Housing is about far more than putting a roof over somebody’s head

15 years ago Norma’s front door was boarded up after the glass was smashed and she’s lived with this ever since.  She’d reported it to us and we’d asked for a crime reference number so that we could do the repair it for her at no cost to her… but she never got back to us.  And because our housing managers were so busy offering a reactive service to their patch of 600 homes, there wasn’t always the time for them to proactively follow up on customers like Norma so, regrettably, we didn’t get back to her.
But that’s all changed and we’re no longer strangers. Mark, her neighbourhood coach explains more:

“It took a little while for Norma to trust me and believe that I really was on her side but I’ve been working with her for a year now and she has gradually shared little snippets of her life. She has three adult children – the eldest of whom has a learning disability and she tells me that her husband just couldn’t cope with this. He’d get frustrated and angry and she suffered years of domestic violence before finally plucking up the courage to flee to the safety of a hostel.

After being rehoused in one of our homes she became withdrawn and locked herself away for years after the break-up of her violent marriage.  This and the isolation took a terrible toll on her mental health, which will take a very long time to mend – but at least she’s now made a start.

Simply replacing the broken glass in the door helped her to start feeling more secure.  She’d not felt safe for years but now that we’re getting to know each other her confidence is slowly building.  A lot of my job as a neighbourhood coach is invisible – it’s really hard to show the ‘value’ of spending time building trust, listening and simply doing what I say I will, but these are the things that help to create really strong relationships that enable customers like Norma to open up and find ways to move on with their lives.

It’s still early days but the signs are really good.  From never opening the door for me when I first called round, Norma now let’s me in. She engages with me, sends me messages and lets me know if she’s not going to be around. She’s seen her GP and was referred to a local mental health support group after we chatted about how beneficial this might be for her… and she’s now also actively engaged in a self-help group where she not only gains valuable support but is also one of the volunteers.

It’s incredible to see the progress she has made - she’s only in her mid-fifties and I’m looking forward to seeing the kind of life that Norma carves out for herself as her confidence continues to grow.”

With one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health issue each year it is no surprise that our colleagues are finding a growing number of customers in this position. This makes it more important than ever that we have the time to spend with people to help them think about how they might deal with whatever challenges they may be facing.
Another example of this comes from neighbourhood coach, Nina.

“When I first met Paul he was suffering really badly with poor mental health due to previous and ongoing domestic violence from an ex-partner, heavy debt, loneliness and an addiction to gambling.

Over the few months I’ve known him, we’ve had loads of conversations not only about his challenges, but also the positive things in his life; the things he enjoys and his hopes for the future. Focusing on what is good has enabled Paul to start taking steps towards a better future.

Our conversations have given him a renewed confidence to tackle some of his challenges and one of his immediate goals is to sort his debt out – he’s made a great start on this by getting himself a job.

Needing to find a way to relax, Paul has started meditating at a local Buddhist temple.  He’s also receiving specialist counselling and has opened up to a friend about what he’s been going through.  It turns out that his friend has similar issues too so they really understand and support each other.

He told me about his love of art and how he’s used it as a form of therapy in the past and I’m so pleased that he’s taken this up again… he’s even approached a local café which has agreed to showcase his artwork – how good’s that for his confidence?

Paul is now looking towards a much brighter future.  His aspiration is to develop his art into a career and whilst he still has a way to go, he is making all the right moves to make this a reality.”

It’s not just about the person with their name on the tenancy agreement either. We’re interested in the whole household. For example, when neighbourhood coach Cathy first met Jake he’d recently moved back to his parents’ home after suffering with anxiety for a number of years. Cathy said:

“Jake is 29 and when I first met him he was really unwell.  He kept himself away from the outside world, rarely leaving his bedroom. He was having regular panic attacks, couldn’t hold down a job and couldn’t engage with anyone beyond his immediate family.  The relationship between him and his parents was getting really strained but I’d built up a decent relationship with his mum and dad and they felt confident enough to ask me for help.

They asked if I could speak with Jake, and during that first meeting he told me that he didn’t want to carry on living the way he was.  I helped him think through what it was he wanted to achieve, setting them as goals and putting together a bit of a plan.  It hasn’t all been plain sailing - at one point he had something of a crisis, which could have given him the perfect excuse to retreat but he didn’t give up and Jake has come on in leaps and bounds. From being a recluse who never came out of his room and relied on tranquilisers to get him through the day, Jake is now a completely different man.

His confidence has grown enabling him to volunteer regularly at a local café.  He’s baking and selling delicious vegan cakes – the demand for these has been so great that he is now looking at seed funding to start a small business.

He’s been studying short courses with the Open University and has successfully enrolled on an Open University Diploma Course in Natural Sciences (Physics) which starts in January – and he’s applied for student finance.

Jake is looking after himself now and regularly sees his GP who is supporting him to wean himself off the tranquilisers and he’s also on the waiting list for a place on a cognitive behavioural therapy course.  He’s managed to successfully apply for Universal Credit, something he was frightened by before we started working together, and he’s also applied for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP).  He is even starting to think about looking for a place of his own.”

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg and have focussed on customers whose mental health was a barrier to them living a more fulfilled life.  With some reports suggesting that mental ill health is costing the UK economy as much as £100bn a year, we see just how crucial our role is.  By taking the time to build relationships we are starting to see how a coaching approach can contribute to improving our customers and their families wellbeing.


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