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Seaview's drop-in centre in St Leonards.

Seaview’s drop-in centre in St Leonards.

When all else fails, Seaview is there

You can call the emergency services if you need police, ambulance or fire-fighters, but there is another emergency service in town performing an equally important role – the Seaview Project, which helps homeless and vulnerable people and those whose lives have fallen apart but who can find no help from the official agencies. Strategy director Mike Cornish told Nick Terdre how it works.

At first sight Seaview might seem like a response to the government’s austerity policy, a voluntary body seeking to fill the gap left as the welfare state is shrunk. But although austerity is undoubtedly generating more need for its services, Seaview is in fact 30 years old this year.

In its vision statement the charity says it will work with people who feel that they are living on the edge of society, and who experience little hope for their future. It is an open access centre – anyone is welcome to drop in to its premises in Hatherley Road close by St Leonards Warrior Square station. Here you can get out of the cold and enjoy an inexpensive meal, take a shower, wash your clothes, get medical help from the St John’s Ambulance staff based here, or avail yourself of the various services on offer, such as help with accommodation problems, one of the main reasons why people come to Seaview.

“Being an open-access centre is a key part of our philosophy,” says strategy director Mike Cornish. “It means people come and go as they please, you don’t need a referral to come. We don’t have labels for people – this is not a centre for people with health problems or drink and drug problems or disabilities, although we welcome all these and a lot of our service users have health or drink and drug problems.

Strategy director Mike Cornish (photo: John Stiles).

Strategy director Mike Cornish (photo: John Stiles).

“We don’t attempt to provide treatment ourselves, but we will engage people with the appropriate treatment services. And if they don’t want to use those services, we’ll still work with them. And that’s a key thing about us – we’ll go at the pace that they’re moving at. My staff will always talk to them, but if they don’t want to engage, we’ll back off.

“Once they’ve got used to our staff and built up trust, or they’ve seen other people come in and ask for help, then they’ll present with their problems. It’s one of the ways that we’re successful in working with people that many other agencies find it difficult to engage with.”

Rough sleepers

The Seaview team doesn’t just wait for people to drop in. In the case of rough sleepers, for example, during the winter months they go out and look for them. In this activity they work together with Snowflake, another local voluntary body providing emergency overnight accommodation which has an office at the Seaview centre.

This part of Seaview’s work is funded by Hastings Borough Council (HBC), but the grant is getting ever smaller – from £29,000 in 2014/15 (April-March) it has fallen to £20,000 in the current financial year and is due to drop again to £18,500 in 2016/17. All this at a time when the problem of rough sleeping is growing, Mike says.

In 2014/15 Seaview helped 92 rough sleepers and secured housing placements for 61 of them. It used to have a dozen emergency housing units of its own but that is now down to one, due to the reduction in funding. As a result it provided only three people with emergency accommodation compared with 33 in 2013/14. The emphasis is now on working closely with the council’s homeless services to get rough sleepers placed in bed and breakfast accommodation.

Street community

Some of the rough sleepers are part of a wider street community, many with drink and/or drug problems, which Seaview also seeks to help. In 2014/15 the charity’s outreach service for the street community engaged with no less than 142 individuals.

But reduced funding increasingly means that short-term fixes are all that can be provided. When Seaview participated in a hub with other homeless agencies last year, 58 people were contacted and helped – most were placed in B&Bs.

“Putting them in B&B accommodation is not a long-term solution, but it was the only option we had,” says Mike. “They also got support from other agencies, and some of them were helped to move on. But many needed more than that, and several months later, they were coming back.”

 

Saved by Seaview: Bob Jolley’s story

Bob outside the Seaview centre.

Bob Jolley came to Seaview when he was at a low ebb. With a background of time served in prison for violence and mental breakdown, he returned to Hastings in September 2013 registered disabled and suffering from epilepsy and post traumatic stress disorder. He spent his first weeks living in a tent in the woods behind the ambulance station, but after hearing about Seaview he started going in every day to have a shower, wash his clothes and enjoy the company of others there and the support of the staff.

They helped him get into the night shelter run by Snowflake and within three weeks had found him a flat. He now lives in the Bal Edmund supported housing off Battle Road.

Last May, Bob found himself in a suicidal state. “Everything got on top of me,” he said. “But the Seaview staff can read me, they called for an ambulance and took me off to the Conquest. It’s thanks to them I’m alive now.”

Bob turned 60 in September. Most days he comes into the Seaview centre, where he is in charge of the clothing store. He also runs the Seaview choir, a small unaccompanied group of service users which performed at the St Leonards Festival in July and has been in action again this month, with dates at the Seaview Carol Service, Asda supermarket and outside the Old England pub in London Road. A keen fisherman, Bob also enjoys taking others for a night’s fishing on the beach.

