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Atara Fridler @AtaraFridler Chief Executive, Lift

Joining forces with Crisis was not a necessary step – but it was the right step

Leadership is a lot about the ability to make tough decisions. The decision to merge the organisation I have led, Lift, with Crisis was neither an easy nor an obvious one but it was the right decision, particularly in the face of recent statistics showing a 400% increase in rough sleeping in Brent compared with last year.

I will be transforming from chief executive of Lift to a Brent Skylight Director at Crisis and starting a new chapter. No doubt this will be a big change that will require some getting used to, but  I look forward to seeing  more resources being brought into Brent and more people being helped as a result, replicating Lift’s good work around involvement and community engagement more widely at Crisis and making an even bigger impact towards ending homelessness.

Lift (previously Brent Homeless User Group) was set up by homeless people in Brent back in 2001. At the time Brent Council was developing its Homelessness Strategy in response to shockingly high rates of homelessness in the borough – the second highest in London.

Fast forward 15 years and Brent still features in those homelessness statistics; currently it has the second highest number of households in temporary accommodation in London.

With welfare changes affecting Brent residents particularly severely and an increasingly difficult housing market, it is clear that there is so much more to do to end homelessness here.

From the start Lift worked with homeless people to review and improve homelessness services as well as develop opportunities to get involved not just in the design and delivery of services. Lift was the first organisation to develop mystery shopping of front line housing services by homeless people – this than led to Lift’s  collaboration with Crisis on their No One Turned Away campaign.

User involvement is what defines us. It is our founding ethos, it shapes the services we deliver, how we engage with our users and the composition of our board. Nearly half of Lift’s trustees have personal experience of homelessness.

Throughout the years, Lift developed employment and housing services which were always delivered to a high standard and regularly overachieved. In 2008 Lift was part of a homelessness sector consortium led by Crisis, Skills for Jobs for Homelessness People, which included all the other big players within the homelessness sector.

But as public sector cuts came in the commissioning of Lift’s services decreased. Local authorities no longer invest in scrutiny of housing services by homeless people and it becomes increasingly hard to secure funding towards housing advice for single people who are too often are not seen as a priority by the local authority housing services.

So although we worked with an increasing number of people – growing income and developing an ambitious place-based approach to ending homelessness with local people and partners that received significant funder support – in April this year Lift’s board took the tough decision to merge with Crisis.

Lift’s trustees chose to merge with Crisis as a result of a careful examination of the options available to us. This included continuing independently but with reduced services; investing in creating new social enterprise activities that hopefully would generate much needed income or a merger – which would provide immediate assurance that services are secured and we are able to do more.

I feel quite proud and privileged to have worked with a group of Trustees that were so committed to putting the benefit of Lift’s service users before the organisation itself.

I met many chief executives of small – medium charities throughout the years and think they are an amazing and resourceful bunch, fiercely and proudly leading organisations that are high achieving,  very often performing better than bigger organisations and extremely crucial in the social make up of their communities and sector. I imagine that many of them would consider merging as a sort of defeat – rather like admitting to losing a battle…and managing a small charity can feels a lot like jumping from one battle to another.

As for myself, having started as quite an innocent project coordinator working as the first full time paid staff member at Lift alongside a group of homeless people back in 2004 (being only in my second year in London and the UK) I feel I have come a long way. Being able to grow the organisation to its current level and taking it to the next stage of merger is something I am immensely proud of.