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Amy Doyle

Amy is Deputy Chief Executive at Commonweal Housing.

2020: a year to celebrate

Commonweal Deputy CEO Amy Doyle reflects on our work and achievements this year, and why in spite of it all, 2020 is still a year to celebrate.

Right now, you’re probably questioning why I would put ‘2020’ and ‘celebrate’ in the same sentence, because let’s face it: most of us want to forget 2020, or at least part of it.  

It’s been the toughest year for the whole world collectively and locally; the challenges we have faced this year have been immense and for some, too much.  

Businesses have folded, people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, with many ultimately losing their lives. It seems everyone has suffered to some degree, with mental health, insecurity and anxiety over the future.  

And yet, this year has shown us what we can do when we pull together as a community and the incredible amount of innovation and successes that has been borne out of despair and uncertainty. 

So many of us in the housing and homelessness sector have had to think, do and be different this year.  

Year on year homelessness rates have been rising, and charities and faith groups have been increasing the amount of short-term emergency accommodation in night shelters. But this year they have been forced to close and think again. Social distancing and new laws meant that night shelters were dangerous with a potential to spread Covid-19 quickly, leading to deadly consequences.  

With the hospitality industry effectively stopping, hotels around the country opened their doors to those with nowhere else to go. But we saw an immediate return to street homelessness once the first lockdown was over. And this has prompted our sector to start to think differently about our provision of emergency and longer-term housing, and a real push on the Government to support the sector with innovation not only for the short term but with a focus on prevention.  

For us here at Commonweal, we have a staff team who have all been able to continue working through both lockdowns, to support our project partners in these challenging circumstances. The most rewarding achievement for us this year is to have been able to continue supporting our partners: they, and those they support through their essential frontline work, are our number-one priority, and this is why I want to celebrate. Because they had successes and that felt good.  

New goals, new achievements 

This year we launched our Call for New Ideas in March, hoping that we would find our next core action learning project to support. Although we weren’t able to meet potential new partners in person like we’d hoped, we had many fantastic responses and we widened the remit to include innovative solutions as a result of Covid-19.  

In April our friends at St Mungo’s launched their toolkit for working with couples facing homelessness, building on the Couples First research we funded for Brighton Women Centre in 2018. The system is geared towards homeless individuals, but there are lots of couples that want to remain together when they find a home. This fantastic tool kit gives guidance to organisations on supporting couples together. 

During Carers’ Week in June, with our partner Quaker Social Action we released our final evaluation report for our project Move On Up, supporting young adult carers. We are so proud of the outcomes and in particular how the young adult carers in the project have adapted so well to the increased pressures of this year. 

We launched our new logo in July along with our annual review Making Room, Building Solutions,  authored under the leadership of Steve Douglas CBE, our outgoing Chair who this year became the CEO of St Mungo’s. We were proud to celebrate Steve’s progress on from Commonweal, and to welcome our new Chair Jack Mactaggart who is leading the organisation into 2021. 

In August our partners Elmbridge Rentstart released the final evaluation for our project Freedom2Work – an initiative that encourages their clients to save whilst being match funded so the money can be used towards a deposit or decoration of a new place to live when they are ready to move on. This report found that the project has saved over £2m in costs to society, by helping people at risk of homelessness to save money as they are supported to re-enter work, education and training.  

October saw the launch of our Locked Out anthology and podcast – a collection of essays discussing the barriers to housing for people facing social injustice. 

There is so much still to do and I still feel despair that this could be our chance to end street homelessness and the government haven’t acted quickly or strongly enough. However, I know it’s a top priority for the people who work in this sector, who care deeply about their clients and will continue to always do what they can even in the most stressful and trying times such as these. 

I look forward to supporting our partners in 2021 and continuing to adapt to both the housing and coronavirus crises with them: paving the way for more innovative solutions to tackle social injustice.  

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