 

Housing

Finance was the most common problem until 2013, when housing overtook it. “It’s got a lot to do with the benefit cuts,” Mike says. “It’s not so much people in social housing but in private accommodation – they might have their benefits suspended and then fall into rent arrears and find themselves evicted.” When that happens, they may need to be helped through a period until they get their benefits restored; if they are totally penniless, they may need to be provided with free meals – and all the Seaview staff are authorised to serve free meals in such cases.

Others need support in finding and holding onto accommodation. Here too matters have been exacerbated both by the shortage of private rented accommodation, and within that, the shortage of supported accommodation.

Maintaining a tenancy without support can be problematic, for example, for someone with chaotic behaviour. But matters have improved this year with the introduction of a new project funded by the SHORE (Sussex Homeless Outreach Reconnection and Engagement) initiative whereby Seaview provides support to former rough sleepers who have been housed to help them maintain their accommodation.

Funding

In the past, Seaview’s income has come primarily in the form of payments for statutory contracts placed by public bodies, such as East Sussex County Council (ESCC), HBC and the NHS, but with the crisis in public funding, Seaview has been forced to make radical changes to the way it sources its income.

Traditionally the biggest single provider of funds has been ESCC, which used to account for 90% or more of Seaview’s income. But in 2014/15, that was down to 54% and in the current financial year it is likely to be less than half. That reflects the fact that the county council axed £28 million from its budget for Adult Social Care services in the three years to 2015/16.

Sound Waves commuity choir singing at Seaview's carol concert this month (photo: John Stiles).

Sound Waves commuity choir singing at Seaview’s carol concert this month (photo: John Stiles).

Over the next three years the situation is going to considerably worsen, as ESCC plans to cut a further £40 million from the Adult Social Care budget. Having shifted much of the burden of providing social services from the statutory to the voluntary sector, the government is now depriving voluntary bodies of the funds needed to do that work.

“We’re prepared for the coming reductions,” Mike says. “We’re making a big effort to diversify away from contract income to raising more ourselves, from sources such as charitable trusts, the Lottery and fund-raising.”

The shift is under way, but clearly isn’t going to be achieved overnight. In 2014/15 Seaview’s expenditure exceeded its income – £377,274 against £354,020. The deficit was expected and covered from reserves. Though unwelcome, Mike is keen to put this development into perspective – two large contracts with a combined value of £102,000 were lost, and although several smaller grants and contracts were won, these were insufficient to offset the lost contracts.

Scene from the Big Sleep - Seaview's most successful fund-raising initiative yet (photo: John Stiles).

Scene from the Big Sleep – Seaview’s most successful fund-raising initiative yet (photo: John Stiles).

However, substantial Lottery funds are coming from Fulfilling Lives, an ambitious new project organised by Brighton Housing Trust, in which Seaview is playing a key role. Fulfilling Lives is aimed at helping people with mental health and other problems, such as drink or drug addictions, who have proved incapable of engaging with the official agencies. In the first two years, Seaview will receive annual funds of £104,000. But as the project started in October 2014, only half the annual amount was received in 2014/15. This financial year the charity will receive the full whack, and Mike expects overall income to return to around £400,000.

Seaview’s most ambitious fund-raising and publicity initiative yet was The Big Sleep in September, when some 150 volunteers spent a night sleeping rough on the Stade open space.  The Big Sleep raised more than £22,000, well beyond expectations.

Fulfilling one’s potential

Tackling emergency situations and helping people in acute crisis may be the most eye-catching aspect of Seaview’s work but by no means sum up all it does within the local community. Its main aims also include providing opportunities for people to realise their full potential.

In addition to a physical activities programme to improve participants’ general health and well-being, there are plenty of extra-mural activities, organised and run by the service users themselves, including a football team which plays in a local league, a bowls team in the Sunday bowls league, fishing, cycling and walking clubs and the Seaview choir.

There is also a peer development programme, under which service users with skills and talents are trained up to the point where they can pass their skills onto others.

This aspect of Seaview’s work is relatively unaffected by funding cuts. In other areas, often with the generous help of private sponsors, it has been able to undertake necessary works – for example, it recently completed a much-needed refurbishment of the kitchen and has kept up with a rolling programme of emergency repairs to its headquarters.

Mike is shortly about to retire, but Seaview of course carries on; its first 30 years have proved the need for its services, and there is no sign of that need disappearing in the foreseeable future.

 

A second article will look at Seaview’s fundraising arm, Awareness for Action, and the welcome support it receives from private sponsors and trusts.

Posted 13:01 Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 In: Home Ground

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