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Ten Years of Big House
Date posted: Monday 21 May 2012
After spending eight busy and fulfilling years working at the West London Day Centre, I decided it was time for a change. I decided to join a brand new project within West London Mission which was just starting up. It was April 2002 and Big House was born.
Our vision for Big House was to be different from many of the other homeless hostels in London. We wanted to provide a safe, self contained accommodation free from chaos. Where people could train, study or work and be ready to move on into their own accommodation. A place that would value its residents and look at the ‘whole’ person.
When I first arrived at the building I was quite shocked to see a lot of building work still to be done. Heidi (Big House’s first Manager) and I looked at the dust and dirt, the small army of builders and electricians busying away and quickly retreated to the café across the road to plan the new service.
The first week was spent working on policies and procedures. We set up a temporary office while the main one was being finished and concentrated on getting a couple of rooms ready. We interviewed the first 3 residents and showed them round later in the week at a second interview. From their faces we could see they were as excited about this new housing project as we were! A few days later on the 30th all 3 moved into Big House and our work with residents began. Zoe Flewin joined the two of us a few weeks later as the Vocational Guidance Worker and soon Big House was full.
A different kind of place
I was the Housing Support worker in those days and I loved my job. It was fantastic to see the potential resident’s faces when they saw how good the accommodation was. I remember a resident in those early days saying “this doesn’t seem like a hostel and it certainly doesn’t smell like a hostel!”
This illustrated a key aim of the place - we did want to be different. We wanted to be a place that was less anarchic, where people received less hassle from others, where someone could sort themselves out and hopefully get back to work.
And what is most pleasing, is that ten years of running, I can honestly say that we have fulfilled the vision we had ten years ago.
10 years on
This month, we held a party here to celebrate 10 years of Big House. Over 40 people came to celebrate with us including a good number of ex-residents. It was great to see them again and find out how they were doing.
A couple of people gave us thank you cards which were really touching. One of these cards said simply:
‘To the staff at Big House. Thank you for helping me and changing my life.’
It was great to hear he was working for a housing organisation as an administrator (his first job ever!) and was currently bidding for local authority housing and had a viewing later in the week.
Meeting the ex-residents again was a joy. Even seeing one guy who left under a bit of cloud came back to tell us he is now 101 days sober and working through a complex rehabilitation program. It is fair to say he had been a difficult resident but he thanked us for putting up with him for so long and helping him get into rehab. He said without us he wouldn’t have done it. He looked a different person and he told us just how much he had changed since we saw him last. The change was quite amazing and I feel sure he will go further and sort out many of his troubles.
Change (or to use a West London Mission word, transformation) summed up what we see happening to resident’s at Big House.
And change for residents reflects the changes that we have faced in running the place. We have experienced funding problems more than once, but things are now on an even keel. In these tricky financial times we have become leaner, more efficient and also a little greener too. Since the loss of our largest funding source, we put in a successful bid with the Royal British Legion and we now specialise in working with ex-servicemen.
Our ethos has always focused on treating people as individuals and adults encouraging them to take responsibility. Our consistent staff team of Zoe Flewin, Esther Cato and myself has helped maintain this approach.
We have come a long way in the last 10 years and despite all the changes we have not lost our way. The residents are just as important to us today as they were when we started and it has been wonderful working with them all.
Big House Service Manager
Posted by: Admin on Monday 21 May 2012
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