tried many ways to increase attendance including ‘pizza parties’ and telling people that attendance was part of their commitment to keep their room. However, after 6 months someone in the team had the revolutionary idea of simply asking people why they didn’t want to attend?!

As I had built up good relationships with many of the people we worked with, and as I was seen as the ‘boss’, I was tasked with speaking to people. I didn’t want the excuses, I wanted some ‘real world’, honest feedback.

I see now that you can only get that real world feedback if the power dynamic is balanced so a positive relationship can develop.

I set about attending various meetings and asking people to stay behind so I could have an individual chat about the resident meetings. I also wrote a note to everyone saying I would be catching up and why.

I haven’t forgotten what I heard in those conversations. Despite having worked in homelessness services for a while I was shocked and embarrassed that I didn’t predict what would be said.

People started out by saying they were busy and couldn’t be bothered but the more I continued the conversation the reality of those resident meetings emerged and, of course, it wasn’t rocket science.

People explained that they were embarrassed and by attending they felt like the ‘homeless person’. They also described how dealing with younger staff members left them feeling humiliated at being there, living in ‘that homeless place’.

Quite a few people revealed that they were terrified of certain individuals, “The more he sees me, the more he asks for money. He wants me to buy drugs, wants me to go out drinking…. but I know they end up robbing each other’s benefits.”

Others said they simply didn’t want to listen to the people who moaned constantly or they preferred to talk about repairs or issues with a staff member directly rather than speaking up in a group.

Many felt that talking about days out and Christmas parties was nice for some people. However, their reality was hard to face and these conversations left them feeling low. Christmas reminded people of the family they no longer had contact with. They just weren’t in the right head space for those types of conversations.

In one case a woman was angry that people thought it ok to ask her when it was predominantly men in attendance. She simply didn’t feel safe and she felt it was insensitive to be asked.

Some people did have good things to say. They used the meeting to make friends with other people living in the building and it was seen as a good way to break up the day. People explained that staff were great at making sure their discussions were on the agenda and it was a forum where problems could be aired and settled.

I suppose I was left feeling that in a truly psychologically informed environment (PIE) the platforms that WE were providing for people to be involved were not always the right ones. Even in situations where they were working for people currently, it was important to remember that they may not be appropriate in the future.

Back then, and even after this week’s discussion, I feel that we need to either keep out and not patronise people, or listen hard to how, when and for what purpose we were involving individuals. Otherwise, I believe that we are not using the huge power that we have as accommodation providers positively and with the best interests of people at heart. Ultimately, I was left wondering if providers even have that critical awareness of this power at all?

Adding the ‘Human’ Touch

Asset Coach, Penny Garner, looks at the importance of the relationships we have with the people we work with and why it’s essential to stamp out the ‘us and them’ culture.

Coming to Mayday from other grass roots positions has been a different way of working for me. I have always had the best intentions for people and genuinely want to see people succeed, but whereas before I represented the organisation I worked for, at Mayday I am myself.

The reality of being part of a person lead organisation

How I act reflects on Mayday and it goes without saying that I treat people with respect and share the values that run deep through the organisation; but I am a person, I build genuine relationships. I have no agenda, no remit within which I can only work. Most importantly no predetermined outcomes to achieve under the charade of doing what’s best for the person I work with.

It’s all in a meeting place

I’ve been amazed how much can be resolved during a walk in the park, over coffee, even a round of crazy golf! I shouldn’t be, I don’t arrange to meet a friend in a bland environment to thrash out a situation when I need support. I meet with friends and maybe we’ll discuss what’s going on, sometimes it helps to have my mind taken off things.

Wanting more

We should want more for people accessing services than to be categorised, ‘enabled’ to get on in life by the services and procedures put in place for ‘people like them’. We all want to be our own people having genuine choices in life. To support people to do this we can be the face of an organisation that can go so far, as long as it’s within the given timeframe and follows protocol.

Or we can be people too. An ally. A genuine relationship that isn’t confined by a predetermined set of policy, procedures and outcomes with the inability to flex to the myriad of personalities that we will work with.

