Today marks the launch of the evaluation of the two year national Homeshare partnership, funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation and Big Lottery Fund. It’s been the most significant two years in the development of Homeshare in the UK: £2m invested, eight new programmes created, with a dozen more benefiting from the partnership which has established infrastructure, evidence, new approaches and more sustainable practices. So what have we learnt?
Alex Fox, CEO Shared Lives Plus reflects on the Homeshare partnership programme:
Florence is 95 and Alexandra is 27. Their Homeshare story has been watched more than 25 million times
The challenge with Homeshare was never whether it worked. There are decades of positive stories from older and younger people who have been carefully matched by a local Homeshare programme. The people in those stories have found that it is not just the exchange of housing and a little practical help which makes Homeshare work for them, it is the forming of a real bond with someone who is at a very different stage of life, but who becomes an unexpected friend. The challenge we faced at the beginning of this programme was to understand why Homeshare had not grown in the UK, in the way that it had grown in many others, including countries like the US, Australia and France, where the approach to shared housing is not so different to our own.
The evaluation report by SCIE and OPM outlines many lessons and the evidence behind them, so I wanted to highlight a few learning points from our perspective at Shared Lives Plus, where our work is based on supporting our members and reaching out into the wider world to raise awareness, grow enthusiasm and work with local and national government.
First, the positives, of which there are many. We have more Homeshare programmes, reaching more people, including a number which are now self-sustaining on participants’ contributions alone. The local programmes have benefitted enormously from the work of my colleagues Debs and Heather who were funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation, who provided support and advice, and who convened what has become one of the closest and most productive communities of practice I’ve seen. Perhaps because there have been only around 20 organisations in the community, most of a similar size and at a similar early stage of development, the group has aligned itself around a shared set of values, practices and goals, with a strong shared view on membership as being a badge of quality. We worked with members to develop a set of shared values, a website, www.homeshareuk.org which acts as members’ shared front door, a quality commitment framework and good practice guidance. We have also worked with government on regulatory and benefits issues which can make Homeshare more expensive for some low income groups.
We knew that one of the main problems was low awareness and it feels like we started to break through that barrier in the last few months, with the film above watched by millions, and numerous articles and features in national papers and on the TV. People nearly always feel they’ve heard of Homeshare now, when you explain what it is, which is progress! The growth in numbers was slower than we’d hoped at the beginning of the programme, but enquiries and matches have taken off as we near the end. So there are things that we have all worked on which have contributed to the model breaking through and which are very promising for its future. I believe that good growth comes from supply, demand and values, and we paid attention to building and protecting all three. There are also things which were nothing to do with us. A key change I’ve felt in the past eight years has been a deeper shift in attitudes to sharing housing. This has been driven by the housing crisis, a shortage of good affordable support for older people, the burgeoning loneliness crisis which is an epidemic for older people but also growing worryingly for younger people, and the growth of the sharing economy. Eight years ago AirBnB still felt quite fringe, but its growth has been explosive in the last couple of years, with 170,000 hosts welcoming 6 million visitors. Sharing your home is becoming mainstream.
That explosive growth in a commercial model also points to some of the frustrations of trying to grow a public service model. I read today of another care-related tech start up, with £500k to spend on marketing and product development. It’s very hard to win funding for awareness raising in the public sector/ charity world: the extra support Lloyds Bank Foundation have given us and our members with marketing Homeshare is a rare example. Social investment has brought the concept of working capital for R&D into our world, but public service innovations are not always easily linked to a return on investment, because their success is not always measured financially, and even where savings in public service budgets are expected, commissioners are typically working without any spare cash, and are ultra-cautious about speculating on new approaches. Sometimes we feel trapped: locked out of the commercial opportunities of a free market, but no longer in a world where central government takes big strategic decisions and investment risks: these have been pushed down to increasingly cash-strapped local areas.
So what’s the future for Homeshare? We are very fortunate that Lloyds Bank Foundation and Big Lottery Fund have provided continuation funding to enable us to support the new and existing programmes as they find their feet and expand. We have created a support offer to local areas to develop Homeshare and have just picked up our first contract. A council has become the first to pledge to become a Homeshare friendly area: this could mean working with us to ensure that older people’s organisations promote and refer to the local Homeshare programme, which would make a huge impact as many are currently frustratingly risk-selective at present. We will be building online communities for Homeshare participants as well as Homeshare organisations.
Perhaps the most important shift we need to make is to embrace more deeply our ‘asset-based’ ethos. Homeshare is often marketed to older people as a way to help them, but it is equally a way for older people to help younger people get a start in life. I think that could be much more appealing message and we are developing partnerships with organisations which will be based more clearly on that mentoring role for older people who might be at risk of isolation or feeling they lack purpose, but who don’t want to see themselves as ‘lonely and vulnerable’.
Catch up with the Homeshare event on Twitter or take part in the Twitter takeover at 4pm Tuesday 15 May using #HomeshareUK