Sunday 15th September 2019

Summer event round-up: Jean Templeton in the spotlight

Couldn't make our summer event? In this blog find out exactly what our guest speaker Jean Templeton shared with our members. Passionate and capturing insight into her journey in housing.

WISH (Midlands) celebrated summer with lots of members - existing and new on 13th August.  The event brought together people from across the sector to network and listen to our keynote speaker, Jean Templeton, Chief Executive of St Basils’ Housing Association which works with homeless young people. Huge thanks from the WISH Midlands team to Jean, who stepped in at the last minute, due to our arranged speaker being unable to attend for personal reasons.  Jean delivered an inspirational and passionate speech to a transfixed audience. 

Jean opened her speech by outlining her role as Chair of the West Midlands’ Homelessness Taskforce.  

West Midlands' Homelessness Taskforce

The Taskforce has a bold aim to design out homelessness in the West Midlands.   Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands set up the Taskforce when elected, bringing together representatives from the seven Local Authorities, West Midlands Housing Association Partnership, Voluntary sector, Public services and Business sector. Jean explained that while the Combined Authority has no statutory powers or indeed resources to tackle homelessness, the convening power of the Mayor brought people together to use their determination and good will to see if they could add value by working together and tackling the systemic issues which drive homelessness.  It was clear from the passion Jean showed that she has this in spades. The aim of the taskforce is to design homelessness prevention into the strategies, programmes and systems of the combined authority and support the work of the member local authorities and their partners.  

Housing First programme

Jean described the philosophy behind the £9.6M Housing First programme in the West Midlands as what we would want for everyone i.e. a home and sufficient support to enable you to keep it. Currently it is a pilot programme funded by central government providing over 600 homes over 3 years targeted at those who are entrenched rough sleepers in the region. The support is funded from the £9.6 million and the programme needs offers of one bedroom flats for those eligible.

We watch this space with great anticipation as we wander through the city centre witnessing the unacceptable level of street homelessness.

About Jean

Born in Scotland, Jean began her career in residential probation work in Nottinghamshire until she got to the point that she felt the need to move on.  To the benefit of the housing sector, like many others, she fell into housing having never heard of it as a career. Her first role in housing was at Charnwood Borough Council.  A condition of her role was to undertake the Professional Qualification in Housing.  At the time she describes herself as ungrateful as she felt forced to do the qualification as part of her job.  She now reflects and thanks goodness for the opportunity to study all aspects of the housing profession and recognises the benefit this has given to her long and successful career.

Following this Jean reflected on her time as a Neighbourhood Management Officer in Newcastle on Tyne and Area Manager in Middlesbrough.  This was the time of the Priority Estates Projects, a programme to rescue rundown estates, inspired by the amazing Anne Power. Armed with a new patch of rundown homes and residents who were predominantly long-term unemployed, the aim was to provide affordable, secure homes in a place where people want to live.  Sound familiar? The philosophy was to work with residents not do to them.  Jean reflects that her role at that time was based on the estates, close to the people she served:

  • working with residents,
  • with respect and understanding,
  • engaging in their lives and,
  • ensuring they could thrive.

Jean was inspired by the model written by Prof John Stewart and Prof Michael Clark of  ‘Putting People First: A Public Services Orientation’. 

Jean outlined her ‘lightbulb’ moment when visiting a tenant in rent arrears, who asked “who the **** do you think you are, how could you ever know what its like”.  She outlined her belief that as a public servant, you are there to assist and support and not to judge.  This was a time of mass unemployment as a result of major industry closure leading to riots, disruption and a sense of hopelessness in some of the country’s most run down areas.  Jean’s view was that:

  • housing was a window into everybody’s lives,
  • Housing officers were close to their tenants and therefore better able to understood their challenges,
  • Your role was to enable and empower,
  • with an understanding that you are there to serve,
  • doing things with people not to them.

Jean then reflected on her experiences in the 1990’s, a time of Compulsory Competitive Tendering and roll out of Neighbourhood Offices. A time also when urban designers, architects and planners didn’t always think about people in their rush to build new homes.  An era of housing design where there was limited family space, etc, which the sector still contends with in some areas of the country.

The 2000’s saw Jean move to St Basils, her first move way from Local Authority to the Voluntary Sector and by all accounts she has never looked back.

Jean outlined that ‘Clarity of Purpose’ is critical to St Basils and avoids mission drift even when things get tough. Her role as CEO is to ensure that everything the organisation does, leads back to that purpose which is:  To work with young people to enable them to find and keep a home, to develop their confidence, skills and opportunities and to prevent homelessness.  This is backed up by their principles to work by which include:

  • Young People First
  • Everybody Counts

Jean reflected on the fact that in her view many housing associations have drifted from their original social values, their people are no longer on the estates and not able to build true relationships with tenants.  Her belief is that this is one of the factors that has led to the need for the Homelessness Taskforce, which has, as one of its ambitions, ‘not to make anyone homeless from social housing’.  The innovative approach helps people to think and plan for what they want to achieve not just what they want to avoid for example using existing properties as TA, avoiding the social and financial cost of moving a family into alternative TA with the void and reletting costs and social consequences this creates.

Jean left the audience with her final thoughts:

"Housing is about homes, communities, places where you bring up your family; you live, work and have ‘social’ security. It is not just a short term social subsidy. Those of us who have the privilege to work in housing have a duty to help make that a reality. It used to be seen as a housing movement. Commercial considerations are important but only in serving purpose. Clarity of purpose is key. Don’t live in an echo chamber, ensure diversity of perspective and listen to the people you serve.  If you get it right for the most vulnerable, chances are you’ll get it right for everyone else."

Jean rallied her audience by outlining that “we in the room have the ability to drive change and challenge within the sector”.

Her final thoughts were to get to know yourself and your strengths and then work with them for success.

Thanks to Jean for supporting our summer event.

Find out more about St Basil's here:

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