Building a future

Jobs friends and housesSteve Hodgkins is the founder and CEO of Jobs, Friends and Houses (JFH) – a multi award-winning social enterprise offering employment, peer support and accommodation to people in recovery from addiction.

A serving police officer of 27 years, he founded the enterprise in 2014 after seeing that more could and should be done to rehabilitate offenders afflicted by addiction.

Now 18 months into the venture, he reflects on how he came to establish the community interest company and its successes so far – including creating jobs for 28 people in recovery, renovating nine properties to create 15 homes, and changing the lives and fortunes of dozens in Blackpool, Lancashire

I’ve always believed in redemption – especially as a police officer. I have been an officer for 27 years working in London and Lancashire, but I never went in for just catching and convicting people. I wanted to reduce crime and the numbers of victims by helping people.

Sometimes, though, it was hard to help them. I remember picking up an offender on his release from prison. He’d managed to detox from drugs and was feeling hopeful about finally turning his life around. I had to drop him off at his new home – there was no running water and the walls were covered in mould. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he relapsed within just a few days. I realised that many people had limited chances to succeed in life, and that this led them to addiction and criminality.

In Blackpool one of my roles was custody sergeant at Bonny Street Police Station. I’d be sitting on my side of the desk, knowing I was in a purposeful job with loving family and friends around me and a nice home to go back to, while these people being brought in rarely had all that. I’d wonder how their life came to be so different to mine that we’d ended up on opposite sides of the desk. I realised that so often their criminality was linked to limited life chances – family breakdown, transiency, poor education, no work skills and negative social networks.

Later as a community safety sergeant, I worked with organisations across the town on early intervention work, bringing people together to make something new – greater than the sum of their parts.

That’s what I’ve been able to do at JFH. It’s a property development and management enterprise, and two thirds of our team are in recovery. We will take on a property and renovate it, training team members through adult apprenticeships in plumbing, plastering, painting and decorating, electrical engineering, joinery and tiling. Then once they’ve completed the house they are able to move into it. Along the way we offer wraparound and peer support.

We then have a lettings team, which manages the rental of these units as well as hundreds of others across Blackpool. Here adults also in recovery are undertaking office-based apprenticeships.

JFH is a community for people in abstinent recovery to join, inspire others and show them there can be life after addiction. There were a number of ‘lightbulb moments’ that got me to here. A turning point was seeing the rehabilitation work being undertaken by the substance misuse service at HMP Kirkham, a category D prison near Blackpool, where prisoners were being supported to stop using drugs and achieve abstinence. But as with the lad who ended up in the grotty flat, I knew there was limited support for offenders upon release. I knew they needed to be engaged in purposeful activity and have a good, stable home too.

We work to Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs. If you haven’t got your basic needs for safety and shelter met, it’s difficult for you to progress in other areas of your life, whether work, education, relationships or general wellbeing.

Thus, JFH was formed in my head. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get the initial funding, but I worked on property in my own time and knew you could make money out of renovating it. I pitched and pitched until NHS Gateways gave me the money to get started. Then things started to pick up pace and we received money from the Transformation Challenge Award network, the police and crime commissioner’s office and the local authority, and had the backing of the police.

I am now on full-time secondment from Lancashire Constabulary to lead the enterprise. We have police officers and ex-offenders working side by side, united by the common purpose of creating meaningful employment and good accommodation.

The adults we work with are ex-offenders and people who have been in addiction, many of whom have been homeless or suffered from family breakdown or mental illness. But I see these people as amazing, with innate abilities – no matter their previous lives. As we help them to reconnect with their families, improve their skills, build new homes and strive for a better future, I see their passion, not their past.

A powerful thing we are able to do at JFH is to change a person’s identity – from being a heroin addict, a burglar, or a drinker, to being Mr X the plumber or Mrs Y the health and social care professional. They need to learn how to communicate with others, how to do the weekly shop or just what to wear for the appropriate occasion. When a grown man asks, ‘How do you make a friend?’ it gives you some idea of the personal challenges confronting the adults we work with – and just how difficult it can be for someone who is reintegrating into society.

There has been so much learned in our first 18 months. From day one we have been the subject of an independent academic evaluation, led by Professor David Best, a leading criminologist from Sheffield Hallam University, with a team from ACT recovery. Professor Best, who has evaluated dozens of recovery-related projects worldwide, said JFH is ‘the most exciting’ he’s seen.

While ours is a common sense approach, it is not common. We hope that our evaluation, on top of our anecdotes and inspirational stories, will mean we can help more people in this way. Early intervention work to prevent the root causes of why people use substances, or experience mental health problems or family breakdown, is proving to be an effective way of reducing crime and reoffending, and austerity measures within the police meant they were open and receptive to new and innovative ideas.

We don’t get rid of people the first time they fail – we would sooner put our arms around them tighter and love them that bit more. JFH is all about building and promoting a person’s self worth, so we do a lot of supporting and handholding; budgeting for the weekly shop, sorting out bank accounts, arranging doctors’ appointments. But we do operate a ‘tough love’ programme, and set high expectations alongside that support. Our job is to inspire them to aspire to a positive future, and we support them to do this by paying into a workplace pension, even for apprentices, and paying well above the minimum wage. We’re really starting to show the benefits of investing in people in this way.

We now have people who were long-term homeless, sleeping rough for years, eating from bins and stealing to survive, living in a quality flat that they’ve built themselves. We have had parents telling us that they can be proud of their sons again; partners thanking us for giving them their loved one back. It’s very humbling, very special.