Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the slightly alarming aspects of gatherings like this is that you tend to hear what you were going to say already said by somebody else. Julia has done a wonderful job of explaining what things are about – so thank you very much!
If I can just say first of all, that it really is a huge pleasure to be back in this wonderful church where, believe it or not, we launched the Business Action on Homelessness Campaign's unique “Ready for Work” Programme five years ago. For me anyway it is a great joy to see various familiar faces, and even more so, if I may say so, to see some of the people who I met some years ago who have been helped and are now well-established in jobs and with their own accommodation. And I can't tell you how rewarding and encouraging it is to hear their stories on an occasion like this.
But as far as I am concerned this occasion is also a valuable opportunity to thank two special people who have done so much to make the campaign the success that it is.
John Studzinski has chaired it the whole thing with extraordinary passion and dedication for the last eight years. And all I can tell you that my gratitude to him is boundless. And I do know that without his leadership the campaign would never have been as successful as it has become. And the fact that he has spent so much time working as a volunteer in The Passage Homeless Centre in Victoria is a mark of his personal commitment.
But of course John was just one part of a dynamic duo. Eva Hamilton has been just as determined as John – in fact, I suspect they drove each other mad some of the time – and her vision, tenacity, drive and indeed passion have been positively exhausting to watch! But without her limitless determination so much of what has been achieved simply would never have happened. So we owe them both simply an enormous amount of gratitude. I can only think that there are countless people who once lived on the streets and in hostels who would want to join me in offering heartfelt thanks to John and Eva.
Now, The Business Action on Homelessness Campaign, and particularly the “Ready for Work” Programme has shown, once again, the really extraordinary power that business has to make a real impact in solving some of the seemingly intractable social problems that we face. And all I can say is that they seem a great deal more in touch then before this programme. Now having seen just how much can be achieved it is possible that there is a little bit more tractability.
Now thanks to 200 companies, many of them represented here this evening, in 22 cities, the vicious cycle of homelessness has been broken for more than 1700 people. They have been offered work placements, job coaching – a very important part of the whole exercise, the preparation of going to work - and employment opportunities. That is 1700 lives which have been transformed, and I suspect in some cases, saved. And it doesn't take much imagination to realize the impact this will have had on their families and the communities in which they live, let alone the wider economy.
And as a result of this I am really not sure how to thank adequately all those companies who have been the pioneers of this programme. Their willingness to become involved in this way has been crucial and has shown a wonderful example of generosity of spirit.
For instance, Marks and Spencer has offered more than 700 work placements, and to each homeless person they have allocated an employee “buddy”, which has made obviously the whole difference. Meanwhile, Cadbury's has developed and tested how to involve employees as job coaches. And Barclays, KPMG and Marsh have overseen the two-day starter programme “Ready to Go”, which has proved vital in building confidence and helping to prepare for the often rather daunting world of work.
All this experience has particularly helped to achieve results for a group of homeless people about whom I happen to care deeply – homeless ex-servicemen. And this really came about because of visits to homeless hostels, in the Passage and other places where I discovered as I went around different parts of the country, that nearly 25 per cent of all homeless people in this country are ex-servicemen. Which is extremely disturbing.
So as a result I got a number of people together and said ‘please look at this‘. And so I am indebted to Mike Wareing of KPMG, Martin Moseley of Barclays and Air Marshal Pocock from the Ministry of Defence, who have made Project Compass such an enormous success. And it really is.
To give you just one example, I first met Mark Davis, who is here this evening, at the “Seeing is Believing” 15th anniversary event last December. Mark is a former soldier in the 22nd Cheshire Regiment, of which I am Colonel-in-Chief and have been for quite a long time. In fact for so long that I am seeing sons succeeding fathers and very nearly grandsons which is an interesting experience!
As he himself explained, he fell on hard times and ended up homeless but he found his way to the “Ready for Work” programme, which ultimately helped him to find a full-time job at Axis Europe, run by John Hayes, Business in the Community Small Company of the Year.
And incidentally, he has just had a baby daughter. He told me about this forthcoming excitement some months ago when I was talking to him so I am thrilled that all has gone well. And now he's in for it is all I can say!
It has transformed his life and as we have just heard from John Hayes, I know that he is now a much-valued member of the Axis Europe team.
Well Ladies and Gentlemen, as I am sure you are aware much has been achieved in five years, but Bain, to whom I am enormously grateful for giving so much of their research expertise to the campaign over the years, has recently done yet another first-rate piece of work for us. It has shown that if businesses, the voluntary sector, and Government coordinated their efforts even more, many more homeless people could have the opportunity to return to work. And you will be hearing more about this from John Varley, the new chairman, in a moment or two but the advantages of coordination and flexibility in the system are huge if we can make it work.
I do just want to take this opportunity to say how much Business Action on Homelessness has appreciated working so closely with Government. Terri Alafat, Director of Homelessness and Housing Support, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, one of our national partners, have been extremely generous in their support. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Mrs Margaret Hodge, the Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions who, as a result of our work last year, made it possible for “Ready for Work” clients to extend their work placement from two weeks to four without it affecting their benefit. That is the greatest secret I think. This has made the whole difference to retention rates as more time in training allows for greater confidence and success in the job which hopefully follows.
Now, the challenges for the future lie with a new team and I could not be more pleased that John Varley, who has done so much to pioneer “Ready to Go” programmes within Barclays, has agreed to take on the leadership of this campaign. I cannot think of anyone better to follow in the other John's footsteps and I know that Susie Maley, who is taking over from Eva will be a great support to him. Susie has come from another of my organizations, the International Business Leaders Forum, so I know a little bit about her pedigree!
Just before I close, perhaps I could leave you all with one thought. The stories we just saw on that video a moment ago are proof of the difference which, working together, business, Government and the voluntary sector can make.
They are also proof that homelessness has no respect for background or situation, and that each and every person affected is an individual. Much has been achieved over the last five years but there is so much more to do and what we need is more companies prepared to offer work placements.
Perhaps now many of you will see that it is not as difficult as you might have thought. Each and every one of you can make a huge difference but I do hope that tonight might have encouraged you to think if you might be able to do just a little bit more. It is heartwarming to see so many former Ready for Work clients here tonight and we are very grateful to you for coming.
I can only commend your courage and congratulate you on what you have achieved so far and wish you all the very best for the future. Finally, and on behalf of the 1700 people who have passed through the scheme, I would like to ask John Studzinski and Eva Hamilton if they would come up and receive these tokens of our appreciation.
I have for John a special box made by a former “Ready for Work” client, John Riordan, who is here this evening and now works at the social enterprise, Shekinah Trading Ltd. And I have a little something for Eva too just to wish them well for what they are going to do next.