Based in Birmingham and the West Midlands, St Basils is one of the largest agencies in the UK working with young people age 16 to 25 at risk of homelessness or actually homeless.
St Basils began to work in schools in 2002 and the services they offer are part of their preventative approach to tackling youth homelessness.
The Schools Training and Mentoring Project (STaMP) has evolved over time and has recently been funded by Birmingham City Council as part of the homeless prevention work in the city. Funding for STaMP of £60,000 was used over 2 years to continue work with the schools that St Basils already has a history of working with, but was also used to target work with schools in 6 neighbourhood areas.
Decisions about where to work were based on data from St Basils’ housing advice and information service, the Link and their Home Options service, which is run with the local authority in the 33 neighbourhood housing offices. The neighbourhoods where young people are most likely to be at risk of or experience homelessness were prioritised.
St Basils has found that, over time, STaMP has earned a good reputation and is now a trusted brand with schools. Evidence of this is that schools now contact St Basils to request they deliver sessions.
The STaMP approach to reaching young people in schools has been to write to the Head Teacher initially, sending the STaMP manual. STaMP workers also speak to the co-coordinators of Citizenship and PHSE and the Heads of Years 10 and 11.
St Basils will also attend staff meetings to give talks about their work.
The session focuses on how young people become homeless. The schools worker and the peer educator build up a fictional character with the pupils, in effect creating a biography about them. They build up information about their experience of school, their family and their friends. Then young people look at the range of needs the young person has - physical, emotional and social and the sort of living space they have. Young people are asked to think about how it would be if one of those rooms was taken away.
The session outline is flexible and can be adapted for the different groups that St Basils works with.
St Basils believes that their work in schools is successful because they use peer education and peer mentoring in their work. Young people who have experience of homelessness, many of them young people from St Basils, are recruited as peer educators, who, once they have completed a training course, can go on and co-deliver sessions with St Basils schools workers. The aim is not to glorify homelessness but to give a real life account. Some peer educators go on to become peer mentors.
At the beginning of the STaMP session in schools, peer educators are introduced simply as workers from St Basils. They co-deliver the session and it is only later on in the session that their experience is shared.
Following on from the sessions with whole classes, the peer mentors run open surgery based sessions in schools but can also see young people by appointment either at St Basils or in their school. The sorts of issues they work on with young people are those which can contribute to the risk of homelessness, such as conflict at home, substance misuse and bullying.
All peer educators have regular one to one supervision sessions with the schools worker once they start to work in schools.
Peer educators and mentors are paid their expenses and St Basils is looking at incentives to reward them for the contribution they make to the work.
Training is a crucial part of the work and takes time to deliver. The peer education training ‘Professional Futures’ programme is designed increase essential skills, confidence, self-esteem and also covers areas like professional boundaries and leadership skills. These are life skills that young people also apply in other situations, including future training and employment.
Once young people have gone through the Professional Futures programme, which runs over 13 weeks, for 3 hours a week, they are then ready to co-deliver the schools sessions.
All young people are checked through the Criminal Records Bureau and because this process is often subject to delays, the process starts when they are first recruited.
St Basils has an ethos of involving young people and this is reflected in how the Professional Futures course is run. There is negotiation about the course content, so young people have a chance to shape it to their needs and together ground rules are set for the training programme. A great deal of one-to-one support is offered to the young people who take part, to help them get as much as possible out of the training.
To become a peer mentor, young people must first do the Open College Network (OCN) Level 2 in Mentoring. This is a more demanding course, requiring study and completion of assignments.
There is also a shift in role from being a peer educator to being a peer mentor, which young people need time to understand and develop into.
The STaMP staff are very aware that peer mentors are vulnerable young people too and more one-to-one support is offered for peer mentors.
The minimum target that St Basils sets itself is for 85 per cent of young people to have gained awareness of youth homelessness issues. The impact is measured through pre and post session questionnaires, so a baseline is established and progress within the hour session measured.
The contract with Birmingham City Council requires St Basils to work with 2,500 young people over 2 years. St Basils expects to do follow up peer mentoring work with approximately 150 young people.
Working in schools adds value. Putting aside the critical long-term outcomes for each individual young person, there is a purely economic, value for money perspective. If a local authority compares the cost of funding some work with schools (for example £60,000 a year for medium sized local authorities) to the cost of a young person living in supported accommodation for a year, (for example £15,000 a year), then if just four young people are prevented from going down the homelessness route a year, the work has paid for itself. In short, St Basil’s STaMP is an excellent way of spending to save.