Padlock on rusty door

How do I Feel About Housing First?

Through our Wisdoms series, people have consistently told us that feeling out of control and not having choices in their life are two of the main reasons the system keeps them trapped and unable to transition through their toughest of times.

Having a place to call home, a safe place, a place where you can be who you are, without arbitrary rules and conditions is central to moving away from homelessness and away from services imposing themselves in people’s lives. This may take the form of a Housing First scheme, it may take another form. A range of options is important, but fundamentally we must listen and respond to the person in front of us, we must be person led.

When we treat people fairly, human to human, focusing on relationship building, trust, brokering opportunities in the real world, instead of focusing on fixing problems and achieving outcomes – we see great change in people’s lives. Being led by people, focusing on what they can do, building on strengths. This is the PTS.

I’ve seen the term Housing First taken, manipulated, forced into existing systems and turned into something it was never intended to be. If we continue to look at the system as something that needs to be improved rather than fundamentally changed, we will be in the same situation in ten years’ time and certainly will not have ended rough sleeping by 2024 – thousands of people, locked in systems that they cannot get out of, whether it be mental health, homelessness, criminal justice or any other deficit label we care to dream up.

We need to think bigger than the latest initiatives and approaches. Offering somebody a safe place to live, their own front door, their own secure tenancy shouldn’t be radical, shouldn’t be a novelty only reserved for those where we have ‘tried everything else’. Absolutely let’s implement Housing First across the land, let’s make genuinely affordable housing available to those that want it and need it. And let’s make sure people have the support they are asking for, not the support we think they need, available when they want it, available how they want it.

When this system gives up on the managing and fixing that we have tried and tried again, when it gives up on warehousing people in ‘schemes’ because we’ve decided they cannot cope and replaces it with a re-distribution of power, listening to people, building relationships, it is then that we will end rough sleeping, not before.


Robert White – Director of Change, Mayday Trust


Wisdom from Strength-based Working Intro, image of smiley face among plant life

An Introduction to Wisdom from Strength-Based Working

Mayday Trust worked with the Frontline Network to capture the experiences of those who take a strength-based approach to working alongside people experiencing tough times, such as homelessness.  This Wisdoms is part of a suite of Wisdoms where the voices of people who either experience or deliver services are captured and shared.

Frontline workers were offered a variety of platforms to share their voices, including group Zoom conversations, individual conversations, WhatsApp messages, email, and social media. Conversations took place with people from across the UK during COVID-19 restrictions, so face to face meetings were not possible. It was agreed that all the contributions would be anonymised when used in this listening exercise.

We used the Mayday Trust approach of deeply listening through ‘Wisdoms’, which poses just one open question and listens to what each person wants to bring to the conversation.

A total of 66 people contributed to Wisdom from Strength-based Working, all of whom were directly delivering strength-based work, and some of whom had lived experience of homelessness or other tough times. The conversations and comments were initiated with the question – What is your experience of delivering strength-based work? The following document captures the main themes which were identified from what was heard. For context please also see our previous Wisdoms work: Wisdoms from the Pandemic, Wisdoms from Behind Closed Doors, and Wisdoms from the Street.


What Does is mean to Work in a ‘strength-based’ way?

Mayday Trust, as a result of more than 11 years of extensive research, listening to people going through tough times and practical experience, has developed the Person-led, Strength-Based, Transitional (PTS) Response. Mayday’s experience has shown that being strength-based only works when the person has choice and control, is able to accept or reject support, able to define the goals of that support on their own terms, and where PTS coaches have a high degree of autonomy to be led by the individual, hearing what’s important to them and together working out what will move them toward the life they want to achieve.


  • Strength-based – To be strength-based requires more than just focusing on the positives in someone’s life. In order to be truly strength-based, you need to be led by what is important to the person and respond on an individual basis. The work of a strength-based practitioner is to listen, be curious and reflect with the individual to contextualise their experiences and to work alongside them on the things that the person feels are the most important. The aim is not to fix things for the person, nor to manage their situation, but to identify and build upon the individuals’ skills, talents and abilities to tackle situations themselves whilst leveraging the right support at the right time.
  • Relationship Building – this is what it’s all about. Once trust is developed, conversations open up to include areas of the person’s life including their aspirations, interests and what they’d like to achieve for themselves. These are positive goals and hobbies that people can develop within their communities. By doing so, people prove to themselves that they have the strengths to achieve and this realisation can spur them on to make the changes that they want in their lives.
  • Commitment – it requires the continuous commitment of the whole organisation to also become strength-based, adapting organisational systems and structures which support strength-based working, and to seek funding that allows for the person to truly lead the relationship without tightly defined targets of success which are not meaningful to their lives.


