From Tai Chi to job hunting-Norwich’s pioneering help for the homeless

Homeless people without skills are being given the opportunity to find their feet thanks to the pioneering success of a Norwich scheme that looks to put a roof over their head and a job in their sights.

Set up three years ago, the Learning Employment and Accommodation Project (LEAP) was one of the first projects of its kind to help give those in dire straits at chance at pulling themselves up out of poverty by providing the chance of work and training.

And with news that �311,000 of funding will be coming its way thanks to a Big Lottery Fund grant, there are hopes that its success until now will be the start of bigger things to come.

'I went for the job because I was excited about the opportunity of being able to help homeless people achieve their aspirations' said project manager Barry Allard, 'and it was great to be at the start, developing a project that's new.

'While here, I've learnt that for many homeless people employment and skills needs are just as important as their housing needs.'

Having previously worked in Norfolk County Council's housing department, he was one of a team of two taken on to shape the council-run scheme.

His appointment followed on from a government-led effort to set up pilot projects around the country, prompted by a national report that saw a lack of help in addressing the underlying problems beneath homelessness, whether mental health, drug abuse or simply a lack of skills.

Most Read

And so LEAP was born. First acting as an additional service to already established routes within the council it sought to connect the homeless, or vulnerably housed, with education and training support provided by groups that would otherwise be beyond their grasp.

Now, LEAP has its own space, in the form of Under-1-roof, on Westwick Street. Here, staff will hear about the problems and ambitions of those involved with the scheme, as well as those not yet involved – on a Wednesday people can drop in from 9.30am to 4pm.

St Martin's Housing Trust, which owns the building, also runs a range of free courses ranging from building self-confidence to Tai Chi, while LEAP has a range of valuable course connections including City College.

And whether setting up computer training courses, work experience or even encouraging the people they work with to join football teams, the emphasis is on building confidence.

Ali Bostridge, opportunities advisor, said: 'LEAP is very client-centred, so when someone comes in it's looking at where they need support, so building self-belief is very important. A lot of people have had many knockbacks, so if we can show them they can achieve something, even if it is a small course like Tai Chi, it gives them something to engage with and shows them they are not alone.

'We're limited by finance and by what's out there but there's a lot of opportunities around, it's just knowing about them which is where we can help.'

Those who stick with the programme, and show dedication to getting out of their situation, may also be given the chance to go into private sector housing, where they can carry on rebuilding their lives. LEAP also run their own hostel, for those not quite ready to make the transition into independent living.

Mr Allard insists that this 'carrot-and-stick' approach works, and points at figures showing LEAP has supported more than 200 people into work-focused opportunities and training, 57 into independent private-sector accommodation and 27 into work.

He said: 'They need to be aware that by making a commitment, with things like turning up for appointments or going to what's planned for them, they're showing us that their intention is getting into work and training.

'The approach has been really successful, and it's about empowering people. Just because someone doesn't show full commitment that doesn't mean we won't work with them any more – if they're struggling maybe there are things stopping them.'

Are you involved in a worthy Norwich project? Contact John Owens on 01603 772439 or email