The House of St Barnabas: Breaking the cycle of homelessness

The House of St Barnabas is the world’s first not-for-profit members’ club that is run to support the people affected by homelessness back into work.

by Nikhil Sreekandan

The House of St Barnabas, 1 Greek Street, Soho. © HoSB

The late Dr Henry Monro was a young physician at St Luke’s Old Street – London’s second mental hospital – when he observed the lack of rehabilitation in the city’s hospitals, debtors’ prisons and workhouses. Paving the path for a more disciplined philanthropy, Dr Monro and his friends founded House of Charity with a vision to provide help to “those in necessitous circumstances.”

Taking over the parish workhouse of St Anne’s Soho in 1846 provided an opportunity to do something better. Later in 1862, the charity moved across the garden to 1 Greek Street when the foundation stone was laid for the chapel.

Centuries later, the townhouse and Chapel are Grade I Listed Georgian buildings steeped in rich history, that stand tall and proud right in the heart of Soho.

But, today the charity transformed into a different version of its former self. Called The House of St Barnabas – nevertheless true to its ancient roots – it is now a not-for-profit members’ club that is tackling London’s homelessness in its own unique way.

“We have been a charity, in Soho, since 1846. The value of work has always been an important part of what we have done and it continues today,” says  Joanne Wedderspoon, the Director of Development at The House of St Barnabas.

The courtyard garden is the largest in Soho and enjoys minor fame as the setting for Dr Manette and Lucie’s entertaining in Charles Dicken’s novel, A Tale of Two Cities. © Tom Horton

Three years have passed since the charity pledged to break the cycle of homelessness in London simply by integrating the running of their not-for-profit members’ club with an Employment Academy for the people affected by homelessness and social exclusion.

Since the club opened on the first of October, 2013 and the House ran their first employment programme in the following month of November, it has produced 116 graduates and 68% of them have found jobs within a year of graduating.

The House strongly believes that employment is the most important, and most effective, route out of homelessness. Of course, it brings economic benefits, which are vital, but they particularly highlight that employment gives purpose, a reason to care, and brings with it richer life experiences and relationships.

© Tom Horton

The House currently runs three 12-week employment programmes every year, which supports 60 people.

Programme participants are referred by their keyworkers via referring agencies. The House currently has 23 referral partners including Cardinal Hume Centre, Centrepoint, Crisis, The Passage, Prince’s Trust and Salvation Army.

Individuals referred are then invited to an interview to ascertain their suitability for the programme. Participants must be three months clear of any substance or alcohol abuse, be living in stable or temporary accommodations, have a good understanding of English and have a key worker to work in partnership with the House of St Barnabas Employment Support Officers.

“It is important to the success of each individual that a person is ready to make the transition from homelessness to training and employment. This means we require their full participation and commitment to the programme,” explains Joanne.

A Participant’s Journey. © HoSB

A participant’s journey starts with a 12-week Employment Programme and continues with 12 months of mentoring and ongoing support from the Employment Academy team.

The first two weeks are spent in the Employment Academy classrooms. Modules cover a range of personal development and effectiveness training essential to retaining employment. From the third week, participants concentrate on work experience in the club or offices at The House of St Barnabas, where each individual is teamed up with a buddy, a member staff, to shadow and gain experience in all the various aspects of hospitality and office administration.

During the final weeks, the participants are matched with a mentor who will support them for a further 12 months. “Mentors are key to the ongoing support beyond the 3-month programme and are fully trained to provide motivation and guidance to their mentees on their journey. Many of the mentors, all volunteers, are members of the club,” she says.

Once the participants complete the course, they are matched with the House’s employer partners for job interviews. The House has 20 employer partners including the likes of Bafta 195, Benugo, Connection Crew, Ned’s Noodle Bar, One Housing Group and Premier Inn. The last year saw  70% of the graduates obtain formal qualifications, 52% obtain employment, and 44% of them still continuing in employment at the House.

The Drawing Room. © Mike Tinney

For the House, the Employment Academy is only one aspect of their social enterprise and one which is entirely dependent on the success of their members’ club. The not-for-profit members’ club is run as a social business and is a trading subsidiary of the charity. All profits from the club are donated back into the charity.

The House has around 3,000 members so far, with a number of celebrated artists in their long list of founding members. The charity works hard to strengthen their links with the Soho community and is active and responsible for engaging with the local residents and businesses.

The DNA of the club is energetic, inviting, and fuelled by culture; with an eclectic mix of heritage, contemporary art and music. The club runs a number of cultural events throughout the year, their flagship festival being Art Social.

“We believe that access to arts and culture should be equal to all. In our experience, those who are socially excluded are often also culturally excluded. To bridge that gap we ensure our programme of cultural events in London is open to the public and to graduates and trainees of our Employment Academy,” explains Joanne.

House of St Barnabas X Bestival. © Tom Horton

Recently, the House was recognised and commended for their work at the London Homelessness Awards and the charity hopes this validation means that they can collaborate with more organisations to reach and support a bigger group of people back into lasting work. The enterprise’s immediate goal is to triple the number of people they can support through the Employment Academy every year, which will take it up to 180 people a year.

From their experience and proven success so far, the House’s belief that employment is the most effective route out of homelessness has only grown stronger:

“It is definitely about giving people employment. We do have an accommodation pathway, so we do work with organisations to offer our participants affordable rental accommodation but it is more than about giving people the keys to a new flat, it’s about giving them skills to earn their own money and by having a job it increases the confidence, it opens up social networks, friendship groups.”

“The most important way to tackle homelessness is to give people employability skills to enable them to earn their own money, their own respect and the respect of others.”

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