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The Homeless in the UK

An untapped resource for Hospitality

Greg Mangham, Founder and CEO of OAPA

Between now and 2024, research by Hospitality UK indicates that the hospitality industry will need to recruit around 1.3 million employees and around 300,000 of these roles will be new positions.

Employers are already facing the challenge of finding new team members and, whilst many are looking at new recruitment channels, would they consider recruiting someone who is homeless, sleeping rough, an ex-offender or vulnerable veteran?

There are many sobering facts about homelessness in the UK.  On any night there are now around 4,700 people*  sleeping rough on the streets of London – an increase of 167% from 2010.

The number of people sleeping rough in the UK in 2018 was 9100, an increase of 49% since 2011.  Veterans Aid UK estimates that around 13,000 veterans sleep rough, as once they leave the army their support structure collapses. Similarly, with ex-offenders, 76% are less likely to re-offend if they get a job.

The average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is 46 years old. In a country with the fifth largest GDP, one homeless person dies every fortnight on our streets.

Only A Pavement Away

You may not have heard of the charity Only A Pavement Away (OAPA).  OAPA seeks to provide a gateway for vulnerable individuals to find employment and receive support, training and guidance to rebuild their lives, confidence and self-worth.

The project was inspired by the belief that not everyone who is homeless or sleeping rough was there due to some fault of their own, or through some form of addiction. Many situations are the result of circumstances beyond the individual’s control.   To put that into perspective, many people in the UK are only three missed mortgage/rent payments away from being made homeless.

With the increasing demand for team members in hospitality, combined with a significant increase in the number of those people becoming homeless and sleeping rough, there had to be a way to ease both problems with one solution.

Everyone deserves a second chance

Greg Mangham, Founder and CEO of OAPA, believes everyone deserves a chance and that the hospitality industry can offer many of those who are struggling with the lifeline they are looking for.

Stability through Employment

 Greg commented, “There are many charities and organisations in the UK that help vulnerable people, vulnerable veterans and young people to reintegrate into society.

It seemed logical to bring charities with potential applicants and hospitality businesses with vacancies together under the OAPA umbrella.  We set up a free of charge jobs board and applicant tracking system for hospitality employers, saving employers time and resources by not having to contact numerous different charities and organisations’.

“The system works well because everyone is invested in getting vulnerable individuals back into work and giving them a second chance.  We work with job brokers within our partner charities, identify people who are keen to get back into employment and work with them to make that happen”.

The Recruitment Process

A job broker acts as a single point of contact, liaising with both members and employers, enabling early identification of any issues, carrying out an initial assessment to determine which types of job members are best suited for and creating a personalised profile.   They then apply for suitable positions on behalf of that member.   Employers working with OAPA agree to guarantee an interview but there is no guarantee of a job offer.

Like any recruitment process employers only receive CV’s from members who are ‘job ready’ and have the desire and attitude to seek new opportunities.  All applicants are thoroughly vetted to ensure they have the necessary paperwork and have somewhere to live.

Successful new employees go through a rigorous ‘return to work’ process organised by OAPA. Before the interview they are given support to help prepare them and attend any relevant training courses. Common standards and criteria apply to protect both the new employee and the employer. New employees are hired on the same package as any other candidate in a similar role.

The whole process is geared towards making it as easy as possible to find employment and remove the obstacles that some vulnerable people find challenging.

Access to On-going Support

Once in employment OAPA gives members access to financial support through partnerships with the Licensed Trade Charity, Hospitality Action and charities associated with ex-offenders, ex-service personnel, the homeless and dis-enfranchised youngsters.

Like any new recruit, sometimes there are teething problems.   OAPA offers a 12 – 24 hour support network to identify any areas of concern then works with job brokers and employers to address these. This support stays in place for 12 months.

Greg is keen to point out that “OAPA does not replicate the work of the charities and organisations it partners with.  OAPA is a conduit to potential employment and a chance to forge a new career, bringing the many strands associated with members together into one co-ordinated approach; “Stability through Employment”.