“Death by 1000 Cuts” Reflective Poem

We asked our PTS Qualification students to express “What ‘System Change’ means to me”. Some interesting reflections from PTS Coach Shauna came via this moving poem we are sharing on #WorldPoetryDay.


A death by 1000 cuts. The government carelessly holds the knife and hides the murder, does anyone care or were they just a number?

A cut to benefits,

A slash to welfare.

A stab to community investment,

A puncture to public services.

How do we deal with the people who are wounded? Those who are injured by decisions made without their voices included.

We blame those who are bleeding rather than the ones holding the knife, influenced by a deficit system that should be scrutinised.

We hand out plasters rather than treating the injury, an unsustainable system which has led to a lack of sympathy.

People being stretchered through each system which reopens their wounds, adding in salt with the language they use.

Risk assessments resurfacing old scars rather than allowing people to heal. Everyone has a past, what’s the big deal?

People being attacked with assessment, tick boxes, and sanctions. Their experiences reduced to KPI’s for a funder’s satisfaction.

There are people looking for help but falling through the cracks, being told they don’t have the resources to get back.

The battle of the ‘us vs them’ narrative rather than working collaboratively and listening. It’s time to undo systematic conditioning.

Austerity related deaths, suicide rates, and poverty continue to rise. We need compassion as people try their best to survive.

This is just a small insight to see, a part of what system change means to me.


by Shauna Hemphill


Change a System

“There’s a System to Run a System” Reflective Poem

This #WorldPoetryDay we are delighted to share an insightful poem written by one of our PTS Qualification students in response to our Module 1 Challenge to express “What ‘System Change’ means to me”. Thank you to Sharron for sharing these moving thoughts with us.


There’s systems to run a system

To keep the cog wheels turning

And enlightened few yearning

For a different system, a better way

For system users to have a say

And take back control of their situation

To stop being labelled as a victim

The system has many labels and boxes

Very few options, more deficits and losses;

A loss of identity, a loss of trust

A loss of empowerment because “you must…”


I dream of a system that has no system

Where the cogs which are turning actually capture the yearning

Of those once trapped, and desperate to be free

Where the person before us is all we see

Where their voice is the only one we hear

And the path to their success is the one we cheer

Not the one we tick off on an assessment sheet

Or what we tell them they must do at the scheduled meet.


There’s systems to run systems

But no-one runs me

I am the change if I choose to be

I am the enlightened, free to create

Free to modify the systems I have grown to hate

I’ll be ridiculed and silenced and argued against

Story of my life, systems are not strength based

But my strength lies in showing compassion

Building relationships makes things happen.

If we understand what lies beneath

Those systems will slowly begin to creak

Power doesn’t lie in the hands of those systems

It comes from words and the impact they give us

So I will shout my words ever so loudly

And argue my case with confidence, and proudly

Because the systems that keep the cogs ever turning

Have less people applauding and more who are learning

That those systems don’t work and the system is broken

No truer words will ever be spoken.

The dream for me will be my reality

And systems within systems will be the fallicy.

There’s systems to run a system

But no one runs me

I’m enlightened, I’m awake

Time to be me.


by Sharron Harries

Change Typewriter

“Let’s Offer People What We Would Want” says Mayday Trust CEO

In his latest blog, CEO of Mayday Trust Alex Fox explores the PTS (Person-led, Transitional and Strength-based) Response and suggests that it “shouldn’t be revolutionary to suggest that support for people who are going through the toughest times, like being homeless” should mirror other elective and more positive coaching experiences often reserved for athletes or those looking to push forward in their executive careers.  Those models, like the PTS response pioneered by Mayday Trust, can “help us to identify what we want to work on and what our goals are” allowing us to “see our strengths as well as our problems clearly, and to find our potential” suggests Alex:

“Large and growing numbers of us choose support when we are going through tough times because we expect it to be a positive experience which may have painful moments but will ultimately help us grow. There can even be a status attached to being able to afford and valuing yourself enough to seek ‘executive coaching’ or a personal trainer.”

