How BHT and our partners saved the lives of rough sleepers over the winter months

What wonderful weather we are enjoying at the moment.  Even my white legs have made an appearance.  The forecast is for another hot, sunny Bank Holiday weekend which means, inevitably, that it will rain!

It is hard to think back to the freezing cold of the winter months but here are a few statistics I would like to share with you regarding the Severe Weather Shelter which BHT operates when there is a risk to life from the weather.

The Severe Weather Shelter opened on 43 occasions over the winter, provided shelter for 244 different men and women who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets that night.  A total of 1,401 nights accommodation were provided.  33 members of staff volunteered to work on these nights, in addition to their normal day jobs.

BHT is able to run this shelter on behalf of Brighton and Hove City Council because we have First Base Day Centre that we can use for the shelter, and because BHT and several other partner organisations have the skilled, trained and dedicated staff who are willing to drop everything to run the shelter.  I am extremely grateful to all these colleagues for their selfless dedication.

So while we enjoy the wonderful weather, please spare a moment to think about how BHT is able to run First Base.  It takes fundraising activities throughout the year, our biggest being the Greater Brighton Cycle Challenge which is now less than six weeks away.

Please sign up to cycle or to help on the day.  You can find out more information here.

And if you want to support First Base and make me very happy, you can sponsor me as I am planning to cycle 100 km as part of the challenge.  Last year I raised just over £1,000, it would be wonderful to top that.  Many thanks.


Should a charity chief executive only ever talk about the formal policy of her or his charity?

The Chair of the BHT Board, Joan Mortimer, recently asked my whether the views I had expressed in a particular blog post were BHT policy.  I said that I thought that it was very unlikely!  She asked me if that was a problem.  I don’t think it is.

The views I often express on this blog, in television and radio interviews, and in newspapers may or may not enjoy the support of some or all of BHT’s Board members (the twelve people who make BHT’s policy).  On most issues it shouldn’t matter.

An organisation like BHT doesn’t nor, in my opinion, should it have a policy on issues such as the legalisation of drugs.  These are difficult matters and there is no monopoly on wisdom. Each of us has a view and should be encouraged to share it. That way we might edge forward to a greater truth.

Of course I would never speak out against BHT or its agreed policy.

I appreciate that I am in a privileged position, me being the chief executive of BHT, with its reputation and the resources it lends me to speak out as I do.  I am very mindful that with this position comes great responsibility.  Therefore I am careful not to offend, no matter how much people might disagree with what I say.

In BHT there is room for dissent. Last year, to the horror of my colleague, Jo Rogers, I wrote about my strong reservations about the Housing First model which politicians and practitioners seem to be overly keen to endorse.  The reason why Jo was horrified is that she is involved in a Housing First initiative.

I encouraged her to write a response pointing out where she thought I was wrong and to try to persuade me of the errors of my ways.  After some hesitation she wrote a great piece and we were both really encouraged by the response he item received, specifically the fact that we were able to debate openly this important issue.  It was seen as an organisational strength, certainly not a weakness. 

Jo didn’t convince me, nor me her, but she helped improve my understanding of Housing First.

Much depends on how we debate.  Jo was, characteristically, respectful.  Far too often people are  abusive and insulting when views are expressed that do not conform to their personal fundamentalism.  Brighton and Hove prides itself on how tolerant it is.  There is a joke that the only thing that is not tolerated in Brighton is wheat!

But for a tolerant city, there is a lot of intolerance around for views that question or are not part of the new orthodoxy.

Finally, before anyone refers to me having called someone on Facebook earlier today a “pinko wishy washy liberal”, I wasn’t being abusive.  It was an attempt at humour, and the person on the receiving end was Andrew Higgo who is probably my oldest friend (since we were both 9 years old). 

Probably more unforgivable (from his perspective) is me publishing the attached photo of him (on the right) and me (on the left) in pantomime!  

Why I disagree with the call by the former chief constable, Paul Whitehouse, for the legalisation of drugs

The former Chief Constable of Sussex, Paul Whitehouse, has called for the legalisation of drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis.  I fundamentally disagree with him on two counts:

First is the practical case. The illegality of drugs make them less accessible and therefore, for many, less attractive to non-addicts. We have seen cigarette use amongst young people reduce as a direct consequence of tightening up on supply.

Would people be allowed to acquire unlimited quantities of what would become legal drugs?  We have a big enough problem with the most popular legal drug of all, alcohol.  Do we really want to make other drugs as easily accessible?

An unlimited supply is a most appalling prospect for the addict, their families and, in particular, their children. The nature of addiction is that the addict has no limits. They would use more drugs in greater combinations, and drug related deaths would spiral.

Methadone is legal and yet we see those on methadone ‘treatment’ topping up with heroin and other street drugs, or the methadone enters the illegal market when sold on to other addicts.

