Positive Pathways in Middlesbrough | Depaulcharity

Positive Pathways in Middlesbrough | Depaulcharity

Depaul helps people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Positive Pathways in Middlesbrough

By Rosie Kelly - 7 March 2019


Depaul UK responds where the need is greatest, working with people of all ages around the UK. In 2018 our youngest recorded service user was 8 years old and our oldest service user was 81 years old.

At Positive Pathways in Middlesbrough, Depaul UK works with people of all ages at risk of homelessness, creating a welcoming environment where people can socialise, relax and access support when they are ready.

Page, Positive Pathways

Our Positive Pathways project is based on a simple premise – people can come in two days a week for a cup of tea and some socialising. If they need help with benefits or to access another kind of help, we facilitate that.

When we started running the project last year, the original plan was that we would offer emergency bags of food. The idea was to encourage people to come and get some key working support from us, try to make sure they were getting everything they were entitled to.

Unfortunately it didn’t work that well and we weren’t achieving a great deal. It was all re-jigged and food became much more of a minor key, now we only hand out food parcels in exceptional circumstances.

Instead we set up tea and toast. Sometimes we extend it – we offer soup if it’s really cold – but generally it’s tea and coffee with toast and peanut butter or chocolate spread.

At other places there’s an expectation that people will come in for a drink and a sandwich, eat it and leave. Here, they’re welcome to stay for as long as we’re open. People can play games, they can play cards, colouring in is incredibly popular, and the idea is that we can build up trust and a relationship with the people who come in.

Once we’ve built that trust, we can start to identify the people that we think are ready to make changes in their lives.

That’s not about us trying to force change on anyone, it’s about us offering. Sometimes if someone has a very chaotic lifestyle, they might not be ready or able to make changes.

We also get other organisations in to help – we’ve already got someone from a mental health organisation coming in, and we’re encouraging people working in other areas like domestic violence and the local homelessness team to come along. Even if those people just join in with card games, even if most of the time they’re just sat drinking tea, but they’re a friendly face with a specialism, who is able to help if they’re needed.

It’s a neutral environment that we provide, and the people who use it have told us how much they enjoy coming. It’s somewhere they can come and socialise and feel that they’re the default, no-one is making judgements.

Everyone has a chaotic lifestyle to some extent and so anyone can feel at home. The plan is to get people in by offering tea and toast, get that trust going and then start letting people see what can be achieved.

The mental health worker who comes in has made some great progress, she’s like one of the staff now. She just comes in and makes tea, helps out behind the counter and chats to the people who come in. But she has that specialism, so she’ll pick up on things she hears and be able to say, “That’s something I can help you with.”

We’ve got a lady coming in who we believe is the victim of some financial abuse. People were telling her what her benefits were, but when we were calling up to check them, the answer we were getting suggested she should be getting far more money. Somewhere along the line we think that someone has been helping themselves to her cash.

And so we’re working with her on that by linking her up with services. The mental health worker who comes in put her in touch with a social worker, and by making those connections, we’re optimistic that we can make things better for her.

We had a guy turned up who had been sleeping rough, and my colleague took him down to the local homeless team. It can be a really intimidating place to go, there’s a nervousness about being looked down on, so we can support people outside of the café in exceptional circumstances like those.

Now that we’ve been running for a few months, people are getting quite proprietorial over the project and feeling a sense of ownership.

In a project like this it’s inevitable that things sometimes kick off, but because people feel a sense of ownership, often the regulars will intervene and calm things down before we have to. People are starting to claim it as their own, and that’s what we want to achieve – a hub where people feel comfortable and at home.

It’s one of those jobs where you can go through a real spectrum of emotion in a relatively short space of time. Some days can be really frustrating, but when it’s going well it’s so rewarding.


Heather, Church Urban Fund

Church Urban Fund (CUF) began in the 1980s in the wake of the Faith in the City report, established by the Church of England as a practical response to unmet need.  CUF has been active in local communities for over 30 years. Our vision is to see people and communities all over England flourish and enjoy life in all its fullness. The Positive Pathways programme is a partnership with Church Urban Fund and generously funded by the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation.

We work through the Church of England’s local parish networks, and alongside other faith-based and secular organisations, to bring about positive change in neighbourhoods. We work by building trust, empowering local people to have a go at addressing the areas of greatest need in their communities, and speaking out against injustice.

We are committed to working through relational partnerships which bring about long-term, sustainable change by mobilising local people to be the source of the change they want to see and to use the assets already available in their community.

The Together Network is a key part of this work, operating in 21 of the C of E Dioceses where there is significant deprivation. Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland works with local churches, charities and community groups to respond to local challenges in an asset-based way.

The John Paul II Centre in Middlesbrough is a perfect example. Much of the space was unused while there was a great deal of need in the town, so we started working with the JPC exploring how the building could be used to better serve the people of Middlesbrough.

Quite serendipitously CUF received generous funding from the Bramall Foundation to trial a more relational response to homelessness which came from a Christian ethos of giving people dignity and respect.

We approached Depaul UK to run the service, and it’s been up and running now since 2015. The foundation of the project is building relationships, and we love that the drop in is a safe space where people can come and spend time and build relationships. There are also therapeutic spaces for people to access, there’s a wellbeing group, a writing group and a singing group. Relationships are kept at the heart. And when you’ve built those relationships and that trust then you can begin to help people to move forward.

Positive Pathways in Middlesbrough is part of a network of homelessness projects across Yorkshire.  Positive Pathways is also running in Bradford in partnership with Hope Housing and Inn Churches. The Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York has been commissioned by CUF to evaluate the impact of the programme and to do a piece of research exploring what it means to take a relationship-focused approach to homelessness, and how it works.

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