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Fresh Start - helping people build a home for themselves

Key points

  • Fresh Start works to combat homelessness, deprivation and poverty
  • The charity provides people with practical and social support when they find a tenancy.
  • Staff voted for Fresh Start as their charity of the year for 2023/4

Our new charity of the year is dedicated to helping individuals resettle successfully after homelessness. How do they do this? Find out in this interview with Fresh Start’s director Biddy Kelly.

Based out of North Edinburgh, Fresh Start is a charity dedicated to helping people who have experienced, or are at risk of homelessness, build a home for themselves.

"A home is built from so much more than four walls, bricks, and mortar," begins Biddy Kelly, the charity's managing director. "It is about relationships, community, purpose, and belonging. Our vision is to help people build a safe space where they feel empowered to be the architects of their own lives."

To achieve this, the charity works closely with the individuals they support, taking a 'person-centred' approach to inform their services. This strategy has been at the core of Fresh Start since its establishment in 1999, when conversations with individuals who had experienced homelessness exposed the difficulty of moving into a tenancy.

"For many people, this is the start of a new journey with new challenges. When people get a new tenancy, they are only given the shell of the property and can go without the essentials that make a house a home. On top of this, they've often lost their social network after being housed in areas they don't know."

Fresh Start exists to help individuals navigate these challenges and empower them to resettle successfully. They work alongside volunteers to deliver a range of practical and social support services to anyone who needs it. As Biddy explains, "What we want to do is make it easier for people to get support and advice, helping them thrive, not just survive."

Their flagship starter pack service is designed to help individuals feel at home in a new tenancy, providing packs of essential household items such as bedding and kitchenware. Yet, their support doesn't end there; the charity also runs a hit squad service made up of teams of volunteers who can paint a tenant's new home.

In 2021 alone, the charity distributed over 14,322 starter packs and participated in 126 hit squads. Yet Biddy and her team don't measure their success in numbers, but in the "impact the services have in someone's life story. We've been fortunate to hear that our starter packs have prevented people from going into debt and that people are more confident to invite people into their home after a hit squad."

In 2020, Fresh Start also opened a Community Hub in West Pilton; this idea came about from conversations with service users who asked the charity to help them feel at home in their community. Biddy outlines:

"While it may be possible to help people secure a tenancy, it is likely to fail if they lack a social network. To address this, the Hub is designed to build community connectedness. We've got an open-door policy; anyone can walk in to meet people, chat over a cup of tea, and access advice and support services."

The Hub is home to several of the charity's key services, including a community kitchen, where individuals can attend cooking classes and a weekly ‘meet and eat’ every Friday. The Hub also hosts the Fresh Start Pantry, a community food club "created to help people stretch their money further. Currently, over 100 members visit the pantry each week and pay around £4.50 for a shop worth £30."

On top of their established services, the charity recently began collaborating with North Edinburgh Arts, Spartans Community Football Academy, and Move On to create the North Edinburgh Support Service (NESSie). According to Biddy, this initiative combines the unique skillsets of each charity "to help people prosper, and most importantly, push for system change."

"It’s also one of the first Scottish projects to be developed from a Human Learning System. This means we have no criteria –we will work with all those who need our support and work in a real person-centred way. We are really excited about it.

"We have recruited four individuals who work as a bespoke team. Based out of each of the charities’ hubs, the team is empowered to help anyone who walks through the door, and anything they learn from working with individuals in the community is used to inform the matters we take to decision-makers".

When asked what challenges the charity is currently facing, Biddy stresses that before the pandemic, Edinburgh was already struggling with a major housing crisis, and the cost of living crisis has only compounded many people's feelings of hopelessness: "There are massive challenges, but we like to talk about hope. Whether we provide an extended period of support or simply help someone get a microwave, at Fresh Start we can ultimately help people and bring them hope that things will get better."

Something that gives Biddy hope is the charity's 150+ strong volunteer force made up of retired individuals, those who want to give back, and people who've been through the charity's services themselves. Biddy illustrates:

"You can't underestimate the value of giving your time. The human element is worth more than we could ever calculate, but we know that it would cost Fresh Start an extra £250,000 a year to do what we do without volunteers.

"It is excellent to see people of so many different backgrounds working together. We've had feedback that volunteers get a lot from it too, whether it's a chance to socialise or a safe space to build confidence in your skills."

Looking towards the future, Biddy is optimistic "We've been through quite a significant period of growth with new projects and services, so we are focused on bedding these in and pushing for some real system changes through NESSie." However, their ultimate priority remains "helping anyone that walks through that door, and if we aren't placed to offer the support, we will put you in touch with an organisation who can."

Baillie Gifford staff voted for Fresh Start as their 2023/24 charity of the year. You can find out more about the charity by visiting their website.

 

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