There was a great atmosphere at our 4th Starter Packs conference, co-hosted with CRNS (Community Resources Network Scotland). Over 50 delegates from 30 organisations attended this year, at the same venue which proved so popular in 2018, Falkirk Trinity Church. Our theme was “Community resilience in times of need”, with the event amply showing that resilience is alive and well in Scotland, through the work of local projects meeting pressing local needs.

We were welcomed at the church with tea, coffee and delicious scones, and then Michael Cook, CRNS CEO, and Richard Howat our own Chief Executive started off the event, setting us up for the day ahead with their words of welcome. Our keynote speaker was Kevin Wilkie [pictured left], Homelessness Policy Manager at the Scottish Government, on the Government’s Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans. Kevin described the rapid rehousing approach as “ensuring that people spend the shortest amount of time in temporary accommodation and are rehoused as soon as appropriate”. The Scottish Government has committed 32.5m for rapid rehousing and Housing First, coming from the Ending Homelessness Together Fund. This was an interesting talk on a very topical subject – you can find Kevin’s full presentation here.

We then enjoyed three excellent Spotlight sessions showcasing starter pack projects in Dumfries, East Dunbartonshire and Kilmarnock. Joyce Harkness’ presentation about SHAX began with a video showing all that the project provides in terms of both starter packs and opportunities for volunteers to gain accredited skills, helping some into employment. Joyce gave further details and showed us the simple but effective feedback form SHAX uses to help them assess local needs. Feedback has revealed an increase in clients with mental health problems, more money issues, and more repeat homelessness.

Margaret Redpath and Brenda Diamond from Fresh Start East Dunbartonshire described their beginnings via local churches guided by SCHA and East Dunbartonshire Women’s Aid. They emphasized that this small project only works because of local churches’ help. The project supports women, some with children, who have fled domestic abuse, often having to leave all their possessions behind. There are two Women’s Aid refuges locally, and Fresh Start supports women leaving the refuge for a new home, but with no means to furnish it. The packs are tailor-made for each recipient (and any children), and can include a microwave, an invaluable item where there is no cooker. Local churches donate goods, and funds have been raised this year through a coffee morning, and success in a Youth Philanthropy Initiative project. Referrals are irregular, and storage is a problem so they cannot buy in bulk. The numbers helped per year (15-20) may seem very small to the bigger projects, Margaret said – but we were left in no doubt as to their impact thanks to Nicola, who had received one of these starter packs when she needed it most. Nicola spoke very courageously and movingly of what receiving a pack had meant to her, “all my Christmases coming at once”, showing her that she was not alone and that someone cared. Her words were enough to inspire anyone providing starter packs: they can be worth much more than money can buy.

Janice Grant then described the work of EACHa (East Ayrshire Homelessness Action) – we heard about the hygiene packs given to everyone who presents as homeless in East Ayrshire, through to the one-stop-shop or “Wrap-around service” with three drop-in times a week hosted by a team of volunteers, with representatives from the Council Housing Dept, the DWP, Citizen’s Advice, the Job Centre, a nurse, a hairdresser. Janice stressed that there is no “the Homeless”, each person has their own story and circumstances. People who use the drop-in times have said “You’re the only ones who listen”. EACHa has drawn up an Action Plan from people’s stories, for how they want things to change. Local agencies have committed to join groups to improve matters, and EACHa will make sure this won’t be left to drift – they will follow up on whether things have improved, or whether the barriers that need dismantling have been identified.

The Spotlight sessions were followed by a choice of two Breakout sessions: “The importance of resilience” led by Heather Zajac, our Development Manager; or “Telling your story” led by Matt Lewis of CRNS and Tom Logan of Recycling First, East Lothian. Heather looked at the definitions of resilience, and the factors which contribute to it. She twice got us into small groups to discuss resilience, and identifying it in our organisations, making the session very interactive. I was interested to learn that resilience does not equate to coping: coping is a short-term response to a difficult situation, but if relied on too much it leads to stress. Meanwhile in “Telling your story” Matt and Tom gave very useful advice on ways to capture and record data relating to your project, and how to share and promote your work. Both sessions received very positive feedback.

Lunch then provided some networking opportunities, a very popular aspect of the day, with the chance to share experiences, needs, and best practice.  Colin Bruce from Furniture Plus got things underway after the break. However before his talk Colin said that he had been in touch with storage suppliers in East Dunbartonshire, who had immediately offered storage space to Fresh Start East Dunbartonshire for their starter packs – this was met with resounding applause and gave a clear demonstration of the benefits of meeting together.… Moving on to his presentation, “Making a house a home”, Colin detailed Furniture Plus’s services, as a member of the CRNS Reuse Consortium. CRNS won the Scotland Excel Framework contract developed in 2016 to help local authorities procure reused furniture more easily. 16 CRNS members formed the Reuse Consortium to enable wide coverage and supply. They work in conjunction with local authorities, to provide low cost, quality goods & furnishings to low income households in Fife. This alleviates furniture poverty, and also provides training and employment opportunities, for example in PAT testing, or as drivers/crew members. Usable furniture is diverted from landfill and some materials are recycled. Furniture Plus also provides starter packs, and has a café which provides low cost wholesome meals. It was interesting to hear of the servicing of white goods in Saughton Prison, which teaches new skills and brings a sense of wellbeing to those involved. Colin showed us a slide of a house fitted out with Furniture Plus goods, it looked wonderful, yet this was achieved at a much lower cost than buying the items brand new.

Our final talk was a presentation by Mhairi McMahon of Crowdfund Scotland. It was very helpful to learn more about this relatively recent form of fundraising, using social media and the online networks around you. It works on the basic premise that you have an idea you believe deserves funding – others share your enthusiasm and give towards it. You can increase this likelihood by seeking reward-based donations, in which donors receive something in return. Non reward-based donations receive an average pledge of £11, whereas reward-based donations receive on average £50. Once you have set up your project, you approach potential supporters, from family and friends to local people, your work team, and you can use blogs or the press. We heard the benefit of setting a time limit on your target, with 30 days the optimum span to maintain the interest. There are also differing methods – the all or nothing approach, where if you don’t meet the target, all the money is returned, or the flexible approach, in which case something will happen however much or little you raise, and all the money raised is kept even if shy of the target. Crowdfund Scotland offers coaching and expertise to plan, create and run the project, full details plus downloadable guides on their website at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/crowdfund-scotland.

Finally Michael of CRNS and Richard of SCHA rounded off the day with much deserved Thank yous to all our speakers, helpers and attendees, remarking that the event had helped us all remember why we do what we do. It had showcased great practice, had resourced us with fresh ideas and approaches, and enabled us to network and make good connections: a good day was had by all.  Margaret Redpath has been in touch with us since then:

We all thoroughly enjoyed yesterday, thank you for the opportunity to speak at the Conference and let our story be told. I am delighted to tell you that we have a new storage unit. We went this morning, chose one to meet our needs and came away all signed up. This is such a brilliant example of how we can all work together and help each other.”

We couldn’t agree more – many thanks to all.