Business, Government and charity worlds unite to tackle homelessness

Mr Varley was joined at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea by senior executives from companies including BaxterStorey, Carillion and Kantar Operations together with leading public sector representatives from the Homes and Communities Agency, Communities and Local Government (CLG), the Royal Parks, and voluntary sector bodies Homeless Link, London Employer Accord and the Eden Project.

The meeting included a preview visit to the ‘Places of Change Garden’, which is being developed on-site in lieu of the forthcoming 2010 RHS Chelsea Flower Show (25-29 May), to meet some of the people and organisations involved in its creation. The 590sq metre garden, the largest Show Garden ever at the event, is an ambitious collaboration between national housing and regeneration agency the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), Communities and Local Government (CLG), the Eden Project, London Employer Accord and membership body for the homeless sector, Homeless Link. Business Action on Homelessness is also supporting the Garden.

Led by award-winning designer Paul Stone, the garden has been created by 500 homeless service users from 43 homeless agencies and 50 offenders from 8 prisons across the country. They have been involved at every stage of its development, from designing the individual zones in the garden, planting and landscaping, though to on-site development and hospitality during Show Week. The garden has provided the opportunity for participants to gain new skills around planting, gardening, design, construction and carpentry, providing the means for many of them to move on to further training and qualifications, accredited by the National Open College Network.

Through the experience of taking part in this project participants will find their individual ‘place of change’, gaining new skills, confidence and increased job prospects that will enable them to turn their lives around long-term. This is central to the ethos of the HCA’s Places of Change hostels capital improvement funding programme, from which the garden takes its name.

As the garden at Chelsea demonstrates, initiatives such as the Places of Change programme are already helping to bring about a step change in homeless service delivery through positive engagement activity such as training, employment and social enterprise.  But the activity doesn’t just stop there. 

John Varley, Group Chief Executive of Barclays and Chair of BAOH, said: "Business Action on Homelessness is a fervent believer in the ability of businesses to make a difference in the lives of homeless people. The economic challenges we confront today make that a priority, as we need to work even harder to help those furthest from the labour market progress towards employment.

"Cross-sector dialogue is critical to understanding how we can work together to overcome barriers and help more homeless people move on with their lives. Strong collaboration between the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector is the best way to achieve this important objective."

HCA Chief Executive, Sir Bob Kerslake, said: "Today’s discussion with the business community is an important step forward, in that it will help pave the way for future joint working on the issue of homelessness and make a valuable contribution to improved service delivery. The Places of Change Garden is a hugely powerful metaphor for this.

"Opening up employment and new opportunities for upskilling some of our society’s most disadvantaged people is central to what the HCA’s Places of Change programme is about. It demonstrates that homeless service delivery needs to go much further than just about improving hostels and the physical environment – it’s about the people using them."

Jenny Edwards, Chief Executive of Homeless Link, added: "We are delighted that the Places of Change Garden is a catalyst for discussions between the business community and the public and voluntary sectors. If we are to achieve our ambition of ending homelessness, partnership working is absolutely essential. The reward is in seeing the difference these types of initiatives makes to each person."

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