An Employers Experience

The Ivy Collection were early adopters of OAPA.  They were looking at new talent streams and ways in which the group could support vulnerable people back into work.  OAPA’s approach brought it all together for them.

Janene Pretorius is the Director of People at The Ivy Collection.  “The Ivy Collection has successfully recruited several vulnerable people through OAPA.  Our first hire started as a kitchen porter and after five months with us has moved to the pastry section.  We are fortunate that our teams fully support us in our association with OAPA”.

“We found the process fairly straightforward and, as we use the same applicant tracking system as OAPA, all our processes were the same.  We know the candidates’ personal history before the interview, which removes the awkward questions.  We know why they are homeless and what they would like to do to get back into work”.

Janene continued, “OAPA is a great charity for a fantastic cause.  Our team got behind the ‘Fill a Flask’ campaign, raising enough money to buy 6,000 reusable thermal flasks for rough sleepers across the UK.  We were out in London with other hospitality organisations distributing flasks to rough sleepers. It is an on-going programme and volunteers will be visiting major UK cities this year to continue handing out flasks.  We also gave members of the public flasks to raise awareness of OAPA’s activities and asked them to fill the flasks with water and give them to rough sleepers in their area”.

Free of Charge

Picking up on the charity’s fundraising activities Greg Mangham was keen to point out that OAPA doesn’t charge employers for the service and relies on sponsorship and fundraising to survive.

Greg commented “The goal is to get 250 people back into work, which would save the government £8 million.  The annual cost of someone sleeping rough is approximately £20,000.  The cost of someone going to prison is in the region of £35,000 and government support for vulnerable veterans can be as much as £50,000 per person.

An offender leaves prison with £46.00 and the clothes they were wearing when sentenced. Without the right support network in place, that person is fairly likely to re-offend and that’s where OAPA and the charities and organisations we partner with come in”.

It’s important to note that 12,000 people commit their first offence whilst homeless.

Preventative Approach

As well as working to get people off the streets and into work, OAPA is working closely with End Youth Homelessness and Youth Sport Trust, developing a preventative approach that could assist some of the more vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

OAPA is also working with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice to provide a gateway into employment for those who need a second career or a second chance.

The first months

As with every recruit there will be hiccups along the way but Greg has a few tips to help employers.

  • Buy into the process and give it 100% commitment, join OAPA on prison visits, meet prisoners who are preparing to be released, eat with them so that you have a deeper understanding of the transition each person faces.
  • Find out about past experiences – for example, one member was in a gang. His ‘career’ started at 11 years of age and his succession plan was all mapped out.  He became an ‘Area Manager’ within the gang, utilising skills that most team leaders in hospitality use every day.
  • Be there and be constant – treat vulnerable recruits like everyone else, be empathetic to their background and how that might initially impact on them. They might not be used to working in teams (homelessness can be a very solitary existence).  They may have had a history of alcohol abuse – don’t put them in positions that challenge their past behaviour.
  • Don’t offer sympathy – it can be embarrassing and unnecessary and don’t be too quick to judge. Unless you’ve walked the same path you have no idea of the amount of effort a recruit is putting in to adjust and assimilate their new environment.
  • Getting up at 7.00 am might be something that a new recruit hasn’t done for a long time. Make it easy for them to transition into their new role, but not too easy.
  • Provide mentors who will nurture hidden talent and allow recruits to blossom. It benefits everyone, increases retention and speeds up progression.
  • Be aware that if someone wants to turn their life around then their desire to succeed is something to tap into.
  • Don’t try to replicate what the homeless charities, the in-prison educational providers & the veteran charities do, they are the professionals. Listen to & work with them.

Get Involved Now

Greg and the team at OAPA would love to work with your business and help vulnerable people back into work in the hospitality industry.  You’re invited to join Only a Pavement Away to gain access to the ATS/Jobs Board to post jobs on their website.

You can also get involved through fundraising activities or by nominating Only a Pavement Away as your chosen charity.

To find out how OAPA uses donations visit: 

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