If you are concerned about homelessness locally, give to local charities

When a young man called on me at home recently, asking me to make a regular donation to the London-based homelessness charity, Centrepoint, I explained that while I supported homelessness causes I would not support his charity as they do not provide services in Brighton and Hove, and that we have a serious problem locally.

“Oh yes we do”, came the response and he mentioned three local homelessness charities with whom he said Centrepoint “worked in partnership to deliver services in Brighton and Hove”. Imagine my surprise when he said one of those organisations was Brighton Housing Trust.

Even when I said that I worked for BHT, he said I might not know everything BHT does. I told him what I do for BHT he continued to insist that Centrepoint delivers services in partnership with BHT in Brighton and Hove.

He returned later with his supervisor who showed me the written briefing they had received that morning and, yes, it said what they had claimed.

I have checked with my opposite numbers at two other organisations named, and neither provide services locally in partnership with Centrepoint. One had had a similar experience on her doorstep as I had had, and last year she had raised directly with Centrepoint another incident with chuggers making other inaccurate claims.

If you are concerned about homelessness, I urge you to donate to any of the local charities that are genuinely providing homeless services in the city.

(Note: this item first appeared in the Brighton Argus on 23rd May 2019)

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Councillor Alex Phillips is the new Mayor of Brighton and Hove

Councillor Alex Phillips has today (22nd May 2019) become the youngest-ever Mayor of Brighton and Hove.  Alex was first elected in a by-election in July 2009 and then re-elected at the following three local elections.

The Mayoralty in Brighton and Hove is ceremonial and politically neutral unlike, for example, the Mayor of London which is an executive position with financial, operational and policy responsibilities.

Alex is familiar with the work of BHT having been a member of the BHT Board a few years ago, and we are delighted that she has chosen our women’s counselling service, Threshold, as one of the charities she will be supporting during her year as Mayor.

Comments on the encampment of homeless people by Brighton Town Hall

Yesterday (16th May 2019) I was asked for my reaction to a story the Brighton Argus was to run on a homeless encampment around Brighton Town Hall. This is my full statement, part of which was published in today’s paper.

“The rough sleeping crisis has, literally, reached the doors of the Town Hall. Tackling rough sleeping must be a high priority for whoever forms the next administration.

“Policies must be implemented that will deal with the systemic causes of homelessness, such as the availability of homes that people can afford to rent, and personal issues, such as addictions and mental ill health.

“A start must be a zero tolerance of begging which is more to do with addiction than homelessness, but it results in people with addictions not seeking or taking up offers of help, increasing the chances of them dying.

“We’ve heard that some people in the town centre won’t visit services such as BHT’s First Base Day Centre because begging is lucrative at the very time the day centre is open.  Yet the day centre provides the basics for people on the streets, such as toilets and showers, food and hot drinks, clothes, and help to move off the streets.

“No one needs to beg in the city. There is food so nobody will starve, and no hostel charges upfront.

“I don’t underestimate the challenges facing the local council, and much more is needed from central government, such as better funding, and policies that do not cause homelessness or exacerbate rough sleeping.”

Who is to blame for the current housing crisis?

An article on house price inflation in today’s Brighton Argus (‘House prices are 12 times average wages’ 19 April 2019) presents a statement from me as a party political attack on the current government. 

The article omitted a key section from my statement. I said “Successive governments have failed to make the needed investment into homes for rent.  It is, therefore, little wonder that we have this housing crisis.”

I am sure you can see that my criticism of “successive governments” is somewhat different from the current government.

I do have a view on current housing policy. I told the Argus that “Without a massive programme of council house building, combined with the ending of the Right to Buy, we are not going to turn the corner of this housing crisis which will, inevitably, just get worse.”.

I will praise and criticise public policy without fear or favour, regardless of which party advocates it. As a charity chief executive I cannot, and will not, become party political, and I stand by my view that it is successive governments that have caused today’s housing crisis.

Note: I am grateful to The Argus and to Jody Docherty-Cove for amending the online version of the article so that it now makes clear that I believe that it is successive governments who are responsible for the current housing crisis.

Sussex Oakleaf and Brighton Housing Trust in merger talks

Sussex Oakleaf and Brighton Housing Trust have announced today (Friday 29th March 2019) that we are in talks about a possible merger.

The purpose of the merger would be to extend services for clients and tenants, strengthen and protect our joint financial position into the future, and to increase opportunities for further growth. Should it proceed, the merger will take place in April 2020.

