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The process of developing this initial part of the toolkit has been a privilege. We’ve spent the last 12 months listening to people with experience of accessing services as well as support staff, managers and commissioners. Nearly 250 of you have taken part in conversations, roundtables or Communities of Practice, from which we developed a shared understanding of what being strengths-based means.

As this stage comes to an end, we share the four key elements that have emerged from these conversations and which form the basic framework of how we have come to understand strengths-based working; strengths, relationships, consistency and community.

1. Strengths: focus on strengths, potential and goals

The importance of truly and deeply believing in people is absolutely fundamental. The word ‘genuine’ came up time and time again in our conversations. People who have experienced services know the difference between those that are going through the motions and those that truly believe in them. This is about more than identifying the strengths of the people you support (although this is key). It’s also about believing in their potential to lead a full happy life that showcases all that they are.

Being strengths-based involves trusting the people that you work alongside. This includes trusting them to define their own goals and then to work towards them. This is a fundamental shift for many services that tend to be structured around outcomes that are set by contracts and funding requirements.

2. Relationships: be person-led and work alongside people in partnership

Strong and trusting relationships are the backbone of strengths-based working. To build an authentic relationship, both parties need to be on an equal footing. It is essential to be aware of the power balance and address it as much as possible. This means allowing the relationship to develop more naturally, at times and in places that work for both parties. The worker operates more like a coach; supporting a process led by the person they are working alongside.

3. Consistency: every part of your organisation should reflect a strengths-based ethos

As with other approaches, being strengths-based doesn’t stop with one member of staff or team. It has to be reflected throughout the organisation. Re-framing your organisation around self-identified goals means making changes to contracts and how success is measured. Committing to developing relationships differently means changing policy and practice. Language is also hugely significant because it affects how people are seen both by the organisation and by themselves. Being truly strengths-based is an ongoing but rewarding journey.

4. Communities: play an active part in the wider community

Being strengths-based means involving your organisation and the people who work with in the wider community. To build full lives people need positive social connections and opportunities for meaningful participation in the community. This is shown to be a key element of building resilience as well as developing positive social capital. In other words, people need to start taking part in activities in the community and not just those offered by homelessness organisations. In the same way, your organisation needs to participate in wider conversations about creating a fairer and more strengths-based society.

What next?

These four key ideas are the basis for the 10 principles outlined in the Becoming strengths-based toolkit. This resource will be developed over the next year as we understand more about what being strengths-based means in practice.

We are proud to announce that Concrete in Stoke on Trent and Leeds City Council are learning partners on this project. Over the next nine months we will work together to learn how both commissioners and providers can become truly strengths-based.

There are also opportunities for you to join the conversation and share your ideas. Please get in touch if you want to know more: vicky.album@homelesslink.org.uk.