Guest blog by Nicola, a Shelter supporter
A few weeks ago, it was my privilege to be invited to visit the Shelter helpline facility in Sheffield. I drove over the Pennines on the most brilliant, clear day, and although I was really looking forward to the experience, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve supported Shelter for many years and feel deeply for the many individuals and families who find themselves homeless or facing a housing emergency. However, I really knew nothing about the detail of the problems people face, nor the type of advice that Shelter actually provides in practice.
I was met by Andrea, who manages the team, and also Claire, who had initially invited me. Andrea talked us through the operation, explaining that the emergency helpline is open to those in urgent need (people who are at risk of being homeless soon, or at risk of harm) 365 days a year, even on Christmas Day. Last year Shelter helped 41,192 households through its helpline across England and Scotland as well as advising more than 41,000 people via conversations over web chat. The atmosphere at the helpline was very friendly, but quiet and professional, with everyone very busy taking calls – though we did find time for a cup of tea!
I was then introduced to Adar, one of the advisers, and I sat with her observing her work. Adar advised on a number of very varied issues and I was really impressed with her style and expertise. Everyone in the centre cares deeply about the people they help and they have so much knowledge and experience. Adar really got to the heart of each problem, making sure she really understood the caller’s priority. She then used a very impressive set of resources on the Shelter system to research the issues and make sure she had a clear and practical answer ready, before talking the caller through it all. She then followed up with an email with all the relevant advice and links to various resources, so the caller can go back to this whenever needed. Adar was so reassuring and understanding with the callers – all of who were understandably concerned and distressed when they called. It was lovely to hear the impact she had on them during the calls, giving direction and providing hope, helping them to see a way forward.
Adar told me that all the advice she was accessing is available on the Shelter website – it’s really extensive! There are template letters, links to important documents, and all sorts of useful advice for tenants, homeless people, and those potentially facing homelessness. One of Shelter’s challenges is to make all this information more accessible, so that people both experiencing a housing emergency or with less urgent housing issues feel confident accessing the resources directly. Doing this significantly increases the number of people that Shelter are able to assist, and they are are continually working on this, using analytics and other methods.
I left with a feeling of great confidence in the work being done by the helpline, but more than that, I felt that it showed off many things which are integral to Shelter as a whole – a caring, professional culture, excellent IT and systems, a great depth of knowledge and expertise, and a determination to work relentlessly to bring help to people facing housing problems. I felt uplifted and proud to be a supporter. I felt very confident that the money donated to Shelter is being well used – this is a dynamic, forward-thinking organisation. And my drive back over the Pennines – in equally brilliant weather – was even brighter for the experience.
Nicola is a chartered accountant and has recently retired from Deloitte, having been a partner there for over 20 years. She’s married with three children and lives near Manchester. One of her goals for retirement is to spend time volunteering in the charity sector, particularly focusing on the issues surrounding homelessness.