Report to:        Scottish Churches Housing Action

                           Annual General Meeting

Subject:             Annual Review

Date:                  29 October 2020

Author:             Richard Howat, Chief Executive        

The purpose of this report is to share with the membership the good work of SCHA over the past year. I cannot do this without at least touching on the significant events during the last twelve months which have had such an impact on the organisation. There will be a statement from the Board providing detail about the dispute with Essel Securities, our previous landlord of ten years, so I will only acknowledge that it happened and emphasis the pervasive nature of its impact on our thoughts and actions, to the extent that it often seemed to consume all our energy.

However, that was only one of several crises which impacted on the work of the charity. Covid-19 was clearly an issue that affected everyone. As lockdown kicked in it became extremely difficult to continue with our community development work. Bringing people together is a very hands-on and dynamic process especially in the early stages and you cannot bring it about without injecting energy into the process. That can only really happen by physically being in a room with people.

In addition SCHA had historically budgeted for around 50% of its income to come from non-guaranteed sources namely fundraising, individual donors and contributions from the church denominations which made up the membership of the organisation.

Not being in the office and not having access to the support provided by our volunteers impacted significantly on our fundraising. Although many of our regular contributors continued to make their donations, for which we were very grateful, we were unable to maintain our normal activity which affected our income. Unfortunately several of the denominations also failed to make or significantly reduced their contributions. The net effect was both a significant operational loss for the financial year 2019-2020 and a further significant forecast loss for the year 2020-2021.

Although various steps had already been taken to reduce costs and more were being investigated it was obvious that in order to bring spending in line with income the biggest area of expenditure could no longer be protected and so the organisation entered into a redundancy consultation process with staff. This has regrettably led to one post being made redundant with other changes in staffing to follow.

Despite all of the above and the various ways they leached into the resources of the organisation SCHA still managed to deliver on the three main strategic priorities of the organisation namely:

  • Campaigning, Advocacy and Information
  • VCT Skills (Community Development)
  • Property Redevelopment Model

Campaigning, Advocacy and Information

Individually and/or in concert with other like minded agencies we have contributed to various government inspired consultation exercises including HARSAG2 and Housing to 2040. In addition we have contributed to raising general awareness of homelessness and its effect and promoting our social justice agenda both individually and collectively with others.

Of recent times in particular we have undertaken a series of meetings with colleagues in our membership to explore opportunities to further develop the relationship between our organisations and seek ways to make our collective voice more effective. The intention is to continue this conversation in parallel with practical action.

One of the most effective collaborations has been to join the Everyone Home Collective. This is now a group of 30 Third Sector, Legal and Academic organisations. Originally they came together to raise concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on people experiencing homelessness and to lobby for action. Now the collective is looking at homelessness in a wider context.

Although there were many negative aspects to the pandemic there were also positives. For the first time a concerted effort across all agencies and government successfully lifted the vast majority of rough sleepers off the streets and into accommodation. In addition a planned intervention was put in place for everyone accommodated to ensure that they had an accommodation plan in place to enable them to move on. That just proves what can be done when the political will is strong enough. Now the challenge is to maintain this impetus.

Of significance has been the work of the group around the plight of many asylum seekers forced into destitution by the system and others without recourse to public funds; people, sometimes with children, who find themselves at risk due to their extreme vulnerability.

Working together this collective has demonstrated that it has both authority and influence when it speaks as one. In many ways it represents the way forward for SCHA as it seeks to optimise the resources it has by working in partnership with other agencies.

Homeless Sunday in Scotland was again co-ordinated by SCHA. This is a UK wide event held in conjunction with our colleagues in Housing Justice. Homeless Sunday is held annually in October as a day to reflect on homelessness and associated issues.

VCT Skills (Community Development)

SCHA has continued to work across the country to link church groups with Women’s Aid organisations to develop practical support for families moving out of refuge through the supply of starter packs.

The organisation has maintained support to the Starter Pack Network although this has been more of a challenge latterly with the impact of Covid-19. The annual conference held in 2019 in partnership with Community Recycling Network Scotland was another great success with very positive feedback from those who attended. The collaborative nature of this group was highlighted at the conference when one speaker talked about the problems her group was having trying to access adequate storage. By the end of the conference another contributor had made a couple of telephone calls and the problem was solved.

Training remains a service on offer. A highlight this year was the very successful training provided on the impact of trauma and how that affects practice. In homeless services in particular Trauma Informed Practice can have a positive impact. We are considering ways to make this training more accessible.

Probably the most significant piece of work has been in Paisley where we have been supporting the development of a multi-agency service including a drop-in facility based in one of the churches in the town. The group had achieved significant progress before the pandemic brought matters to a temporary halt.

Property Re-development Model

SCHA have promoted the model to churches, church groups, housing associations and Local Authorities in many parts of the country. Although no particular site has reached the level of an active project there is a definite sense of the growing realisation of the importance of the model in responding to the chronic shortage of affordable housing. Churches across the country have a real opportunity to impact on one of the root causes of homelessness through the re-development of redundant church property.

Never more so than in rural areas where the church property is generally located within communities and even small developments can have a transformational impact. Increasingly church administrations are recognising benefits of the potential contribution they can make to communities across Scotland. SCHA look forward to continuing the discussions with partners and moving matters on to start realising some of this potential.

Through Feantsa and the Housing Solutions Platform the SCHA model was included in a European publication, “50 Out-of-the-Box Housing Solutions to Homelessness and Housing Exclusion”. This was followed by an invitation to present the concept to a group of European agencies. In addition we were pleased to assist colleagues in Tarragona, Spain who are investigating the possibility of similarly developing church property in their city. We wish them well with their venture.

The last highlight to share has been the work done with the support of Just Enterprise to develop the business case to enable SCHA to properly resource the development of this model. Once Covid-19 has relaxed its grip we are looking forward to taking forward this vital piece of work.

Conclusion

It was Nelson Mandela who said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn”. In looking back at the last twelve months I guess that we have learned an awful lot. We certainly have not won very much. That said there is now a path to follow. It is a rocky path, a difficult path and one that will not be without its challenges. However, by all working together, members, trustees, volunteers and staff SCHA can secure a sustainable future.

Undoubtedly the organisation will need to continue to embrace change and adapt to the evolving environment in which it operates. This will be more of a challenge as a result of reduced capacity and emphasises the importance of everyone pulling together. Planning will be a key aspect and SCHA have already put in place strategies in important areas to take matters forward.

I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank the volunteers, the staff and the Board for all their efforts and support. In particular I would like to thank the Executive Committee; Brian Graham, John Kitson and Paul Bannon, for all their hard work when it was such a struggle and especially the Convener, Graeme Wilson. If ever a person went ‘above and beyond’ for the good of the organisation it was him. Thank you to all.

After today there will be a changing of the guard. Over the next year new blood will take on the leadership of SCHA. I welcome the renewed energy and the stimulation of new ideas. Sadly homelessness will be with us for some time to come. It is vitally important that SCHA continues and the voice of the churches is heard at this critical time for the country. I look forward to the new team making SCHA a key instigator of the Faith response to the prevention and alleviation of homelessness.