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Framework Housing Association Celebrate Helping Nottingham's Homeless Community for 20 Years

29 December 20 words: Emily Thursfield
illustrations: Natalie Owen

For twenty years, Framework Housing Association has helped tens of thousands of vulnerable people in Nottingham overcome issues of homelessness, addiction and mental ill-health to once again achieve social inclusion, financial stability and independence – changing the direction of their lives for the better. We look back on the history of the organisation, and learn the value they bring to our city, and the lives of the people who need them most… 

Framework Housing Association are widely known around Nottingham for the work of their Street Outreach Team, a group of dedicated support workers who venture out nightly, walking up to ten miles to make contact and offer support to rough sleepers. However, last year the charity’s teams across Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Sheffield helped just shy of 19,000 people with all manner of issues which caused them to fall on hard times, including providing accommodation each night for more than 1,200 people. Alongside rough sleepers, the charity extends their support to include individuals and families with substance abuse or mental health problems, as well as those who are unemployed or classed as socially excluded. 

But then came 2020, and a global pandemic which wreaked havoc on the way in which the organisation could offer support to their existing service users. Plus, with rates of rough sleeping, domestic violence, unemployment and all manner of mental health issues on the rise, their work has never been needed – or appreciated – more. 

Stronger Together

Framework’s story begins in the late nineties, with the merger of two local organisations: Nottingham Help the Homeless Association (NHHA) and Macedon shared the same goal – reducing the number of rough sleepers on the city’s streets, and providing help with substance abuse. NHHA ran the innovative Handel Street Day Shelter, which allowed for the supervised consumption of alcohol with a view of delivering signposting and support to its users, and Macedon grew to become the largest provider of services for homeless people in Nottingham, achieving Housing Association status which enabled them to build property. With a view to being stronger together, the two joined forces in 2001. 

“The merger was less about what we couldn’t do apart and more about what we could do together,” says Dave Newmarch, Framework’s Director of Corporate Services. Dave began his career with volunteering at the NHHA night shelter in 1992, and has worked for the organization for over twenty years. “It meant we wouldn’t be in competition with each other for funding sources, and together we could make the best use of any funding we did receive. There were slightly different skill sets in each group too, so when you brought those together we had a better, stronger team.” 

“Before the merger, we had limited staffing and were just doing our best with limited resources to help people experiencing real difficulties,” says Claire Eden, who is currently Head of Fundraising and Communications at Framework. “We were dealing with housing, mental health and substance issues – the same sort of problems that we still deal with today.” Having celebrated her 26th anniversary at Macedon and Framework just last month, Claire was responsible for setting up accommodation and support services in the early 2000s which have formed the backbone of the organisation ever since. 

Starting out as a project worker at the 24-hour Forest Road West hostel, Claire assisted people with a high level of support needs, and quickly rose up the ranks to become manager of the service. As the two organisations merged, the newly-formed Framework began to expand their services outside of Nottingham city centre, and were looking for their first Operations Manager to take control of Nottinghamshire county. It was a challenge Claire was ready for. 

“At the time we had a Labour government, and they introduced something called ‘Supporting People’, which meant homelessness services would be funded directly through grants from local authorities rather than through housing benefit. Because local authorities had never commissioned services like this before, there was a period of time while they set up their internal structure that I was literally running around the county setting up services left, right and centre,” remembers Claire. “Any services you could develop before the cut-off point in March 2003, they would be guaranteed funding. If you can imagine the gold rush, I reckon it was a bit like that.” 

Setting off from Nottingham to Sutton-in-Ashfield and Worksop for the first time, Claire implemented approximately fifteen services, including accommodation, mental health support, a women’s rehab centre in Newark, and a service for young people in Mansfield. For a charity known mostly for their work assisting rough sleepers, the extent of their services comes as a shock to many. Claire cites this as the biggest misconception the charity faces. “People don’t really understand the complexity of the work we do,” she admits. “For twelve years now we’ve also run a huge amount of work on employment, which works out to around £6 million worth of delivery each year. Plus we provide treatment, universal services, psychiatrists, and end of life care. We work from pre-birth to death. ” 

Lasting Change

Framework’s support schemes are laid out on their website using what they call the four pillars: housing, health, employment, and support and care. Their work isn’t about cleaning up the streets, it’s about providing a platform for real and lasting change to the people who need it most. “Most people that we see have become homeless because of multiple needs,” says Karen Mayes, Service Manager at Elizabeth House, which provides housing needs for homeless people in Gedling, Rushcliffe and Broxtowe. “It could be that they were living at home and their relationship broke down with their parents because their mental health needs weren’t being addressed. People also come to us from prison and have stopped taking drugs only because they lost access to them, not because they made the choice to stop taking them. Our job is to get in there quickly and link people up with other support networks or agencies.” To be taken in by Elizabeth House, individuals must be referred by their local Council, having demonstrated that they have multiple or complex needs which need addressing.