Be Human

For most of us we get on in life with the help and support of others, positive relationships that boost our sense of self and encourage us to try even if we may not succeed. Loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day [1], so let us not tackle this with forms and procedures that try to fit people into boxes to identify the best approach to ‘fix’ someone. Let us meet people, get to know people, one person to another

1 – Campaign to End Loneliness (no date) the facts on loneliness. Available at:

Don’t criticise my work! Wait….is it MY work?

Mayday Trust Executive Assistant and Quality Manager, Ciara Killeen, gives an insight into the complex and vital relationship between policies and processes, and Mayday’s ability to be an entirely person led organisation.

I am Mayday’s Quality Manager. Yes, we have one.

It has been levelled at us, more than once, that we are a bit, well, ‘fluffy’. Part of my work as Quality Manager is to demonstrate how a quality system with policies and processes (I know I’ve said quality several times, stay with me, it does get better) can be person-centred and strength based. I find myself proclaiming that without a structure you cannot provide a truly personalised approach. Everyone would be working towards their idea of personalisation rather than an approach based on the principles people told us were important to them (Wisdom from the Street). We work with people during some of the most difficult transition periods of their lives – so providing quality and safety is key. So yes, we have a Quality Manager and quality systems which incorporate safeguarding and dynamic reviews of risk, as you would expect. It’s just that our systems are person and principle- led, not process led.

Being part of the PTS #OneTeam means that I am part of a very big team. As well as Mayday, I am very fortunate to work alongside our Innovation Partners. Together, we share the voices of the people we work with to positively challenge the power dynamics of processes so that we can move towards a PTS, person-led system.

A PTS and person-led system means we actively listen to people and our response is to share all of the options available, all of the processes they can utilise and all of the information we know so that people can make informed decisions. It means that our processes need to be flexible to allow for a personalised, creative solution within the process so that people can take what the PTS has to offer but use their power to make the right choice for them.

My role in all the brainstorming, developing and questioning, which happens regularly, is to take feedback and turn it in to…….something. It’s often the ‘something’ which is the tricky part! How can a process provide flexibility? What are essential elements and what can a Coach use their autonomy to change? How can we rebalance the power dynamics of this conversation/process to put the person in charge? How can you evaluate a concept, such as disruption, for the new PTS Accreditation? I spend hours roaming the office, chanting words such as ‘strength based!’ while I try to incorporate everyone’s feedback into a process which is flexible and person-led. It can lead people to think that I am eccentric!

As we are leading the systems change movement, we are often developing something completely new and unique. It can take a lot of creative thinking to develop the right tone, language and balance of power when you are also pioneering. There is often nothing I can compare our work to. It all develops from feedback and the PTS principles.

So, when I finally come to present to teams what I think is exactly what they told me was needed and no one is particularly happy with it or it requires yet another round of edits, it can feel….disheartening. It can seem personal; this is my work you are questioning! You can become defensive and even stubborn, ‘No way, I am not changing it again!’ And this is when my personal belief in the PTS principles come in to play.

My work is not about me. It does not belong to me. I am not trying to make myself happy nor am I doing this work on my own. It does not even belong to Coaches or the Senior Management Team. Whatever I am writing, whichever process we develop, it will eventually become part of someone’s unique PTS experience. It will belong to them in a completely personalised way. They will take ownership of it as we hand power back to people and ask them to utilise processes such as personal budgets or brokered opportunities in a way that works for them.

When we positively challenge each other, we are not saying ‘you are doing something wrong’; we are saying the current system/process/way of doing things is not working for people and as system changers, it is our duty to make sure every system works for the person who needs it.

Sometimes I do want to hide under the table when I receive a list of documents that need to be changed or I am asked to take a 10 page policy and make it into a 1 page statement. But then I remember the amount of unnecessary, personal questions on forms or the rigid policies which mean people have to take entry level courses in their degree subjects and I think, I am glad to work with people who challenge our systems to make sure we are person-led.

It’s as Simple as a Conversation

Asset Coach, Mecha Akande, looks at the key areas where the PTS differs from the traditional approach. From the conversations a coach has, to the importance of a meeting place and what that all means for the people Mayday works with.

The Personal Transitions Service (PTS) is entirely person led, this means the basis of most of the conversations you have as a coach are about giving back the power of choice to the person you’re working with. It’s vital that you start to build a relationship of trust by having real and challenging conversations, listening to the persons interests and finding their spark.

