Commonweal Housing’s Chief Executive Ashley Horsey provides his thoughts ahead of our annual strategic away day.

Next week along with staff, Trustees, Advisory Panel and one or two special guests Commonweal will be holding our annual strategic away day.  Our theme this year is ‘Building on 10 years of success – so what’s next?’. As a key outcome for the day we will look to shape out our next 10 year vision – where do we want Commonweal to be in 2027.

As always I am slightly anxious ahead of such discussions fearful they can become collective navel gazing or at worst scrabbling around for self-justification.  From my earliest days at the Empty Homes Agency coming up for 20 years ago I was always clear that if a charity has to find new reasons to exist then perhaps the thing to do is to close…..there is no shortage of charities who could benefit  from the greater elbow room, oxygen and potentially funding.

I think it is healthy to be wary of your own hype.

My pre-away day angst is probably something I can afford to temper to some extent as the track record of Commonweal’s Trustees and other key stakeholders is, I am pleased to say, one of regularly asking “are we the best organisation to do this?”. Constantly checking what it is we bring to the table rather than what I have perhaps seen from others who maybe too readily believe their own press-releases stating ”we are the best at doing this!”. This is sometimes without real justification….or at least a consideration only of limited (favourable) metrics.

I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating roundtable discussion last week – this one was around ‘preventing homelessness’. It carried a similar aim to our forthcoming away day in seeking to get a 10 year vision for what that might look like. One of the things that struck me was the oft repeated cry from smaller services that diversity, local provision and specific specialism – be it gender, BME, geography or whatever is too often lost as commissioning rules or a desire for (perceived) value for money sees funding flowing to larger generic organisations. The closing of too many local refuges as contracts go to larger generic housing organisations; the impact of the Transforming Rehabilitation process on women’s centres as funding is cut resulting in closures.  Inexcusably, too often those at the margins continue to be at the margins, overlooked or suffering further cuts when resources are tight and the needs of the many take precedent.

It will be interesting to see what pans out with the Government’s recently announced plans for funding of short-term supported accommodation, including hostels and refuges. The proposal is to take these services out of the welfare system altogether so all funding for housing management and support will now come from councils, presumably as a whole service contract. There is again the risk of more hoovering up by bigger organisations to the determent of smaller bespoke service organisations.

I am fearful that Commonweal might inadvertently be perpetuating that trend. We describe ourselves as an action learning charity, and incubator for new ideas. We work with expert partners to develop new models to address different forms of social injustice, the aim being to promote and encourage replication of what works. This replication may perhaps be seen by others as shorthand for scaling up and repeating what works – getting bigger to deliver more. This is what we want to do but we are clear that scaling up and replicating is as much about sharing the learning and enabling a thousand flowers to bloom, learning from what our pilot projects have gone through. Scale can be as much about a 100 local services taking a small bite out of their local problem as it can be about one big organisation taking a huge regional or even national gulp ….and potentially finding the problem too large to swallow.

Commonweal is increasingly clear that there will never be a silver bullet to preventing homelessness let along tackling social injustice.  I am an increasing believer in the small bites policy.

Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive, Commonweal Housing