Housing co-op boosts young people’s resilience against poverty

The Wales Co-operative Centre is currently running its fourth annual Tackling Poverty Fortnight campaign.

The campaign is demonstrating a number of ways in which the Centre is helping to reduce poverty through the projects it runs, the businesses and organisations it supports and the people who are the end beneficiaries of that support.

Today we look at one example of the work that has been supported by our Co-operative Housing project, funded by Welsh Government and the Nationwide Foundation.

According to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Bevan Foundation, families and communities play a vital role in fighting material and emotional hardship. Poverty cannot be eradicated if essentials like housing, food and energy are unaffordable for people on low and modest incomes. It’s also suggested that governments prioritise the building of more genuinely affordable homes.

This is something we focus on in our Co-operative Housing project.

Working with Bron Afon Housing in Torfaen, we’ve supported the development of Ty Cyfle, a housing complex that helps 16-25 year-olds by providing them with a tenancy and the skills to maintain it.

Maria Jones, Young People & Families Manager, Bron Afon Community Housing, told us about the scheme’s background and how it’s transforming people’s lives:

“Tenancies were failing for various reasons, many of which were avoidable. We developed a project with young people called ‘Own 2 Feet’. We ran workshops on what they wanted to do, they devised them. The workshops included ‘how to cook (on a budget), managing money and mental health awareness.

The young people were shown a void property so they could see what was needed to furnish a flat, as some were unaware. Our youth forum explored the issue of homelessness and they looked into the help and accommodation that was available.

It was clear that they needed something between a hostel and full ‘regular’ tenancy and that we would be reluctant to leave the young people on their own once the keys were handed over. We looked at different schemes around the country to see what worked.

What is now Ty Cyfle was due for demolition, but the young people wanted to take it on for their own housing project. They wanted something outside of Pontypool, away from issues that could affect tenancies.

The young people were mentored by our in-house construction workers as the property was developed. They also worked with an architect on the design of the property. We were keen that they were set up as starter homes for young people, with furniture and white goods. The young people helped develop tenancy agreements and policies – it was a true co-operative effort!”

Tenants need to engage with the support package that is provided by Bron Afon in terms of training courses, some of which is accredited. This included an art course, which is thought to have improved confidence and self-esteem, along with a course on personal safety provided by Women’s Aid.

Ty Cyfle really demonstrates the social aspect of social housing, providing opportunities and improving life chances for its tenants. They seek to help people into employment and prepare them for work. Bron Afon is a community mutual, so while the focus is on their tenants, opportunities are offered to the whole community.

The tenancies at Ty Cyfle are for a maximum of two years, with tenants then supported to move into their next property, and helped to ensure they sustain the new tenancy.

Maria also told me that they would like to build another property, similar to Ty Cyfle, elsewhere in the area. It’s clear that demand is high for this kind of service. Bron Afon is also looking at ‘move on’ accommodation that young people could live in next.

I spoke to Cameron, a Ty Cyfle tenant:

“I’m 22 and I used to be homeless. I had hit rock bottom. I saw Ty Cyfle and was attracted by the support being offered, not just as somewhere to live. I’ve been here for 18 months and have completed 7 courses, the first one started within days of me moving in.

I’ve come on leaps and bounds since living here, and my confidence has shot up. I previously wouldn’t have spoken to people. It’s brilliant to run this place as a co-op, it makes you feel important and our views are taken seriously.

I’m hoping to use the qualifications I’ve gained here when I get back into work. At the moment, I’m focusing on improving my mental health. I’m thinking more positively about the future. I’ve even helped to make a video about domestic abuse and have been on television, to talk about the time I was homeless”.

I was genuinely impressed by what I experienced at Ty Cyfle. As a housing model, I feel it has a lot of potential and shows how housing associations can embrace this approach and provide real, tangible benefits for their tenants.

For more details on our Co-operative Housing project, please visit the Wales Co-operative Centre website. Follow Tackling Poverty Fortnight on Twitter #PovertyInWales.

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