But if supply was limited, addicts would again seek out criminal supply.  There is ample evidence from trials where heroin is prescribed that those on these trials continued to ‘top up’ with illegal street drugs with the associated violence, exploitation and crime.

The second case against legalisation of drugs is the moral one. Drugs including heroin and cocaine prevent addicts achieving their emotional, spiritual and economic potential, and drugs harm people’s physical and mental health.  I am not prepared to see countless thousands of people live a life controlled by their addiction.  I want so much more for them than those advocating legalisation who seem to have given up hope, are devoid of ideas, and are willing to abandon people to addiction in perpetuity, or at least until they die from an overdose.

At what age would those advocating legalisation allow people to obtain those drugs that are currently illegal? Eighteen? Sixteen? Twelve?  Surely not even the most libertarian amongst us would be so morally bankrupt to support legalising heroin, cocaine and cannabis for children as young as twelve.  But twelve year olds are using these drugs.  Legalising drugs for those eighteen and above would immediately refocus the illegal market exclusively on children.

There is a moral alternative.  I invite those advocating legalisation to make an uncompromising statement that heroin, cocaine and cannabis use is harmful, and that abstinence-based rehabilitation must be the overriding objective for all addicts.

People in the hell of active addiction have said this to our staff:

“I can’t carry on in life. I have no options for the future”

“I’ve lost everything I valued. I’m trapped. I want my son back in my life”

“My mum died and she never saw me sober”.

The illegality of drugs for addicts is a mere inconvenience.  The devastation caused by addiction is what blights their lives and those who they love and who love them. And it is not uncommon that addicts involved in the criminal justice system get into abstinence-based treatment.

Jen (not her real name) who has achieved abstinence through BHT’s Addiction Services said:

“Before entering the service I was completely out of control.  I was manic, confused, full of rage, argumentative and very defensive.  I was in the deepest, darkest place I’ve ever been in and couldn’t see a way out”.


After treatment she said:

“My life is better today, and me and my children’s future is looking brighter”.

Addicts like Jen are not calling for legalisation. They are calling for more treatment that leads to abstinence and recovery.

I can’t imagine any of those advocating legalisation would want their sons or daughters to spend any part of their lives addicted to heroin, cocaine or cannabis.  And that’s not because these drugs are illegal.  Recovery from addiction is possible.  We just have to make that the priority.                           .

Worthing to Brighton Wellbeing Walk 26th May 2018

The BHT HR Team: Ben Cox, Tess Hill and Gemma Baldwin

In order to promote health, fitness and personal wellbeing the Human Resources Team at BHT will be doing a Wellbeing Fundraising Walk. The walk will be from Worthing Pier to Brighton Pier on Saturday 26th May 2018. They say that the route takes “roughly” 3 hours and 33 minutes. Shame they can’t be more specific!

They are fundraising for First Base Day Centre which offers a range of services to support people who are sleeping rough or insecurely housed in the city, to get off the streets, start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home.

If you are unsure whether to sponsor my colleagues, remember the following:

The average life expectancy of a homeless man is 47, for a homeless woman just 43. Homeless people are

  • 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population
  • 4 times more likely to die from an unnatural cause
  • 13 times more likely to be the victim of crime
  • 77% of rough sleepers in London reported one or more support needs (i.e. alcohol, drugs and/or mental health).
  • Just under 50% were assessed as having mental health support needs
  • 51% report experiences of the armed forces, care or prison

Please do support them by sponsoring the walkers at their JustGiving page.

If you would like to take part in the Wellbeing Fundraising Walk, please email my colleague Tess Hill.



Families, children: join the challenge to cycle around the world in just 12 hours!

On July 1st, the O’Connell family in Brighton are taking part in the Greater Brighton Cycle Challenge at the Preston Park velodrome to raise funds for Brighton Housing Trust’s work at First Base Day Centre supporting homeless people. They are appealing for more families to sign up.

Daniel – who works for BHT – and son Jacob O’Connell (aged 6) will be trying to clock up the miles with laps around the velodrome. The aim of the “Around the World Challenge” is to collectively cycle the circumference of the Earth (40,075km) in a day. This is 69,215 laps!

Jacob O’Connell

Last year Jacob managed 8 laps. He said:

“It was fun last time and I want to beat daddy now I’m bigger and I’ve got a new bike from Cranks. I want to do 20 laps this time.”

Daniel said: “Every day First Base staff and volunteers make an inspiring difference to people who have many different needs. We want to help raise awareness of First Base who offer a range of services to support people who are sleeping rough or insecurely housed in the city, to get off the streets, start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home.

“It doesn’t matter how little you can do, children can cycle around the oldest cycle track in the country for only £5 and will all receive a medal, have run and raise vital funds for a great service in the Brighton.”