Homelessness can be a potentially life-threatening situation, one that doesn’t have one single cause or solution. The breakdown of a relationship, the loss of a job, disability, illness or the death of a loved one – a combination of these factors is often what tips people over the edge. After working with homeless people on the streets of New York at the age of eighteen, Karen ignited a passion for helping those who society had been determined to shut out. Throughout her time with NHHA and Framework, she has assisted people with alcohol issues and managed multiple night shelters. At Elizabeth House, Karen and her staff implement Support Plans for all new residents – a package which helps connect people to agencies and self-supported accommodation services, provide psychiatrists and doctors, or just help them reenter the world by attending cooking classes and other social events with their residents. 

People don’t really understand the complexity of the work we do... we provide treatment, universal services, psychiatrists, and end of life care. We work from pre-birth to death

“When people think about hostels, it’s easy to think of them as being really rough, but what I think people don’t understand is that our services at Framework are quite inspirational,” adds Karen. “We don’t sit around allowing people to continue those lifestyles, we want to help them change for the better. Homeless people are the same as everybody else – they have their ups and downs, they don’t always respond appropriately or make the greatest decisions. But at the end of the day, everyone deserves to have somewhere to live, and that’s all it comes down to for me.” 

Take one scroll through Framework’s website and you’ll see the impact they can make on the trajectory of somebody’s life. Testimonials from ex-service users recount how their support workers encouraged them to turn bad situations around, and you’ll find a large majority of those beaming faces have since trained to be support workers themselves. From humble beginnings of around fifty staff at the time of the merger, Framework now employs just over 1,000 full-time staff, and pre-pandemic had a 200-strong team of volunteers. 

Claire reflects on the biggest changes she’s seen Framework undergo during its time: “When I joined Macedon, we were occupying old Victorian houses and churches for hostels, and we had no money really. If you’d have gone down to the Albion shelter back when it first started, it was just a door with curtains between people and two toilets. But we didn’t have any money to develop.” While the charity has since solved this particular issue, changing governments and budget cuts are now the biggest problem they have to contend with. 

As most of their work is commissioned, often by local authorities, and depends on them successfully winning bids for contracts, they unfortunately must now provide more work for less money. Claire continues: “In the beginning, we did a lot of prevention work, ensuring people at risk didn’t lose their homes. Prevention work was one of the first things to be decommissioned because the government didn’t think that it was working with the highest needs. That’s a false economy really, because if people do lose their homes then they become the people in the highest need.” 

“Something people miss is that if you cut the police force, or reduce funding for mental health services, all of those things – while maybe not immediately – result in people ending up in a spiral of homelessness,” adds Dave. “You might not necessarily associate all those, but it’s these third sector services which really make a difference.” 

Shared Principles

“For me personally, I couldn’t be further away from where I started out. I was literally collecting blankets and stopping people fighting,” laughs Dave, thinking back on his time with the organisation. “One misconception about Framework that sometimes pops up on social media is that, from the outside, we probably look like a bigger, more professional, more corporate entity. In some ways, it has to be – we need to put structures and systems in place to keep our service users and staff safe. But the charitable aims, the way in which our staff work and feel about what they do hasn’t changed one bit from how it was when there were just thirty of us working at night shelters.” 

This steadfast ethos is what makes Framework’s staff so proud to work for the organisation, and why so many workers have chosen to stay for the long haul – upwards of 100 staff members have been working at the charity for over fifteen years. “The reason why I’ve stayed at Framework for so long is because they’ve always been an organisation that’s willing to take risks and say ‘this is how things should be, but this is the reality’,” says Karen. “Some organisations would avoid doing things if they thought it was risky, but Framework takes those risks to support people who are the most vulnerable and marginalised in society.” 

Dave’s journey hasn’t been so linear. After 21 years, he left the charity for a role at a council-owned housing management company, but after six years away he returned to Framework in summer 2020. “Someone said to me when I came back ‘It’s like Hotel California here – you can check out but you can never leave!’” he chuckles. “I’ve always been very committed to the work that Framework does, even when I left I was still very proud of it. Working for an organisation like Framework, they tend to attract like-minded people. We don’t do it for the money, but we have common goals. If you’re lucky enough to work somewhere where you’re surrounded by people that have a degree of shared principles, it’s quite powerful.” 