The first conversation you have with someone can be as simple as discussing a person’s likes and interests, and what they want to build on to reach their goal, whether that’s exploring a passion for sport or researching local art classes.

No pathways or tick boxes here!

Conversations are purposely unstructured and where possible led by the person you’re working with. This aims to encourage a person to speak freely about what they want to talk about, reaching goals naturally, without force or pretence. This strength based approach often comes as a surprise to people, but from the feedback we’ve had it’s a positive one.

No one has offered me support in this way before.

It seems too good to be true.

Moving forward

Following these conversations I find people are keen to move forward, and tend to initiate organising the next meeting – of course this is always at a time and place of their choosing. But experiencing that enthusiasm as a coach is incredibly rewarding and only benefits the relationship going forward.

It’s all in a meeting place

As well as the strength based and personalised tone of the conversation, it’s important that the meeting with the person you’re working with is arranged in a place of purpose to them. This might be a location that is familiar, a place where they feel confident and comfortable to express their best self.

So if someone wants to meet in a coffee shop at 11am or in the local park at 5pm, that’s absolutely fine. At times it can be hard to get someone to choose something as simple as a place to meet, but this is all part of the process of that person taking back the control over their lives – it’s an invaluable step.

The PTS in the real world

Someone I have been working with recently has a great interest in Pokemon, Marvel and animated movies. He has an incredibly small select group of friends and tends to only build relationships with those who reside in the same block of flats and have an invested interest in his interests.

A simple starting point can lead you anywhere

Eight months ago he would request to meet at the block of flats where he lived, he ‘engaged’ regularly and spoke little about anything other than his interests. Over time we progressively moved on to meeting in book shops and libraries. Through months of confidence building and self-belief he was able to extend his circle beyond that of his residential block and found himself going to a local book shop. Here he could talk about his interests with like minded people and began to extend his network, his confidence grew and he began to listen to others and even positively challenge their ideas.

Taking an interest, rather than ticking a box

Last month he brought an animated DVD to me, MIYAZAKI’S Spirited Away, a studio Ghibli Collection, which he insisted I should watch. This invitation to take part in his hobby was great, it meant I was able to get an insight into some of his favourite characters and the genre of music he relates to. It’s a privilege for a coach to be part of another person’s passion, it’s an example of trust and something not to be taken lightly.

The proof is in the meeting place!

Next month he will be attending Comic Con in Birmingham with some friends, which is an amazing achievement and a far cry from the person who struggled to socialise beyond his flat just eight months ago. Another example of the positive relationship we now have and how far he has come, is that his latest ‘Place of Purpose’ was to go to the cinema to watch the newest Marvel movie ‘Infinity Warfare’, a busy environment full of people he didn’t know.

He really enjoyed this experience and after the film he explained that he prefers this way of meeting, as he finds it more purposeful. Whereas with traditional services he sat across a table, with paperwork to complete and a magnitude of tick boxes.

Changing conversations and meeting places may seem like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference to the people we work with. Without the strength based and personalised approach of the PTS I doubt we would have ever built such a positive relationship and he would not have made so much progress in such a short time.

For me as an Asset Coach, this is what the PTS is all about. Making tough times a temporary transition, rather than a reoccurring theme in a person’s life.

The Art of Listening

Asset Coach, Andrew Durman, looks at the importance and privilege of listening to the people we work with, the challenges of the traditional system and how his role as a Coach can help to break the negative cycle a person may find themselves in.

As I draw near to the end of another week of having many amazing conversations with inspiring individuals. I reflect on the mind blowing stories I have had the privilege to hear over the past 10 years working in this sector. A favourite from this week has to be hearing about someone’s past adventures travelling in New Orleans. Simply listening to him talk of his experiences and the feelings that he not only felt at the time, but was also re-living through the telling of his story to me, was amazing for him and me.

The opportunity to be able to hear these kinds of stories is one we regularly have to create ourselves. The people we work we are often surprised that we even want to hear them, especially when they have been caught up in the system for a prolonged period of time. Being given the freedom to have these conversations in my role as a coach, makes me count myself lucky that I am no longer caught up in the traditional system.

