Volunteering to Turn Lives Around

When I applied to be a research volunteer at the Cardinal Hume Centre, I was very happy to be offered the opportunity to use some of the skills and knowledge that I’ve learned, not always intentionally, through a hotchpotch of life experiences and education.

I found out about the vacancy through UCL where I am studying the Psychology of Education. I’m hoping that this degree will pull together the strands from previous work that I’ve done in teaching, and previous study in sociology and culture.  So, one reason for wanting to work at the Cardinal Hume Centre was to engage in practical work to counterbalance the academic study, and to develop further research and admin skills.  I may have been able to find other posts in order to achieve this, but I am particularly happy to be able to work in the Cardinal Hume Centre.

On my first day, it struck me that the welcoming ethos of the Cardinal Hume Centre is extended to all, staff as well as clients.  As a young woman in the late 1980s, I was very aware of the difficulties of living independently and accessing support services and education.  The growing number of rough sleepers today reminds me of this time, more so perhaps because I am now witnessing my own son taking the tricky step from full time education to independent living. And also, because, sadly, the breakdown of support systems through social and cultural changes appears to be making independent living more difficult for many of the most vulnerable. It is very gratifying to be able to make some contribution to the work of the Cardinal Hume Centre, because it is clearly evident that we need to support the growing numbers of people for whom securing the basic needs of life is increasingly difficult.

Working as a researcher with Hilary, Manager of External Partnerships, has allowed me to see that the Centre plays a broad role in the community, which stretches beyond the hostel and the immediate support of homeless people to families and those with learning and employment needs.  It has been so encouraging to see the way in which the team here are committed to holistic and constructive support.

By and large the research that I have been doing has been varied, depending on what Hilary needs in her communications with external partnerships.  Over the past few weeks, I have followed parliamentary activities relevant to the work of the Cardinal Hume Centre, and in doing so, I have become increasingly familiar with the way in which our parliamentary system works. The success of the Homelessness Reduction Bill in the House of Commons got things off to a positive start,  and illustrated how different agencies work together to influence parliamentary outcomes.  Hopefully this positive outcome will secure services to support those with wider housing needs such as those threatened with homelessness.

On a subsequent occasion, I was very grateful for the time that a member of the Employment team, Jeanita, took to talk, very informatively, about the effect that changes to the Employment and Support Allowance will have on her clients. Caritas Social Action Network was able to use some of this material in their report to DWP/Department of Health.  

More recently, we have been gathering background detail about the Chadwick Street Job Centre closure, which has included following parliamentary debate and finding out how the closure will affect our clients.  We are hoping that we can use this material to demonstrate a need to retain at least some services in the immediate local area.

And currently, I am in the process of compiling statistical data and information about the extent of homelessness in the UK, in order that, when communicating with external partners, we are up to speed with the national picture of homelessness and the associated issues that homeless people face.

Every week I have been directed towards different research projects by Hilary, which, from my point of view, has been interesting and rewarding.  What better use for information and knowledge that to channel it towards improving wellbeing and turning around people’s lives?  It’s great to be doing some work that has this aim at its heart.

Written by Emma Horne, Research Volunteer