Sussex Oakleaf provides a range of support services to people with mental health needs, those with a personality disorder and individuals at risk of homelessness.  It aims to empower people and promote independence by providing recovery focused community wellbeing services, residential care, peer mentoring, housing support and volunteering opportunities.  It provides services in West Sussex, and in Brighton & Hove.  Last year it worked with 1,356 clients. It employs 90 people, has 20 regular volunteers and has an annual turnover of £2.9 million.

For more information about Sussex Oakleaf, please see its website.

The Chair of Sussex Oakleaf, Graham Maunders, said: “We are very excited about the prospect of working more closely with Brighton Housing Trust to improve our offer to clients.  We have had a close relationship with them over many years. We are two organisations with very similar values, and we feel that we complement each other well.”

Joan Mortimer, the Chair of BHT, said: “By bringing the two organisations together we will become stronger than the sum of our two parts. At the heart of our considerations are the tenants and clients of the two organisations.  There is clear evidence that this is a win-win situation for them, benefiting from the combined strengths of both Sussex Oakleaf and of BHT.”

Philippa Thompson, the Chief Executive of Sussex Oakleaf, said: “We have for many years enjoyed a close relationship with BHT, working to provide training for our staff teams, attending each other’s conferences and, most recently, collaborating on various projects.  It became increasingly apparent that there is an exceptionally good cultural fit, and this has been evolving further over the last six months.”

With Philippa Thompson

I was delighted when we were approached by Sussex Oakleaf regarding a possible merger.  It makes complete sense to come together in the interests of our tenants and clients, our financial wellbeing, and our ability to grow in the future. Frontline services will not be affected by this merger and we will be building a new management structure which will reflect our joint strengths.”

Over the next three months joint consultation will be undertaken with tenants and clients, stakeholders, funders and regulators.  A final decision on whether to proceed with the merger, taking into account the feedback from consultation, will be taken by the Boards of the two organisations in June 2019.

Should both Boards agree to proceed, a new combined Board and a new management team will be appointed who, by April 2020, will bring together the legal entities, the staff teams, and the policies and procedures for the merged organisation.

How far is it from Newhaven to Brighton? 376 miles apparently…

Droëwors

This week I ordered an occasional supply of two of my favourite delicacies, biltong and droëwors.  “It’s a South African thing”, according to my supplier, Susmans Best Beef Biltong Company in Newhaven.

It is 8.8 miles from Newhaven to Brighton, but when tracking the parcel I noted that it took a rather circuitous route.  It was collected from Susmans on Wednesday morning before being taken to the DPD depot at Gatwick (36.9 miles).  From there it went to the DPD national sorting depot in Birmingham (151.1 miles) and then onwards to the DPD local distribution depot in Shoreham (181.7 miles) before being delivered to my home in Brighton (6.9 miles).

My little parcel of biltong and droëwors travelled a total of 376.6 miles to make the 8.8 miles from Newhaven to Brighton.  This inefficiency must be an English thing!

No Smoking Day: Attitudes have Changed

Today is No Smoking Day.  When I started working at BHT in 1985, smoking was the norm in the office and in meetings.  When I asked whether we could agree that just one person smoked at a time in team meetings I was regarded as some kind of intolerant extremist.

But gradually attitudes change and now we have just a few staff who can be seen having the very occasional smoke around the back of our offices in London Road, Brighton.

Everyone has benefited from this change in attitude.  It is hard to believe that it wasn’t too long ago that smoking was prevalent in cinemas, on buses and on aeroplanes.  People took it for granted that they could light up in restaurants and their foul smelling smoke would waft across as you ate your meal.

Similarly, attitudes to alcohol are changing, too, and it is increasingly becoming the case that people are becoming abstinent.  In this regard, too, I was regarded as quite odd, having been teetotal all my life.  Perhaps we will see more progress in this area, too, over the next decade.

At BHT my colleague Daniel O’Connell (our Head of HR, Learning and Development) is promoting anti-smoking information and awareness amongst our staff, including:

  • Smoking is the most preventable cause of cancer worldwide and you can get your free personal plan at https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree and stop smoking for good. Stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health, and the good news is that the risk to your heart decreases significantly soon after you stop.
  • For No Smoking Day assets search Smokefree to find the support that could work for you or check the app at https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/apps/

I understand that this addiction is one of the hardest to break.  Good luck to all those trying to quit.