Looking at the traditional system

The current deficit, needs, label and diagnosis led system does not leave much room for these discussions. When a person in being assessed for eligibility to access the system, a number of questions will be asked. These questions will be on substance misuse, offending, behaviour or mental health difficulties, suicide attempts, history of arson and their previous housing history. This then leads to working with a keyworker or project worker, who will take this information to draw up a support plan and risk assessment, with the idea that at one stage (probably pre-scripted to 6 to 18months) this person will move on and live independently. Weekly meetings will be held for this person, reviewing how they are doing, and inadvertently reinforcing all the problems they have going on and what they have been through previously.

Looking beyond the surface

The traditional system demands this information to be shared to allow a person to qualify for the support they are told that they need. Yet this does not even scratch the surface of who this person is, what they have achieved, what they are interested in and where they would like to go. When working with people just on the surface and dealing with the symptoms of what is happening to them, you will never really see the real person. It is only once you get past all of this, that you will see the individual being hidden behind that label, deficit description, or referral form. The big question is, how do you do that as a coach?

Giving back the power, removing the labels and listening to the person

We have to earn trust and respect, we have to get the belief from that individual that we have their best interests to heart, and that we are here to have a positive impact on their lives. We have to ask different questions and have different conversations. It is simple, we ask people, instead of telling them and expecting that person to conform. We expect them to succeed rather than expecting them to fail. We see the talent and assets and we focus on them.

Accepting that there is a problem

You can’t ignore that there isn’t a problem in the current system, we see and hear about it on a daily basis as coaches. The system currently allows and encourages the use of labels, keeping people segregated from society and doesn’t identify the person, only their presumed deficits – so what can we do?

A question I often ask myself, is this how I would want to be treated? If the answer is no, then why would I expect others to settle for being treated this way?

Prior to joining Mayday these conversations that delved beyond the surface kept me motivated and passionate during my journey through the murky system waters, however they always occurred outside of the Key-work setting and beyond the file of paperwork attached to the person. Now these conversations lead the way and are always the starting point when I meet with a new person as a coach.

Starting the conversation and breaking the cycle

Once you get to the point where a person trusts you as a coach and starts to talk about themselves as an individual rather than a list of problems the real progress can start, development, aspirations and achievements can begin to be imagined and made.

I often find that due to the traditional system focusing on deficits and labels, the people I work with often define themselves by them and become institutionalised within the system. It brings me back to the same conclusion every time – we shouldn’t just be working towards breaking the cycle of homelessness, we should be breaking the cycle of the system.

Real life heroes

As a part of my reflection I continually assess my ability to have these conversations with the people I work with, and whether I deserve to still be doing what I do. Yet when I try and think of another job or sector to follow, I know I will be giving up the privilege of meeting the remarkable individuals I work with. They are real life heroes, yet they are portrayed as helpless, down and out, poor, disadvantaged, and written off.

Do you know someone who has jumped into a river to save someone’s life, regardless of their own? I do.

Do you know someone who left their family home, recognising that the relationship with their partner was not healthy, so that her children could continue to have somewhere warm, safe and stable to live? I do.

Do you know someone who has had no positive role models in their life and everyone they looked up to and trusted abused them, yet still became a positive role model for two children, which are not even his? I do.

Do you know someone who has experienced 20 years of hardship and difficulty, only to forego the opportunity of a way out because there was someone younger in the queue? I do.

Do you know someone who has sat in the French Quarter in New Orleans listening to jazz watching the world go by? I do and I wish it was me.

Will I ever stop meeting heroes? No.

Listening, the real art of the PTS

It is only when you ask and listen to someone’s story that you can help someone find the answers to what is going on in their lives. What and where they want to go, what they want their futures to look like and ultimately what barriers are stopping them getting there.

This is what I am able to do now, freely without the expectation of the system audits and questions. These are the stories being heard at Mayday Trust and with the partners who are delivering and reflecting on PTS and real strength based approaches. This is why it is working, this is why people are voluntarily allowing us to support them and this is why people are able to break free from the cycle of the system.

How was your day luv?

Mayday Asset Coach, Erone Knight-Simpson looks at what it means to be a coach and reflects on her first month in the role.

A seemingly innocent question you would think, but as an Asset Coach for Mayday Trust there can be quite a lengthy explanation, that can take your listener on a magical journey in understanding what it means to be a part of the Mayday Trust team.