Nicky O’Connell is taking the Living Coast Classic Ride of 58 miles. Riders can choose the 30 mile Devils Dyke Loop.  (Map graphics outlining the routes are available)

Nicky, Jacob and Daniel O’Connell

Nicky, who teaches in Sussex, added: “Cycling is such a great activity for children and adults. The emotional, social and physical development of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become.  Time spent playing outside  is down 50% in one generation and we know there’s a need to get kids active outdoors and this is a great opportunity to do that whilst helping such a good cause.”

This all day family-friendly event provides options for both less confident and more experienced cyclists. Families with youngsters can ride laps around Preston Park Velodrome between 10am and 12 noon, and again between 2pm and 4pm. Entertainment will take place throughout the day, and designated slots will be run for cycle clubs.

Cyclists can raise funds for BHT orother charities of their choosing.

For more information and to register for one of the challenges, visit the cycle challenge website.

BHT is joining with the Choir with No Name to launch a new choir in Brighton and Hove

I am so thrilled that this morning Brighton Housing Trust and The Choir with No Name launched a new choir for homeless people in Brighton and Hove.

The launch took place on the British Airways i360, with sixty invited guests belting out Primal Scream’s ‘Moving on Up’ as they ascended.

Sixty people attended the launch including the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, Peter Field, accompanied by Mrs. Margaret Field, Deputy Lieutenant Juliet Smith JP, Brighton and Hove City Councillors, and clients and staff from Brighton Housing Trust and from the Choir with No Name.

You can watch a video from the launch here.

The Choir with No Name has for the past ten years been running choirs for people who have experienced homelessness. They currently run choirs in London, Liverpool and Birmingham. All their choirs rehearse weekly followed by a hot meal together, performing regularly at a wide variety of venues throughout the year.

The Brighton choir will offer some of the most marginalised members of the community the opportunity to make friends, grow in confidence and sing away their worries in a safe and non-judgmental environment, empowering them to flourish as individuals and move away from homelessness long term.

Marie Benton, the founder and Chief Executive of The Choir with No Name said at the launch: “We’re delighted to be coming to Brighton and also delighted to be working with Brighton Housing Trust.  As well as the choir manager and choir director roles we’ll be looking for volunteers to help with the choir and also local businesses who want to help out and get involved!”

The partnership will see Brighton Housing Trust employ a part-time Choir Manager to run the day to day management of choir rehearsals, performances and volunteers. This role will also provide choir members with direct personal support, signposting and access to services provided by Brighton Housing Trust and other organisations.

The Choir with No Name will continue to do what they do best – the music. They will be looking to employ a talented freelance choir director who will lead the choir at rehearsals, gigs and outreach singing workshops, ensuring members reach their full musical potential.

This is such an exciting opportunity for marginalised people, for Brighton and Hove, and for Brighton Housing Trust.  We are so pleased to be working with The Choir with No Name whose work I have admired for many years.  Most importantly, this gives clients of BHT and other organisations the opportunity to get together, sing and provide each other with support.

Many thanks to the wonderful people at the British Airways i360 who donated the flight for this launch and for helping to make this event such a success.

Residential addiction services needed in Hastings to reduce drug-related deaths

Today I have renewed my call for the provision in Hastings of residential rehabilitation services for those with alcohol and drug addictions.  This follows news that Hastings is now the area with the third highest level of drug-related deaths in the country, behind only Blackpool and Burnley.

Graph courtesy of the BBC

In Hastings there were 6.5 deaths per 100,000 residents according to statistics published this week by the Office for National Statistics.  Statistics released in 2016 reported that Hastings had the eighth highest level of drug-related deaths in England and Wales.

In 2016 I was critical of local authorities in East Sussex for failing to provide local residential rehabilitation services for those with alcohol and drug addictions.  A spokesperson for East Sussex County Council said that it was better to send people away for treatment.  That approach was prevalent in the 1980s and 90s, but experience has shown that it does not work.

Brighton and Hove used to have the highest rate but the city has two local residential rehabilitation services, one run by BHT, the other by the social care charity Care Grow Live.  The number of drug-related deaths in the city has fallen dramatically.  There are several reasons for this, not least residential rehabilitation services for local people.

So I have repeated my call for local authorities in East Sussex to set up residential rehab services.  I am happy to offer my assistance to bring this about.

I was the manager of BHT Sussex’s Addiction Services for seventeen years before becoming BHT’s chief executive in 2003.  The addiction services have a success rate more than three times the national average for positive outcomes, with two thirds of clients living alcohol and drug-free lives.

Since April 2014, 120 former clients have moved into employment (saving in benefits of c£1.5 million and income tax gains of c£0.5 million each year)

As a result of positive outcomes from BHT’s Addiction Services:

  • Over 200 drug and alcohol-related attendances at the local A&E Department prevented each year
  • 380 drug and alcohol-related visits to local GP services prevented each year
  • Over 600 prescriptions for mood-altering medication not required each year

We really need services that work, that save and change lives.  It is not right that people continue to die when we can do something to change that.