Having been in post at Mayday for 2 months Alex reflected on his listening and learning during that period saying:

“I’ve heard countless stories from our coaches about people making changes through working with someone who has the freedom to think like a sports coach rather than a support worker. It always starts with people building trust: “You are the first person who has actually listened to me in years”. And it progresses to potential and achievements – big or small – that enable someone “to feel like a human being again”. Much of it has been with people who are homeless, but we’re also using the approach with young adults and with people with long term health conditions, as part of a social prescribing programme. It’s not rocket science, but it is complex, nuanced work with a huge body of resources and learning behind it, and a strong community of practice and support structure including clinical supervision.”


Alex’s blog follows the release of a report by the New Economics Foundation that suggests the PTS Response is offering people a significant improvement in their well being, self-esteem and a feeling that they are able to build more meaningful relationships with their coach to support their development.

You can read Alex’s full post here.





Brokering Opportunities

Samantha Abram, PTS Coach at The Brick, explores Brokering opportunities and what it looks like when the term is brought to life through the Person-led, Transitional and Strength-based (PTS) Response.

I was asked what ‘brokering opportunities’ means. This sparked an interesting conversation among PTS Coaches old and new, and prompted me to re-evaluate what brokering has meant to me, as a PTS Coach, the individuals I work with and the realities of brokering as part of the Person-led Transitional Strength-based (PTS) Response.

As always, when it comes to Coaching, there are no ‘fixed’ procedure or process (we have principles and guidance), as each PTS Coach will find their own way of working, influenced by every individual they work with. From my perspective and experience, I would summarise brokering opportunities as:

A person being offered an opportunity to choose to do or act differently because they are presented with ‘choice’ that allows them to remove themselves from the confines of their current situation or self-perceived ‘limits’. The choice presents them with an opportunity to access a meaningful experience. The opportunity is entirely associated with the person’s interests, goals and ambitions and the PTS Coach has no part in deciding what, when or why that is their chosen ‘meaningful’ experience.

There is nothing ‘typical’ about the opportunities that I have brokered as a PTS Coach or the choices people make; it is truly about their dreams and aspirations. The one common factor to highlight is that every time a person chooses to participate in what they connect with, an internal process happens, a spark is ignited that reconnects the person to a part of themselves or connects them with what speaks to them on a fundamental level.

The PTS Response works for people because change becomes sustainable and real when the person chooses the changes they want to make. Brokered opportunities result in people fulfilling their passions because they connect deeply with an experience that reminded them that they are more than their circumstances or how they may feel perceived by broken systems.

Talking the talk and walking the walk

Why do so many charities talk confidently about radical change, but so few really try to achieve it?

Alex Fox OBE shares his thoughts on radical change as he takes on his new role of CEO at Mayday Trust.

I’ve spent over ten years working with people who are brave and radical in their own lives. Our members at Shared Lives Plus share their own homes and family lives with people to offer and seek support. Over 15,000 people now live good lives as a result, instead of risking being lost within a social care and health system that does not always feel human, caring and respectful. We have built a UK network and organisation which thinks like they do, demonstrating the kind of social change we call for in the way that we work, and in who gets to do that work.

Over the years, I’ve admired Mayday’s work and heard Pat McArdle speak about the radical path that Mayday has taken. Now that Pat has retired from Mayday, I know that I won’t be able to replace or replicate her unique vision and inspirational style, but I hope to have learned from it.

Mayday is an organisation that changed radically because it listened to what people were saying about what Mayday and other organisations were doing, and was prepared to hear some very uncomfortable messages. The support that people were getting when they went through tough times like being homeless, trying to recover from substance misuse, or leaving prison, wasn’t working for lots of people, and it may even have been inadvertently keeping them locked into those tough times and the services and systems built around them. I wrote a book about some of the things I’ve learned from the people involved in Shared Lives, Homeshare and now Family by Family, with the subtitle ‘Escaping the invisible asylum’, because I believe that even though we talk about ‘community’ services, ‘empowerment’, focusing on ‘outcomes’ and so on, the culture and thought-processes which led us to build asylums, workhouses and other institutions is still deeply ingrained in many of our public services.

