What does it mean for a house to be a ‘home’? Is it curling up in your favourite chair at the end of a long day? Sharing a laugh with friends and family? Perhaps it is that feeling you get cooking your favourite meal. While having a place to live is a fundamental need, it can be easy to overlook the importance of feeling ‘at home’. To truly feel ‘at home’, it is not enough to be in a place that meets your needs; there must also be a sense of belonging, a feeling of connection with your community, and the ability to make meaningful choices over your actions and surroundings.
At the Life Changes Trust, we value the expertise of those with lived experience. So when young people with care experience told us it wasn’t enough to live in ‘appropriate accommodation’, we paid attention. In 2018 we introduced the Home and Belonging initiative, which aims to support young people to find a strong sense of home and belonging in their own communities. We knew that young people leaving care had needs that were often not being met, and we knew that having a place to sleep at night was not the same thing as having a home.
We funded this initiative because we believed that young people working alongside practitioners and housing professionals could co-create innovative new solutions to support young people with experience of care to feel safe, secure, and connected in their homes and communities. Funded projects include efforts to create new housing, but also the development of places that can be a ‘home away fae home’ and projects that teach young people how to ‘upcycle’ items and make spaces their own. You can read about each of these projects here.
With COVID-19 and the associated lockdown measures, it has become clear that having a home, not just a place to live, is more important than ever. Whether we’ve been stuck at home during lockdown, working from home, or looking forward to the day when we can once again visit other people’s houses, it’s clear that ‘home’ as a concept has been working overtime. Bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens are now ‘home offices’. Whether you are a key worker who has been working intensely since March, someone who is only just getting back to work after being furloughed, or a parent who spent the spring trying to home-school their children, our relationship with the idea of ‘home’ has changed significantly.
This year, we’ve all learned a little bit more about how important it is to have meaningful choices about our surroundings. One young person with care experience recently reflected that the pandemic has given the general public more insight into what being taken into care can feel like:
‘Maybe others (outsiders) can have a bit more of an understanding of what it’s like to be taken into care as a young child and totally against your will…the restrictions somehow feel similar…the zero control over the matter…the lack of routine or the loss of it more like…the loneliness…the lack of stability and the not knowing what’s about to happen…I’m almost having similar feelings as to back then.’ – Young Person
More than ever, having control and ownership over your own home and how you engage with your communities is vital for young people with care experience. A one-size-fits-all approach never worked well, but in the COVID-19 context supporting young people to have a say over what their support looks like is absolutely vital. The Trust believes that providing young people with a wider range of housing options and housing support services that they have helped shape should go hand-in-hand with corporate parenting duties around housing and continuing care.
Many projects have found that fostering a sense of belonging both at home and in the wider community during this time has become increasingly important, particularly as socialising and emotional connection now looks very different. Organisations have worked hard to change the support they are giving to young people and are now working in new ways to maintain that connection and feeling of belonging in this new, virtual world.
‘The larger question they [young people] would like to explore is: What creates a sense of belonging in a community? They discussed wanting to be understood and how feeling like they were part of the community could alleviate some of their loneliness and isolation.’ – Staff Member, Barnardo’s
With so much time now spent in the home, it is even more important that young people are supported to fill their homes with furniture and decorations that are chosen by them, and which have personal meaning and are suited to their needs. Engagement in community and support activities likewise need to be tailored to the needs of young people, allowing them to engage in ways they want and dip in and out as necessary.
For some young people, virtual engagement is itself a barrier that projects and professionals have worked hard to overcome. For others, however, the shift to virtual engagement has made this easier. Travel barriers are essentially removed, and they can turn on or off video cameras at will.
‘Normally I would have never gone to the groups but it’s really helped and during the lockdown we’ve all been in touch and chat when we’re down and check in on one another so that’s been good while I’m staying [by] myself.’ – Young Person, Barnardo’s
What we have already seen again and again is that each person’s needs are specific to them, and supports have to be flexible enough to meet those different and often changing needs. This flexibility is evident in the range of Home and Belonging projects funded by the Trust.
We’re currently evaluating the Home and Belonging initiative and look forward to sharing some interim findings later this year. Some things, however, are already coming through loud and clear. Now more than ever we know it was never just about a place to live.
Celeste Berteau, Evidence and Influencing Co-ordinator
Life Changes Trust