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The Partnership

We teamed up with Emmaus UK to explore the use of, and make recommendations regarding the application of "positive approaches" (also known as relationship-based approaches) which include psychologically informed environments, trauma-informed care, and strength-based practices, across 29 communities in England, Wales, and Scotland. We sat down with Verity, the Federation Development Advisor for Housing and Homelessness at Emmaus UK, to delve into the process and its impact on the organisation and the broader Emmaus Federation.

The challenge

Emmaus in the UK is a unique federated organisation, comprising 29 communities across England, Wales, and Scotland. They offer housing and meaningful activities to individuals who've experienced homelessness. Known as 'companions', these residents develop vital skills through social enterprise work, live in supportive communities, and engage in activities that include assisting others in need.

With new leadership and the introduction of revitalised strategic priorities at Emmaus, there was a vision to implement positive approaches. These approaches have shown promising benefits in homelessness services, including improved trust and engagement, increased positive outcomes, and more successful transitions from services. Additionally, positive approaches can boost staff wellbeing, attendance, retention, and decrease incidents, complaints, and evictions. Verity elaborates:

We hope to embed positive approaches across Emmaus in the UK and support the Federation to provide companions with safety, empowerment, and choices.

"We believe every companion deserves meaningful relationships, the chance to build on their strengths and skills, and the opportunity to achieve their goals. We're committed to ensuring Emmaus staff and volunteers receive the necessary training and support to enhance their wellbeing and effectively support companions.”

Given that each Emmaus community is unique, maintaining a consistent approach presented challenges. They sought a consultant to guide them, as Verity noted:

“Being a Federated charity, there's a diverse range of practices and cultures across our communities. We wanted insights into existing good practice as well as areas needing improvement.”

The approach

With Homeless Link’s leading expertise in this field, it was an obvious choice to commission them for this project.

In collaboration with Homeless Link's consultancy service, Emmaus UK embarked on a comprehensive consultancy journey. To ensure broad application of the consultancy findings across the Federation, the consultancy was conducted within three diverse communities. These communities were chosen to reflect the diversity in location, structure, and practices, allowing for the identification of key themes specific to the Emmaus model. Verity explains:

“We selected one large, rural, well-established community, one already on the positive approaches journey with a focus on transition, and another that's small, urban, and recently underwent a leadership change.”

At each community, the consultancy team conducted introductory webinars, surveys, interviews, focus groups, and desktop reviews. They engaged stakeholders at every level, from companions and frontline staff to organisational leadership. Homeless Link provided project management and internal communications support and then compiled a report with actionable recommendations tailored to each community's unique context and Emmaus in the UK as a whole.

The result

The findings broadly affirmed Emmaus in the UK's alignment with positive approaches, highlighting that the Emmaus model offers the flexibility and time required to build trust and engagement. However, the report also pinpointed areas for improvement at both community and organisational levels.

A standout finding was Emmaus UK's role in supporting communities to adopt positive approaches. This includes providing training, template tools, policies, and revising its own documents to demonstrate these methods in action.

Equipped with these insights and recommendations, Emmaus UK embarked on a transformative journey to support the Emmaus Federation in working with their companions. They have since been developing strength-based tools, training, and policies shared across the Federation. This initiative involves developing a comprehensive suite of strength-based tools and resources for staff working with companions, set to roll out from July 2024. Positive approaches training has already been attended by over 80 staff members, with more sessions planned. They are also revising policies and procedures through a positive approaches lens and are in the process of creating resources that promote staff wellbeing, including reflective practice guidance and trauma-informed supervision.

Verity shared how this journey is going so far: “It's heartening to see staff embracing this new approach.”

The consultancy report emphasised the need to strengthen co-production at Emmaus UK, and they have begun implementing these changes. Verity highlighted:

“The Companion’s Committee is gaining momentum, directly influencing the Federation Committee’s priorities.”

Communities involved in the consultancy research have also taken proactive steps based on recommendations, with some support from Emmaus UK. This ranges from reviewing risk assessments and support plans to holding regular meetings with companions and executive leadership, as well as embarking on reviews of internal processes and procedures.

Reflecting on the consultancy experience, Verity commented:

Working with Homeless Link has been invaluable. The actionable recommendations at both community and organisational levels have aided our planning for the future.

Looking ahead, Emmaus UK continues to roll out positive approaches. This year, they aim to offer further positive approaches training across the Federation and support the Federation to embed person-centred practices with advice and resources from Emmaus UK when needed.

To find out more about how Homeless Link can support your organisation to embed positive approaches, please get in touch.

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Sophie Price

Consultancy Manager

Sophie coordinates a wide range of tailored support to the sector including research, evaluations and strategies.