From education to employment

Housing associations in England and France publish report sharing key learning from partnership programme which supports residents into employment

Housing associations in England and France publish report sharing key learning from partnership programme which supports residents into employment

Increase VS is a social innovation project involving three housing associations in England – Southern Housing (formerly Optivo), Abri and Clarion Housing Group, with four housing associations in France – Archipel Habitat, Neotoa, Pas-de-Calais and Logirep.

With input from residents, local experts and stakeholders, the group meet regularly to share best practice and ideas, discuss best service delivery and share key challenges the housing sector is facing.

The project has focused on 38 English and French coastal and rural neighbourhoods where tourism, industry and employment have declined, and challenges are similar. Residents face barriers preventing them from accessing work. As a result, people are unable to access labour market opportunities easily. It’s also not easy to find a typical ‘9 to 5’ job, so Increase VS has promoted self-employment as a complementary route for social housing residents.

The group, having trained over 4,500 people, has produced a report detailing the findings from the work. It highlights how housing associations are well-placed to offer tailored support to residents seeking employment. The group is working alongside Communities that Work, the national agency promoting housing and employment initiatives, which has also been calling on the government to support housing associations to bring forward employment opportunities. 

Tom Arkle, Head of Programme at Southern Housing, said:

“There’s a work and income gap challenge for many social housing residents. Over 35% of social housing residents in France were living in poverty in 2016; while unemployment among UK social housing residents is twice the national average. But the stability of a home and training opportunities are platforms from which people can address and remove barriers to entering the job market.”

“As our work shows, housing associations in both countries can support those further away from work to become job-ready or trading-ready.”

“Whether through employment or self-employment, our support is key to improving inclusion, well-being, and household incomes. These are crucial to strengthening communities and longer-term levelling-up.”

Case Study

Becki Breiner, 41 from Sittingbourne, a Southern Housing resident, joined the programme in 2018 when she received a leaflet about Increase VS promoting the training opportunities available. She had ambitions to pursue her own business venture for some time but was unsure where to begin. 

After making an appointment with the Increase VS team, she received training, support and guidance which enabled her to start her own business. She is now the proud owner of Song Signing – a business inspired by Becki’s own personal experiences.

Song Signing teaches sign language through the power of music. In each workshop, attendees choose the song they want to learn in sign language and go through it as a class. It makes it easier to learn individual words and songs bit by bit – and ultimately teaches the class to sign. As Becki says ‘the more songs you learn the more signs you learn’.

As a collective, the group helps boost the confidence of its members, many of whom are vulnerable. Many of the group’s members have performed at public events including the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the Sittingbourne Christmas light switch on. 

Becki explains, “I lost part of my hearing aged three, so sign language has always been a huge part of my life. For years I have campaigned to make it part of the curriculum in schools, and it is a dream come true to call Singing Signs my business.”

“I reached out to the Increase VS team back in 2018 and it went from there. I was assigned specific support – which is when I met Jude. She has supported me all the way through. I had no idea how to set up a business, but I was taken through it step by step, so I could actually focus on the workshops themselves. By the end of 2018 my business was up and running.”

Becki now runs five workshops five days a week, each drawing in up to 50 people. She also runs an online workshop to reach a national audience – something which she started during the pandemic. Becki still credits her success to the support offered to her from Increase VS.

“I am so lucky to have the relationship I have with Jude. She is always at the other end of the phone and is basically my mentor – as well as everything else! She understands me and how I work and is passionate about Song Signing. Any thoughts I have I am straight on the phone – it’s great to bounce around idea with someone”.

2022 marks the most successful year yet for Song Signing, which has been shortlisted for several awards including the IBAC awards and A Heart of Gold Award. Becki and her team were also invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, as a thank you for her contribution to disability awareness and support in the community.

Becki even received a visit from King Charles III when he was occupying his role of HRH Prince of Wales back in February 2022.

“Meeting the King and the Queen Consort in their former roles back in February was a real ‘pinch me’ moment. They visited the Healthy Living Centre in Sheppey – I taught the King how to sign! Who else can say that?”

Song Signing has huge plans for 2023 and beyond. It plans to expand and support all vulnerable people to communicate through music and signing when other ways are difficult. The group also hope to have success on Britain’s Got Talent – so watch this space!

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