‘We cherish a culture that encourages people to talk to, care for and believe in each other ’
First published August 2020, written by Terry Hitchcock, outgoing Chair, Groundswell
I have had the privilege of chairing Groundswell since April 2012 and I am sad to be retiring on September 1st. There comes a time however when it’s right to bring in fresh ideas. Governance guidance also advises that trustee appointments should not normally exceed nine years. I am very pleased that my successor is Jenny Yates, currently our treasurer, who has substantial experience of voluntary sector service delivery and policy advocacy work
Some reflections on my time as chair I hope might be of interest, especially since Groundswell and its impact have grown so much. But even as early as 2015, when the charity was a third of the size it is now, we noted that Groundswell’s unique culture must not be jeopardised by growth. We have always put our core beliefs first. What is it that “makes Groundswell Groundswell”?
The answer lies in Groundswell being about people who have experienced homelessness creating positive change for people who are homeless. There is no “them” and “us”. We cherish a culture that encourages people to talk to, care for and believe in each other and this is stressed in our recruitment and training of volunteers, staff and trustees.
Growth is not the only challenge to maintaining a culture. Governance requirements have significantly increased. We have taken this very seriously and have robust safeguarding, data protection and financial policies. But we still sometimes have to take risks and be flexible because we work with people with complex needs and trauma.
The support that Groundswell gives to its volunteers and staff with experience of homelessness is crucial since they deliver all of the charity’s services and research activities. This is why we are dedicated to developing and supporting a workforce through our progression team; they use coaching to help individuals identify goals and overcome barriers so they can progress in their own lives.
This principle was reinforced in 2014 by the innovative step of forming a people committee to ensure that Groundswell is a healthy and safe organisation. Progression remains a key pillar of our ‘Participation Works’ strategy today.
The growth of a charity requires sustainable funding. In 2012 too much of our income was uncertain. We saw that to win larger core bids, our case for funding Groundswell had to be even more compellingly expressed so began to invest in fundraising. But we have not allowed Groundswell to become a fundraising-led charity; the delivery of services and fundraising have to mesh together closely.
We increasingly shifted from a ‘day to day’ mode to long term planning and aimed to build a fit-for-purpose infrastructure, including financial and people management, IT and the office premises, which we have successfully moved twice in the past eight years. In a growing organisation, the infrastructure often tends to lag what is needed so I have little doubt that this theme will recur – it is a price of success!
Over the past decade our Peer Advocates have delivered over 23,000 engagements, thereby saving many lives. We began modelling national expansion of HHPA in 2015 as we wanted to bring the benefit of HHPA to people affected by homelessness across the UK. But we had to ensure we chose the right method and our peers were deeply involved. I am delighted that the expansion has taken the form of partnerships with Crisis and Shelter through #HealthNow, and in some cities of service delivery by local Peer Advocates trained by Groundswell.
Peer research was a notable feature of Groundswell from its beginnings in the 90’s. We decided in 2013 to call this Insight & Action. It has made sense to integrate our areas of work, as the delivery of peer advocacy generates many valuable insights. The research is carried out by people who have been homeless themselves, resulting in them gathering real experiences and developing practical recommendations to the problems people experience.
Groundswell is strongly positioned to meet challenges and seize opportunities, which will inevitably be partly shaped by the impacts of Covid-19 on the lives of people experiencing homelessness. I thank the volunteers, the staff and the trustees for their past service in making all the above achievements possible and for continuing to work so hard to bring about real and lasting change.