How long have you worked for CHESS and how did you come across the Charity
I joined as a volunteer in September 2001 following a visit to the Chelmsford Volunteer Service. Following a phone call to the shelter, I collected an application form on a dark night when I struggled to find the building. I knew I wanted to leave banking, but it wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and volunteering at CHESS was a step to finding out if working for a homeless organisation was for me or not. After 15 months I decided it was, and I started working for CHESS as a night support worker on January 1st, 2003. This was on the winter project in a portacabin at the back of Moulsham Mill with an outside portaloo as our only toilet facility! When that ceased in April 2003 some of the winter project staff including myself were incorporated into roles within the night shelter.
How has your role changed from the original position you started in
I started as a Night Support worker in January 2003 on the winter project and remain in that role to this day though now in a permanent building. Fortunately, now I have access to a proper room for sleeping and standard toilet facilities! The winter project was an overflow facility from the night shelter over the worst of the winter for people who were homeless.
The night support worker’s role hasn’t changed dramatically, we still ensure residents are provided with an evening meal, rough sleepers with food / bedding as needed, provide a listening ear with guidance / support where appropriate and ensure rules are followed. There is more paperwork although this is now electronic. We have increased security as we now have CCTV on various sites that we monitor, and we no longer undertake support meetings with the expansion of the day staff team who now provide this role. Covid provided us with the challenge of working from home as the shelter was shut and since it reopened, we have been lone workers overnight as we restricted the number of volunteers on site.
Tell us about your role and what you get involved in day to day
I took on the new role of Business Support Manager in November 2011 on a full-time basis and reduced the night support worker commitment but still maintaining some time in that role. The Business Support Manager’s role encompasses a multitude of areas – payroll, vehicles, insurance, data control, Contracts with external agencies for services, equipment maintenance / repairs and servicing including fire alarm systems, licensing / EHO, purchasing, storage, volunteers, some HR duties including staff inductions and DBS checks, donations including Harvest Festival and Christmas, originally event management too though that is largely carried out by the Fundraising Manager now, H&S including risk assessment / pest control etc., Setting up of properties, managing the maintenance of properties (now done by the Facilities team) and anything else no one else wants to do! I also manage two staff currently – the new role of Services assistant who deals with donations / food / cleaning rooms vacated by residents and a cleaner who cleans communal spaces. I cover some aspects of the Services Assistant role when that person is away from the office. Based at 200 New London Road I also get involved in dealing with residents during the day. At the time I started we had 6 properties and 32 beds so whilst some aspects of the role have gone to other staff there is an increase in the volume of items within each of the other areas to compensate so I am never without work!
What is something you love about working for CHESS
I love making up the Christmas bags for residents. For some they will be the only presents they get and whilst many will receive other gifts, I think it demonstrates our commitment to residents and also the care / support of our donors who provide the gifts. It’s a busy but rewarding time of the year.
It’s also the variety of things that I do. One minute I can be completing trying to work out what the best PAT tester is to buy (for testing electrical equipment), the next minute showing a prospective volunteer around the building with an explanation of how we work and then booking the vans in for MOT / servicing. No one day is the same and all is designed to be able to provide the best and safest service for residents.
How do you think homelessness has changed over the years you have been involved
When I first started, we had one house that had 8 beds with 3-night staff, a manager, an administrator and a part-time treasurer. Now we have 12 houses, 60 beds, an Outreach team and over 40 staff so I have witnessed a lot of change over almost 20 years being a staff member.
In my first summer half our beds were unoccupied but disappointingly the above shows how the need has increased. We’ve never been in that position since then. On the plus side, we have been able to grow and provide additional provision that has been needed. The rise of step-families has generated issues and we see 18-year-olds who don’t get on with a step-parent seeking help. More women become homeless now than previously. At one time last year 50% of our residents were women and although that is unusually high, there are significantly more than when I started. We are also seeing a lot more people now who are in regular employment wanting to access our services.
What’s a story you specifically remember
There was one gentleman in his mid-forties when we originally saw him who had been evicted from council accommodation due to antisocial behaviour and rent arrears. He was very likeable when sober but a bit if a handful when he wasn’t. He came through CHESS several times but continued to self-medicate for his mental health issues with drugs and alcohol so wasn’t able to progress. Eventually he accepted the need to get outside help for his mental health issues and once taking medication for this was able to be stable enough to be placed in private rented accommodation. I heard from him a few years ago and at that time had been in the same accommodation for the 5 years since he had left CHESS.