Thames Reach

Posted by editor 07/05/2013 0 Comment 3837 views


“I was sleeping rough in places like Embankment and Holborn,” recalls 40-year-old Essex-born Graham Shelby. “In Holborn I would sleep in a car park, under a ramp to keep the rain off. I was always looking for shelter. Pillar to post for 10 months or so.”

However, from this bleak outlook just a few months ago, Shelby is now happily settled in a new bedsit, accessing mainstream services such as a GP, completing courses to improve his employability, and, as he puts it, “it is all down to Thames Reach”.

Thames Reach is a homeless charity based in south London. In the courtyard of its impressive new EmploymentAcademy in Camberwell stands a statue called Aspire. A work by world renowned artist Randy Klein (who was assisted in the making by formerly homeless people), it incorporates a Victorian spiral staircase the charity was obliged to retain by planners during the refurbishment of the site but feared was unsafe. The idea of turning it into a work of art was a neat and unusual solution to the problem.

And neat and unusual seems to be in the water in Camberwell as evidenced by Thames Reach’s latest project. They have undertaken a ‘payments by results’ contract from the Greater London Authority (GLA) to navigate 415 entrenched roughsleepers in the capital into accommodation and stability. It is this project that put Graham Shelby’s life back on track.

He had been in the grip of a depression and suffering the effects of a breakdown triggered by the death, from cancer, of his father a year ago. “The trauma set me off drinking and I pushed friends and family away. I ended up in Southampton, I was just looking to be free,” he says, “but I was in a mess and was taken to a police station.”

Some hospital treatment helped but he was soon back on the streets in London, where he was met by some outreach workers from Thames Reach working on the payments by results contract, which is known as Ace. With the extra resources they have on the project, they were able to take quick and effective action to get Shelby into accommodation.

A truly unique model, the Ace project has been backed by investments from a number of social funders, including a £250,000 loan from Big Issue Invest. Payments from the GLA will be made to Thames Reach under the contract terms when rough sleeping has been reduced, individuals have been sustained in accommodation or reconnected with families abroad, and progress has been made in the areas of employment and health in line with set targets.

“It’s great to be able to help finance Thames Reach’s Ace project,” says Big Issue Invest chief executive Nigel Kershaw, who is also chairman of The Big Issue. “We have worked with Thames Reach over many years sharing a common philosophy of dismantling homelessness through prevention and self-help.”

Thames Reach runs a much wider range of projects than when it was founded in 1984. From outreach work it has moved into housing, health, hostel, employment and reconnection services, always employing its person-centred approach to individuals experiencing homelessness.

Indeed in the Ace project personal navigators are assigned to work with homeless people, and on their behalf with other agencies, to achieve moves away from the streets using experience the charity has gained in its near 30-year history. Experience that has paid dividends for Graham Selby.

“Now I’m in a bedsit in Streatham,” he says proudly,  “and I’ve done an employability course (through the Job Centre) to get my CV sorted. I’m looking for work in hospital portering as I have some experience in that area. It’s dealing with people, communicating, that’s my field.

“It’s daunting, of course, looking after the bedsit, paying the electricity and food from my jobseeker’s allowance, so I have to keep a straight edge. But I’ve got friends that come and visit who make sure I’m okay and I’m volunteering two days a week at the homeless charity Emmaus.”

Daunting maybe, but a far cry from the lonely existence under a car ramp in Holborn which was day-to-day reality a mere three months ago. Now that’s a result.

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