Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Hope and optimism in Great Yarmouth

Our Chief Executive, Paul Streets, recently visited the town and saw some of the community-led solutions to homelessness.

Paul Streets, CEO of Lloyds Bank Foundation

This article was originally published in the Third Sector.

Great Yarmouth in Norfolk has a rich naval history centred on the River Yare, which brought success to the town for centuries, but now splits it in two economically.

Past prosperity echoes through the once elegant Victoria Arcade, now full of second-hand bookshops, pop-up barber shops and second-hand tech shops with cheap phones and laptops.

I’m here to meet a group of local charities and organisations that have come together as the Great Yarmouth Homelessness Alliance. The group includes representatives from the local authority and local job centre offices among charities and people with experience of homelessness.

The alliance highlights the scale of the homelessness problem in the town. Like many, this surfaced visibly during the ‘everyone in’ initiative during the Covid-19 pandemic, when more than 80, mostly older, men were accommodated in local hotels. While seen as an easy fix during the pandemic, the scale and complexity of the problem is multifaceted.

'A sea of demand'

From county lines drug pushers compounding the difficulties many face as they strive to detox, shortages in housing and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis are looming large over everyone.

The local authority housing officers see 100 applicants for every available home, while local rents for three-bedroomed homes have risen from £500 to £1,300 per month.

But perhaps most alarming is the sea of demand coming through the door.

Before Covid-19, 60 people were added to the waiting list for social housing every month. Now it’s 60 a week. Many are younger people and families struggling to cope.


Led by lived experience

And yet among this we hear cause for hope and optimism from people who have experienced homelessness and been supported by the Herring House Trust.

They've now formed Discover to Recover, a group of people with experience of substance misuse and mental health issues who have been homeless but are now in recovery and secure accommodation and are supporting people who are still facing these complex issues.

Their own experiences are central to what they do.

One of the team shares their own story of developing a dependency to substances to manage chronic pain after not receiving support from the local NHS services.

The team talks about the tailored approach needed to pull people out of their depths, which requires years of painstaking support up and down the recovery roller coaster.

It might start with detox but, as one member says: “It took me 20 years to create the problem; it won’t be solved in two weeks.”

Now they’re a key member of the alliance, helping the group search for new and different answers and proving that, with the right support, it is possible to change lives.


Finding local solutions

We are supporting the alliance to work together to identify and change the practices, policies and causes that force people in Great Yarmouth into homelessness.

We started this by funding the secondment of Daniel Hastings from Dial, a local charity that’s part of the alliance.

He’s since started his own community interest company but continues to work with us. In his role as a local convenor for all those working to end homelessness in Great Yarmouth, he has enabled the space for local organisations and statutory services to come together to rethink how to approach the problem.

As the group shares their experiences over the past three years, it inevitably starts with a description of how tough the work is, but quickly comes to a recognition that doing more of the same isn’t the answer.

That’s why the alliance is so important. It is beginning different conversations about early intervention, thinking about how perhaps the empty premises that litter the town can become a potential housing asset.

One of the charities has made a link through us with the social investor Social and Sustainable Capital, which is now providing low-cost capital to provide 10 houses in Yarmouth and Lowestoft funded by housing benefit.

Yarmouth is not unique. The problems it faces are faced by hundreds of places all over the UK outside the Westminster bubble and prosperous home counties.

And the message from the waiting lists at the local council suggests it can only get worse.

Funding individual organisations to deal with the demand may help to address some of the symptoms, but it will never address the cause or the systemic issues that create homelessness or the lack of access to housing.

As a funder we approach this work with caution. The solution needs to be a local one. And we don’t have the answer.

But if we can create the space and time to come together, we may help facilitate locally appropriate community-led solutions that will ultimately be more sustainable because they have been owned and developed by local people for local people committed to the communities they live in.

Our hope is that places like Great Yarmouth will find new ways to address the problem that can be shared with others.

Read more from our CEO