Home News Call for New Ideas: one of the best experiences of my time in the homeless sector
Hosford Community Homes- Aidan crop

Aidan Byrne

Call for New Ideas: one of the best experiences of my time in the homeless sector

Aidan Byrne, Homelessness Service Manager at successful 2021 Call for New Ideas applicant East Belfast Mission, reflects on his organisation’s journey with Commonweal’s Call for New Ideas:

I have worked in the homeless sector in Belfast for over 15 years. For most of this time I have managed Hosford, the homeless service of East Belfast Mission, which provides temporary accommodation and support to people experiencing homelessness.

Over the years we have developed the services and helped hundreds of people to have a better life. The work has often been interesting, rewarding, challenging, and enjoyable. Helping people through a crisis and to a better place is a privilege; I have met a lot of great people, and I have learned a lot about people.

Having said all that, I have to admit perhaps the strongest emotion over the years has been frustration and anger. Over the past 15 years I’ve seen access to housing continuously reduce. I have seen people stuck in our hostel for ever-longer periods, watched people deteriorate due to this, and known that meanwhile people in desperate need cannot access safety and shelter.

In 2021, we began to explore ideas around providing housing for people to help them to exit homelessness. We began by forming an advisory board and by speaking to as many people as possible about the housing injustices we were witnessing. This led us to creating a plan to redevelop a building we own into housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Cooking group at East Belfast Mission

We also began to understand that what we were doing was community-led housing and that there were many organisations across the UK successfully delivering this form of housing. We wanted to get more involved in community-led housing but we simply did not have the time to fully develop the ideas we had.

A contact told us about Commonweal Housing and said they were interested in supporting the development of new ideas to tackle housing injustice. We checked out the website and had a conversation with Amy Doyle, Commonweal’s Deputy Chief Executive. We quickly saw that the Call for New Ideas was a golden opportunity for us and could provide us with the resources to really develop our ideas.

Right from the start we could see the approach of Commonweal was different.

It felt like we were collaborating to generate solutions to problems. Through the Call for New Ideas, we secured funding for a feasibility study to explore the possibility of partnerships with social investors to test a model of using finance to create homes for people experiencing homelessness in Belfast.

The team at Commonweal are very well-informed and the process of carrying out the feasibility study was one of the best experiences of my time in the homeless sector. We had time and resources to explore our ideas in detail. We carried out research, stakeholder and client consultations, financial models, and operational models. We met with previous and current partners of Commonweal Housing, and more.

Garden group at East Belfast Mission

We’re now in the final stages of preparing to initiate and deliver the project we designed through the feasibility study. In partnership with Commonweal, the proposed project will provide affordable rental accommodation and tenancy support services within the community of East Belfast, as a route into housing for people in transition who are excluded from both the private and socially rented sectors.

This will mean five new homes for the people currently staying in our homeless hostel. This in itself is amazing. But we are also hoping to use this project to test the idea of borrowing money to deliver much more housing to our clients.

I cannot overstate how much we learned through this process and how beneficial it has been for our work.

I would urge any organisations who see housing injustices and want to develop a project to help the people affected to consider the Call for New Ideas.

How to apply

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