But it’s not just full-time staff who will sing Framework’s praises; their devoted volunteer team is equally as committed to the work that the charity do. Madge Marshall first came across NHHA while a voluntary Board Member for the Guinness Trust, who assisted an NHHA development in Hyson Green, and has been a stalwart supporter of their work ever since. Having acted as Chairman of Nottingham YWCA (now known as Y-Notts) and as a voluntary Board Member for TunTum Housing Association, Madge admires the effort Framework puts into integrating their service users back into the community, especially in her hometown. 

“Here in Sutton-in-Ashfield we have a coffee shop, Barista, which was a great opportunity for the service users from Mansfield and Sutton to volunteer,” Madge says. “It’s wonderful to see what those individuals have gone through, and then watch them come out the other side of it all and move on. That’s what it’s all about – people getting back into society, doing what they should be doing, and enjoying their lives again. I know a lot of them miss it at the moment, because they enjoyed meeting people. My husband and I see them in town now, and they’ll stop and chat to us.”

If you want people to change their behaviour, then you need to work with them to address it, and hopefully integrate them back into society as a much better and happier person

From her experience of working for housing associations, Madge is aware of the unfortunate truth that homelessness is not going anywhere, and conveys caution that it can hit anybody at any time. “The number of people you speak to that say ‘There’s no need for homelessness’... well I’m afraid that’s just not true. Even people with a mortgage are only three months away from a life on the streets, and that’s not publicised enough,” she warns. “There are so many broken homes out there, too. If we don't do something now with helping young people, we're going to breed a whole underclass of people who aren't going to stand a chance. They are our future generation and they are an important focus.”

On her admiration for Framework, she concludes: “I think they’re fundamentally important to every aspect of the life that we lead. To be there, to care for one another and give that helping hand when it’s needed – even if it’s just to talk to somebody, or being prepared to go the extra mile. That’s something that has always impressed me about Framework. No matter how many times people fall off the ladder, they will pick them up and try to help them again. They don't give up on anybody readily. ” 

Creative Solutions

The pandemic has no doubt had a significant impact on Framework, both in the ability for volunteers to act on behalf of the organisation, and the level of help they have been able to offer their service users. Access to vital support agencies has been reduced, and with many unable to watch news reports or read news bulletins, it can be hard for service users to understand why. But there is one silver lining: “I thought we’d have hostels and services full to the brim of people testing positive for Coronavirus, but actually we’ve not had any in my service,” says Karen. “The way it’s affected our service users is people who are in serious crises with drug, alcohol or mental health issues have not been able to get access to the agencies who would normally offer support or come out and see them. Most of our clients don’t have things like iPads or Zoom or credit on their phone.” Framework’s Volunteer Response Team aimed to combat this issue by sourcing 300 burner phones, which were distributed to a group of vulnerable people or those self-isolating, so they could continue to contact people. This is in addition to providing around 20,000 ready meals over a five month period.

Due to safety concerns, they were also unable to open the winter night shelter that many homeless people have depended on in previous years, and had to find other creative solutions which came at a cost to both funds and resources. Their winter fundraising appeal, Homeless to Home, launched in October, aims to reduce homelessness by tackling rough sleeping. While in the past the money raised would have been spent on keeping the shelter open, this year it will be put towards the work in Framework’s three-pronged system – prevention, support and resettlement. You can make a one-off or monthly donation via Framework’s website, or take part in various associated fundraisers. 

With the support of organisations such as Nottingham Building Society, DHP, local clothing scheme Sharewear and Nottingham Forest, who regularly participate in fundraising efforts for the charity, it’s thanks to Framework – alongside charities such as Emmanuel House and the recently announced Street Support Nottingham initiative – that issues relating to homelessness are gaining the attention they deserve in Nottingham and the wider community. 

It’s for this reason that Framework deserves every bit of success they’ve achieved over the past twenty years, and why they’ve earnt the respect and support from some of the city’s biggest powers. “It’s a strange one when you start talking about what you do,” Dave admits. “One of my old managers described it to me as ‘I just do stuff’, but what he didn’t realise is the difference that ‘stuff’ made to people’s lives.” 

Karen, who made the decision to become a foster mother herself after seeing the disproportionate number of care leavers who ended up homeless, believes the compassion found at Framework is its biggest asset. “You have to be able to look above punishment, and remember that people make mistakes,” she shares. “If you want people to change their behaviour, then you need to work with them to address it, and hopefully integrate them back into society as a much better and happier person. Framework is unique because they work with people that are left behind, overlooked, or people who would rather just hide away. Framework are willing to step up to the mark and say that everybody deserves a home, and everybody deserves support.” 

frameworkha.org

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