Let’s start at the beginning. Hi, I’m an Asset Coach for Mayday Trust, something I’m proud to be, not the preverbal dread one may associate with an introduction at an AA meeting. That title encompasses so much more than a job role, it is meant as a way of life, as a movement.

What you see is what you get with Mayday Trust, we are a small organisation that packs a big punch. We are trying to change institutionalisation surrounding homelessness, which has been around for decades – this is no easy feat. From Oxford to Northampton and now Westminster, one of the top three most expensive boroughs to buy a property in London. Most people would not expect homelessness to be a problem here, but it is, and a complex one.

I work out of a building which has a covenant on it, used specifically for those who are experiencing homelessness and transitioning through difficult times, times we could all find ourselves in, after all as the media says – ‘we are all only three pay cheques away from being homeless.’

We look at the individuals we work with as people, not homeless, not clients, not service users, but people we work with. Individuals who may have owned homes, paid mortgages, been married, have children and families, worked in finance, have bachelors and master’s degrees, people just like you and I. Days can be challenging, they can also be rewarding each day is different and brings its own unique experiences.

So let’s get back to how my day was…

Picture this, a month into my new role with Mayday Trust and I find myself putting together an Ikea sofa with my colleague, a sofa which still looks great by the way, loved by all and still standing strong. Obviously not your usual start to the day, but how did it end? Watching Tottenham vs Newport at Wembley Stadium.

Why you might ask, because we can and we do.

We look to people’s strengths and enhance their assets not their deficits, I’m not going to talk to someone transitioning through a difficult time about the fact that they drink 6 cans of cider a day, unless they want to, but I will attend a football game with them in sub-zero temperatures, to help them leave their flat, help them to feel less isolated, and be engaged in doing something that they really enjoy, socialising with other football fans – a great experience and one which will only lead to more opportunities for that person in the future and ultimately assist them to work towards their own goals and ambitions.

A Tale of Two Funders

Pat McArdle, CEO of Mayday Trust, looks at the impact of two very different funding approaches and asks if we are really able to deliver a truly person led approach in the current climate?

Maria had been a street drinker for many years so, at first, she found it strange to talk about her interests. But her Coach discovered that art was something that she had enjoyed in the past. Her Coach said she had never known much about art before so Maria decided to teach her, hoping they could visit some galleries together.

Maria loved sharing her knowledge and instead of feeling out of control, she felt useful and enjoyed looking at art books, visiting galleries and encouraging her Coach, whose interest in the topic was growing with Maria’s enthusiasm.

Maria’s Coach encouraged her to use all of this learning and attend a series of talks and discussions. Maria was nervous about going so had a few drinks on the way to steady her nerves. Going to an event like this was a big step but it was worth it – she met new people and it helped her to start to thinking differently about herself.

As a result of her interest in art, Maria reduced her drinking, made contact with her family and started to look to the future.

What happens next is a tale of two funders. It illustrates that if relational approaches are to succeed they need to be given wider respect and greater value by the current system.

Funder One:

The first funder was interested in Mayday’s new approach to getting people out of homeless services and decided to come to meet Maria and her Coach. A pleasant hour was spent chatting in a coffee shop. The funder then met the Coaching Team to get under the skin of what purposeful, meaningful yet ‘normal’ chats achieve and debate how power dynamics impact on truly person centered work. ‘The minute you introduce a form the dynamic changes’ says one of the group. Mayday’s Personal Transitions Service (PTS) was explained and the funder promised to keep in touch.

Funder one made a clear commitment to fund innovation, a proof of concept, which meant the funding came as a core grant with no outputs but outcomes based on a theory of change. Our belief was that if we implement a relational approach, the by product will be people moving out of homelessness and not coming back. People start to feel ‘normal’ again after years of jumping through hoops, and becoming institutionalised. People will start to gain some hope through trusted connections and finally taking control of their own lives ultimately proving that when given the chance, people were doing it for themselves.

The approach with the funder was equally relational, built on conversations and trust. For the organisation this meant less time spent on producing reports or in meetings discussing how to meet funder requirements. Instead there was a willingness to be open and honest, share the successes, failures and learning rather than box ticking and spinning a good story. The experience showed how the production of meaningless data has become an art form in the sector, and how focusing on real world discussions resulted in greater social impact.

