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Rebecca Dillon

Transformation Through Innovation – reflections on the Freedom2Work project

Commonweal’s Policy and Communications Coordinator, Edward Lowe,  reflects on his experience meeting individuals supported by the Freedom2Work project

On Wednesday I was fortunate enough to visit our project partners Elmbridge Rentstart (ERS). The purpose of my visit was to meet and film two individuals who have, thanks to the support offered through the Freedom2Work project, transitioned out of homelessness.

Freedom2Work is an innovative partnership between Commonweal Housing and Elmbridge Rentstart. The project seeks to break cycles of homelessness by offering holistic support to tackle systematic disincentives to re-entry into the labour market. Offering a tenancy in good-quality shared accommodation, the project provides clients with a stable foundation far removed from the confusion and uncertainty of hostels and refuges or off the streets. Holistic support is provided to all tenants, helping them with advice on finding, getting, and keeping a new job.

Unique to the project however is its offer of a rent credit scheme. In return for the support provided by ERS, tenants are expected to put aside a portion of their monthly income as part of the scheme. This enables them to build up a pot of money that can be used to provide the deposit on a new property in the private rental sector. As an added incentive, the scheme additionally boosts the credit built up by clients, applying matched funding when clients secure employment.

First up was James*, an actor by trade, he had spent time sleeping rough on the streets. Despite appearing in hit West End shows such as Guys and Dolls, he had been unable to secure work and found himself trapped in the revolving door of homelessness. Just a year on from approaching F2W his transformation is incredible.

Eloquent, polite and effervescing with positivity, James described to me how the F2W project had turned his life around. The rent credit scheme, he beamed, had given him the motivation to find new work by offering the incentive of a protected way back into the labour market without the fear of being worse off financially.

Next up was Alex*. A management consultant, Alex is a highly educated individual with a wealth of professional experience that has seen him travel the globe. However, following the breakdown of a relationship with his former partner and a drought in new work contracts, he found himself unable to afford the rent on his property. Moving from a position of prominence to poverty in a short time, Alex was sleeping in his car when he turned to F2W for support.

After just a year working with the support of F2W, Alex has secured a job with the NHS. Having successfully saved over £500 on the rent deposit scheme, he was also awarded a match funded rent credit of £1040 which he has used to move into independent living.

Whilst Alex and James are from very different backgrounds, one thing unites them: thanks to the support of Freedom2Work they have both transformed their lives.

F2W fills a gap in support for the homeless that currently doesn’t exist elsewhere. Its unique formula, engaging with private landlords, is something many outside the project struggle with as concerns over universal credit, employment options and a lack of a deposit often prevent access to the private rented sector. F2W however offers a financial solution, providing stability through the deposit scheme, which can be used for a deposit on a new property Additionally, the personal approach taken by F2W enables the person to be part of the solution. F2W’s unique approach therefore also offers support and stability alongside the financial benefits of the project.

In keeping with the Commonweal formula, Freedom2Work is currently running as a five-year pilot project and continues to develop as it moves through our project cycle. Working with the evaluator Prof. Jo Richardson, ERS and Commonweal will continue to build on the learning to date from the project, sharing our experiences as it develops.

Whilst we can’t predict the outcome from the pilot yet, one thing is clear. Alex and James’ experience clearly demonstrates there is not only a need for F2W, but that it can work.

*Names have been changed for the purpose of this blog

Edward Lowe, Policy and Communications Coordinator, Commonweal Housing