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Friday, 29 January 2021

“I’ve seen great supported housing play a part in changing so many lives”

Reside CEO Diane French reflects on what can be done to improve the housing system for those with support needs.

 “So January 2021 marks the start of my fourth year as CEO of Reside Housing and even when they don’t coincide with a new calendar year, such anniversaries offer a chance for reflection.

I joined Reside from a career largely in Health and Social Care. For many years that included working with people living in various forms of supported housing, so I have a good understanding of supported housing from a demand side, as well as how much difference sourcing the right housing to meet bespoke needs can make to the lives of individuals.

I know that choice is not always a reality and a lack of housing often holds up lives and achievements. Quality is variable, bespoke housing services are hard to come by, while capital funding is limited, stretched and over-prescribed. I also know that in the midst of all of that, lots of great work with individuals happens anyway.

Working for Reside has given me a much better understanding of the supply of supported housing and after three years, I have some thoughts on the sector and what would make a difference.

However before I do that, I want to take a moment to say that at Reside we have the privilege of working with over 60 providers of social care services. As a former Director of Operations in service provision I know first-hand how much risk and stretch is involved on any ordinary day in social care. Add Covid into that mix and to keep going is a remarkable achievement for everyone involved. I applaud everyone that works in social care. Not on my doorstep on a Thursday evening (though appreciation should be shown) but I applaud you all – everyday – day in, day out – for choosing a role which pays you too little for doing extraordinary things to improve the lives of others.

So returning to the question of what would make a difference:

  • Long-term planning – we work with people who have lifetime needs for support and yet too often we still see crisis transition points when people leave education or need/want to move out of family accommodation or more institutional care.
  • Person-centred planning – it feels like we shouldn’t still need to say this but we do. We still have webs of statutory services that don’t always work to put people at the centre or involve family and wider stakeholders enough. Of course it is complicated and statutory workers are not always empowered to work this way, but the best commissioning areas have worked this out. We need to learn from the best and not leave people to a postcode lottery which varies from cost restrained indifference to creative, person-centred excellence (which doesn’t always cost any more!).
  • Sustainable capital funding – which is tailored to people with lifetime needs and would save the statutory purse money overall. Yet available grant levels do not support the specialist nature of this kind of supported housing. Instead we have private investors piling capital into the property markets to exploit revenue funding – in the long run this offers poor value for the public purse and undermines the sector.

In my career I’ve seen great supported housing play a part in changing so many lives. In the end success stories always come down in part to the people that make them happen. In every story you will find a determined parent, advocate, commissioner, support provider or housing provider – someone that has worked in a system, which is always far from perfect, to make a difference for one person at a time. I celebrate all those individuals, try to recruit people like that to Reside and keep raising my voice to improve the system they work within.”

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