For the Coach Team it was motivational. The funder was interested in and valued their grassroots experience, warts and all, and this was unusual.

But the biggest impact was on Maria. There were no restrictions on the time she spent with her Coach as it was led by her. There were no more weekly key working as she was in control. This was her first relationship where she didn’t have to talk about her drinking. What Maria and her Coach talked about when they met was up to her. She was allowed to relax and even have fun. Maria was a person, not a client or service user. She began to gain confidence from this and for the first time in a long time, she could take control and make life better for herself.

Funder Two

The second funder was a statutory funder and Mayday had won a contract to deliver services within a homeless pathway. Despite sustaining her accommodation and reducing her drinking, Maria was still viewed by the pathway as having ‘complex needs’. As a result Maria wasn’t allowed to move on and take control of her life.

Funder two had a prescribed programme meaning that people could only stay in their accommodation for a certain period of time after which they had to move along the set pathway. The contract had an element of payment by results, which was related to moving people on. As part of the pathway Maria was offered to progress to the next step, which she would have to do to achieve independence.

However, the offer made to Maria was conditional; she would have to attend a drug and alcohol agency at a place she had previously attended and where she had failed to give up drinking on more than one occasion. Maria saw this as a backward step and, with Mayday’s support, she refused to move. It was hard to find private rented accommodation and while Maria coped positively with the day to day struggles of living with other street drinkers, Mayday lost out financially on their payment by results contract.

The staff felt under pressure due to the requirements of the contract. No matter how ‘person led’ Mayday was as an organisation, the fear of a failing contract combined with the demands of the job, were too much and staff turnover increased. The learning was obvious; this was the cost of entering into such a contract.

We didn’t understand how other organisations were meeting the requirements of the rigid contract but the reality was that they weren’t. People were talking about ‘being creative’. One example of this creativity was a person being evicted after the payment by result period was up, despite the fact that he had nowhere to go. It had become a ‘contract/service led’ game.

As the Senior Management Team we had the responsibility of building staff’s hopes and expectations of being person led. We could see the frustrations the constraints of the contract caused and shared this with staff. But the worst part of this experience was visiting the house where Maria remained and seeing that we had failed to build on the hope that we had ignited within her. We failed to deliver on a secure, safe place she could call home and extend her network of positive connections away from the street.

Despite Mayday failing to meet the target to move Maria on, the relationship with the funder was positive and Mayday, as always, was open and honest. However, the intentions of these discussions from the funder perspective were clear; discussions were about actions to meet the requirements of the contract and not how the contract could change to ensure a person led service.

The Challenge

The task ahead of us is how to embed and scale appropriate relational based commissioning. We have many thoughts on how to make this happen without needing more time or resources. But the first thing we need is for all of us to have the will and desire. We need to stop the game playing and call it out for what it is. None of us are currently able to be truly person centered, to empower people, or deliver strength based work. It’s just not possible within a deficit based and contract/data led system.

So let’s call this spade a spade; the problem of ending homelessness isn’t those people categorised with having ‘complex needs’ but the systemic institutionalisation of people who become homeless within a failing system.

Maria is ready to move to a home and enjoy her life, but the barriers created by the system aren’t allowing her to get there.

Let’s take those barriers down.

We’re working to help fix a broken System

Mayday Trust CEO, Pat McArdle, looks back at where Mayday Trust began, how the Personal Transitions Service developed into what it is today – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Pre-diabetic; does not eat a healthy diet; has little family contact but would like more; does not drink a lot as can be argumentative; stated has never used drugs and has no issue with budgets.

This would never have been the way that I would have thought of introducing myself a couple of years ago. But more and more this is becoming my norm. It’s all part of my attempt to convince the homeless and supported housing sector to sit up and reflect on how issue led we have become and how we are letting the system we have in place lead decisions, not the people these decisions will affect. So I introduce myself like this to illustrate that sitting with a total stranger who is asking questions about a person’s needs and risks has only managed to, at best, re-traumatise or, at worst, institutionalise a decade or more of ‘homeless people’.

It turns out that people experiencing homelessness are able to disclose their most personal information at the drop of a hat.

I would like to have said that Mayday recognised these things and decided that we needed to change our approach to tackling homelessness. The honest answer is that, in reality, austerity was the initial driver. But soon enough, our mission became the purpose.