In Pat’s final blog for Mayday, she writes that there has not been the radical ‘revolution’ in homelessness support she once dreamed of. But there has been change, and there is no doubt in my mind that Mayday has played a role in that change. Not just dreaming of doing things differently, if only there was enough time, enough money or any of the other things we’ll never have enough of, but showing how to do things differently despite those multiple challenges. In other words, putting the idea of a person-led and strength-based response,  which is at the heart of Mayday’s mission, into the way the whole organisation works. Through the New System Alliance, Mayday and its partners are just starting to model that person-led response to drive change and inform an entirely new system. Like many of the people it supports, the organisation has had to come so far already, just in order to take the first step on a brand new journey towards being the hugely impactful organisation and movement for change that I know we can be.

Pat also says something in her final blog which resonates with me deeply: “My time at Mayday has taught me that my view is one of many and the direction to challenge the failing homeless system needs to be led by people who are experiencing it, who are often trapped within it and who want to act.” One challenge for us in the journey to come will be to be as ambitious as allies, as we are as leaders. If we can realise the ambition to impact thousands of lives, with the humility to stay led by people, we will have achieved something truly radical.

An Introduction to Wisdom from the Pandemic

In July 2020 Mayday was asked by Westminster City Council (WCC) to capture people’s experiences of lockdown during COVID-19; specifically, people who were sleeping rough, offered a space in a hostel, hotel or sought another solution.

Mayday put together a team of seven people who went to London to strike up conversations with people who were on the streets, all of whom were happy to talk with us.

The Wisdom methodology is focused on unstructured conversations in places that people feel comfortable talking. With implications on COVID-19, this method was adapted and social distancing measures were put in place when required. Teams also ensured that everyone was comfortable in face to face situations.

The Mayday team carried out a total of 60 conversations in the Westminster area during July and August in 2020. The conversations took place over the phone, face to face and via email. The following document captures the main themes which were identified from what was heard Conversations were initiated with a single question – What was your experience of lockdown during COVID-19?

An Introduction to Wisdom from the PTS Partnership

By 2016 Mayday Trust had been prototyping a new Person-led, Transitional and Strength-based (PTS) Response to working with people experiencing tough times for over four years and had started to see positive and statistically significant results.

People working with the PTS, formerly known as the Personal Transitions Service, reported an improved, more respectful experience; they were developing new networks, feeling more stable in their accommodation, and getting into work and training that built on their strengths and personal motivations. Early indications were that people weren’t coming back into services as they were finally able to get on with their lives.

Mayday fully adopted the PTS as the sole response across all areas. This meant undergoing a complete organisational transformation to shift the culture, internal systems and structures toward being fully person-led, and implementing a unique way to measure impact based on assets instead of deficits. But, being a small organisation, evidencing the approach and modeling systemic change would require other like-minded organisations to join together to model a new system as a collective. It required PTS Partners. Together it was hoped that real and sustained change could be created by exposing the deficit system and the barriers it creates for people experiencing tough times.

Two national events were held in London and Manchester to share the evidence, the ‘warts and all’ learning and the potential of the approach with providers, funders and commissioners. Where this resonated, participants were invited to join Mayday to form the first PTS Partnership.

This required brave, passionate, mission-driven, and like-minded mavericks to take on the challenge with the aim of offering the PTS to 2000 people over an initial three year period. This was more than modelling a new approach; it required a commitment to listen and learn from the grassroots and the real, raw experiences of people in order to challenge and change internal culture and externally disrupt and influence the norm.

Seventy organisations expressed interest, and after a year of travelling up and down the country, the original PTS Partnership was formed. First to join was Changing Lives in the North East, followed by The Brick, Wigan; Derventio Housing Trust, Derby; Nomad Opening Doors in Sheffield; Cherry Tree also in Sheffield; SHYPP (now Citizen) in Herefordshire; 999 Club in Deptford and South Northamptonshire Council. Investment was provided by our trusted learning partners, Tudor Trust and Comic Relief.

Over the three years, the PTS Partnership and Mayday came together to test, learn and clarify what systems change meant, as well as uncover the ‘why and the how’ things needed to change. The PTS Response continued to evolve, highlighting the need for systems change, recognising systems failure and its causes, and finally uncovering the ‘system damage’ experienced by people.

