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Housing association led-training programme helps residents re-enter the world of work



A combination of local ambassador and peer support is one of five key principles to delivering a successful self-employment programme, highlighted in Interreg funded Increase VS project’s final report.

The cross-border project, led by Southern Housing (formerly Optivo), developed an aspirational self-employment support programme for social housing residents. It was developed across 38 English and French coastal and rural neighbourhoods where, in recent years, there has been significant decline in employment opportunities.

Commenting on the project findings Jane Porter, Chief Operating Officer at Southern Housing and Chair of the Increase VS Steering Committee, states: “The need for community investment is more important now than ever. The findings and recommendations in this report show how housing associations in England and France can change their residents’ lives, and their communities, for the better.”

Established in 2017, Increase VS is a partnership between three UK housing associations, four French housing associations and two training providers. The project was developed around three key outputs:

  • an integrated 6 step service delivery pathway for social housing residents furthest from the jobs market
  • a new training scheme for ambassadors to engage, support and create community network groups
  • and a new training scheme for local stakeholders on the advantages of micro-enterprise and how they can support further development.

To date the project has actively engaged with almost 8,700 residents, with more than 6,000 entering training programmes of which over 4,500 have been completed enabling the pathway into jobs and start-ups. Of those supported, two-thirds identified as women and one in ten were from an ethnic minority.
The report highlights that low confidence, limited education, support networks and negative stereotypes were amongst the biggest barriers to finding work.
As part of lessons learned, the report sets out five key principles that other organisations could use to design similar programmes:

  • Housing associations are well placed to offer professional support to residents seeking employment
  • Self-employment is a more popular route for people that need flexibility
  • Starting and growing a business requires resilience and the right support, including wellbeing and social inclusion.
  • Ambassador and peer-support ensures higher sustainability
  • Location and close links to mentor and community support is key

The report also includes recommendations for policy makers centred around co-investment and creation of local residents’ enterprise partnerships and growing collaborative working between housing associations and their residents.

Project success story

Leila from Gosport who, after having taken part in a ‘Create’ course run by project partner Abri (a UK housing association), set up a street dance company which is now thriving. Leila puts her success down to the course, “Because of the help I’ve had from Abri ‘Create’, I have been able to make something I didn’t think was possible a reality”.

Increase VS is an Interreg FCE social innovation project led by housing association Southern Housing (formerly Optivo) in partnership with two English housing associations: Abri and Clarion; four French housing associations: Archipel Habitat, Neotoa, Pas-de-Calais Habitat and Logirep; 2 training providers: We Ker and INCO; and the University of East Anglia (UEA). The project had a total budget of €13m (€9m ERDF).

More information

To read the INCREASE report, please click here.

To read Leila’s inspiring story, please click here.

Increase VS project website.