Being bold in the face of austerity

In 2011 Mayday was a medium size supported housing provider, trying to tackle homelessness. We watched larger housing associations lose contracts in one area and pick them up in another. Our dilemma was that there were people dangling at that end of those contracts. Our research showed that 70% of people who were categorised as ‘non-priority homeless’ were unlikely to get any sort of support as the result of austerity and the change in government thinking.

At that point Mayday was 100% state funded with a turnover of £3m. The sector experience was that the state provided for those most vulnerable; there was a moral obligation to do so and the scale of the problems were too large for communities and civil society to cope with. But it was clear that things were changing and the future experience would be different. I remember a meeting with a MP from Bedford who challenged me when I said Mayday was a voluntary sector organisation, ‘how could that be when all our money came from the Local Authority?’

Listening to the people we are trying to help

So in 2011 we predicted that this was not a rainy day situation; this was climate change. I was taken on to look at a merger and acquisition options as the Board of Directors knew that, even as a medium sized charity, we were too small to survive. We came close to a merger but before we took that final step we decided to review what we did. We started talking to people experiencing homelessness, both on the street and those living with Mayday – properly talking and listening to them.

We simply asked people what they thought of homeless services and what impact these services had on their lives.

We spoke with several hundred people and collated over 100 accounts in a series of blogs, which we printed in a booklet called Wisdom from the Street. We didn’t ask what people needed or why they had become homeless. We simply asked what they thought of homeless services and what impact these services had on their lives. Little did we know the impact that these blogs would have on Mayday’s future vision and direction.

Changing direction based on what’s needed and what works

Contained in Wisdom from the Street is a very powerful account of what people had to say. Two things that came through very clearly:

  1. Current systems and processes are not working for people who become homeless. The humanity and individuality of a person’s situation is lost. The experience of the system reinforces helplessness, hopelessness and exclusion from community for people experiencing homelessness.
  2. The outcomes aren’t good enough. Too many people are either trapped in the system or move on only to return with a feeling of another failure under their belt.

This feedback started Mayday on a very different journey. We made the pivotal decision then not to survive for survival’s sake and not to campaign to keep a system going that was clearly broken.

We set about researching ‘what works’, looking for evidenced based work that we could develop in response to what people were telling us. We developed a new, personalised, and what we call ‘strength based’ way of working. For us at Mayday, strength based describes a system of support that allows the person to have control over their own life and find their own resources to help them get back into their community.

So before we faced any austerity cuts we got all the staff together and we presented our new vision and direction. We told staff the reason we were changing – we were very open and honest. We gave everyone the option to buy into a new way of working or to take their redundancy. We didn’t want staff to be redeployed into what was fast becoming a collaborative of social activists from what they had known – a very structured organisation – unless they had bought in to the concept. We lost 50% of the staff at that time but within 4 weeks we had re-recruited and set about what we now understand to be co-production: working with people living with us and staff to develop a radically different response to tackling homelessness.

We were very fortunate that our Northamptonshire commissioner came on board and varied our contract so that we were able to do what we needed to do. We threw out pretty much all of our previous policies and processes. We learnt hard lessons but the results were staggering.

People we worked with started to move on positively and many of those who had been homeless for years were getting involved and starting to thrive in their local community

The new model focuses on 3 key interventions:

  1. One-to-one coaching, which focuses on people’s strengths and allowing them to take control.
  2. Building positive networks outside the housing and homelessness sector, as many people told us they has been alienated from ‘normal’ society.
  3. Brokering individual opportunities, as people experiencing homeless are not a homogeneous group so need personal escape plans from homelessness.

Overall we knew we needed to shift the power from the services and the system, to the person.

Taking a new approach with better results

Now our approach is to meet with people briefly, tell them what we are about and give them the option if they want to get involved. We don’t talk to people about their ‘issues’ but begin with conversations that are just about getting to know the person. So we meet people wherever they want to meet us and talk about whatever they want to talk about.

We meet people wherever they want to meet and talk about whatever they want to talk about.