The Partnership has achieved a huge amount over the years. This includes an evidenced strength-based data set, a robust PTS Response, a university-level PTS qualification for practitioners, new ways of attracting social investment through Social Impact Bonds, a PTS Accreditation and a strong Wisdoms methodology for exposing systemic barriers through deeply listening to people at the grassroots.

The following Wisdoms have been captured as a ‘psychology informed’ way of listening. They have derived from conversations, reflections, challenges and changes in many different organisations and contexts. These Wisdoms will be used to uncover what we need to consider and act upon if we are to achieve the mission of a full paradigm shift in the systems encountered by people experiencing tough times – leading to systems that work.

A Move for Change

Mayday welcomes Robert White to the team.

“Are you nervous?” “Are you scared?” “That’s quite a change, what will you actually be doing?” These were all valid questions, but all they really did was make me increasingly concerned that I hadn’t made the right decision. Leaving the Local Authority and joining an organisation that is constantly evolving in major ways to lead on an ambitious vision across London and the ‘South East’ (a geographical term I found myself Googling the night before) – what was I thinking?!

Hello. My name is Robert White and I have just joined Mayday Trust as their Director of Change. I did start as the Director of Change and Innovation but on my second day, a colleague told me that the term innovation was wrong and the whole thing sounded “a bit wanky” – Director of Change it is, then.

I have just left Westminster City Council where I was the Lead Commissioner for Supported Housing and Rough Sleeper Services (I know). I had been at Westminster for six years, working my way through various versions of commissioner roles. I joined the Local Authority after a couple of years leading a team in a high support, 40-bed hostel for rough sleepers. As long as you could prove to me that you smoked enough crack, drank enough vodka, heard loud enough voices and that a commissioned outreach worker had seen you “sleeping, or readying for a nights’ sleep on the street”, you could stay in my hostel and I would fix you right up. You’re welcome. I knew at that point that something wasn’t right and that we could do better, and I figured if I joined the team that designed these services I could change these services.

I think we changed services for the better…No, we definitely did. We worked hard at making sure that trauma-informed practice, person-centred support, and psychologically-informed environments were at the heart of our service provision. As a team, we balanced the expectations of residents and businesses in Westminster with the ever-growing demand for houses, places of safety, and support that was right for the individual.  The scale at which we had to do this puts our country to shame. During some of our most challenging times, outreach services could expect to meet at least six new people a day, every day. Systems, pathways, hostels, support services were all creaking at the seams with demand. During my time at Westminster, we removed over £2m from the system due to the austerity agenda and, with the invention of the Rough Sleeper Initiative, we drip-fed £3m back in.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I began to recognise that, politics and policy aside, there was something about the system that had to change. That year, we had received an effectively blank cheque from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  They had been clear with us: do whatever you can, focus on the numbers on the street and reduce rough sleeping. The idea was, ‘if we can nail it in Westminster, the rest will follow’. The pressure was intense. We doubled the size of our night centre, housing 80 people instead of 40, we increased the size of our outreach team to reach more people, faster, we increased the capacity of the mental health team to assess and diagnose more people and get them into treatment. Housing First opportunities were doubled, and we continued to develop our assessment centre to process more and more people, as quickly as possible. All was leading to the annual street count, the questionable measure of success, a litmus test of progress; in 2017 we had seen 217 people, all services were full, teams working overtime to get people off the street, over £500k was thrust into the system to make it work…

The morning after the street count I remember feeling sad, overwhelmed and confused. We had found 306 people that night, a 30% increase in the numbers. All that work, all that time, all that money and it had made no difference. What followed was a lot of soul searching, involving, amongst other things: an inspirational trip to Scotland, a fact-finding mission to Bratislava, having a second child, a period of Parental Leave, and, dare I mention it 704 words in…coronavirus.

Where I arrived at was this.  It all boils down to one point: “change the system and not the person”. Until we truly challenge the status quo, until we collectively recognise that we are not here to fix people’s problems but to facilitate their strengths and work with them to grow in the way they want to grow, then we will continue to see numbers rise, more and more people institutionalised in a system of mass fixing and a revolving door of challenge and frustration.

I am proud of the work we achieved at Westminster, and the tenacity, passion and belief of my former colleagues is unquestionable.  But moving to Mayday Trust is a move of activism, a move to a place of true change, surrounding myself with the most incredible people who believe in a world where systems work for people going through tough times. Yes, I am nervous, yes, I am scared and yes, it is quite a change. Deep breath.

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