In a short space of time we have seen so many examples of significant individual outcomes. Dave, for example, agreed to meet up with a Coach for a coffee and to talk about remote controlled cars. There was no ‘fixing’ Dave’s issues, no focusing on his weaknesses. The Coach didn’t talk about his drug use or that he was living in a tent. We never said he had to attend sessions with a Coach. We let Dave have the choice and control and his Coach worked to empower Dave to get in contact with his passion, who he was, what he wanted.

Dave applied for a personal budget and got a car kit. That Christmas he went home to his family who he hadn’t seen in 12 years. Within 8 months he had accessed his own flat where he has lived for the last 2 years. More recently, through his attendance at a car rally, he met someone at BMW who encouraged him to apply for a position there. He is now working for in his dream job. Over time Dave realised what was possible and he made it happen.

Here’s how we did it

The experience of delivering the new personalised work was transformative and not just for the staff delivering on the frontline. The model necessitated change at every level within the organisation; how we selected and recruited staff, our financial reporting, the Board of Trustees, our appetite for risk, our language – it was cultural, structural and total system change.

The model necessitated change at every level within the organisation.

So we slowly got braver and decided to move away from just chasing statutory contracts. By this point these contracts had become about delivering more for less; a race to the bottom on price as local authorities tried to respond to austerity. We began to seek investment into our new way of working and we were fortunate to attract investment for a proof of concept project in Oxfordshire.

When we started delivering the proof of concept, we discovered that the model not only required our internal transformation but that our approach wasn’t fitting in with how other organisations were working. We were starting to disrupt the norm. We were trying to deliver a person-led service within an issues focused and needs led system.

So in collaboration with Homeless Link, we held two national conferences in London and Manchester. These were to promote Wisdom from the Street and to share the lessons that we had learnt from co-producing and delivering a personalised, strength based model.

And how we’re making the changes stick

In October 2015, Mayday’s Board of Trustees made the decision to focus the future vision and direction of the Trust on two strategic goals:

  1. Deliver the new model of work developed by Mayday named the Personal Transition Service (PTS): being the first personalised and asset/strength based approach tackling homelessness, developed at the grass roots; and aiming to become a catalyst for change by empowering individuals experiencing homelessness to take control of their lives and environment.
  2. Use the learning from the Wisdom from the Street to influence nationally the need for system change and the need to transform services to embed personalised and asset based approaches.

This meant that 2016 became a very tough year for us. By focusing solely on delivering the PTS we had to withdraw from contracts and services that we had delivered for many years. We did the best we could for the people and staff in those areas but it was a very difficult time. There is no doubt that this process had a huge human cost. Mayday reduced in size from 70 to 45 staff and turnover of £4m to £2.2m.

We had no great ambition to become a large national provider so in 2016 we developed Innovation Partnerships to deliver the PTS wider and with the aim of affecting system change. These partnerships were with likeminded people who were as passionate as Mayday about creating the paradigm shift that needed to happen.

We found other people who were frustrated with the system, who weren’t afraid to speak up or to transform their organisation from top to bottom. The relationship we share is strong because we have come together through a common goal and set of values rather than just a willingness to survive. By doing this Mayday halved in size in the first year but with our partners we intend to double our impact.

Change will come from listening to people, getting to know people’s context, and always knowing that we are all different.

There are many organisations saying that they have been doing similar work. Indeed many new great initiatives evolved from many disciplines, such as Housing First, PIE (Psychologically Informed Environments) and Trauma Informed Care. So gradually a movement for change is building.

What Mayday believes, and will continue to inject into the discussions, is that the solution to homelessness will fundamentally not come from psychiatry, sociology, psychology, the housing sector – although all the focus and thinking in these areas is invaluable. Instead, change will come from listening to people, reflecting, getting to know people’s context, understanding and always knowing that we are all different. So let’s keep it person-led, not system-led.

About the author

Pat McArdle is a passionate advocate for systemic change within the UK housing and homelessness sector. Pat has over 30 years of experience in the U.K. and Ireland, working with organisations such as the Foyer Federation, Cork Simon Community and YWCA England and Wales. As CEO of Mayday Trust, Pat has led the transformation of the organisation from a traditional supported housing provider, to a leader of Personalised, Transitional and Strength Based practice and a national influencer for systemic change.

Mayday Trust, with 8 Innovation Partner organisations, has developed the first accreditation for asset based approaches and a University accredited strength based qualification for frontline staff.