Giggs, Neville, if you’re listening….

The gesture by the two former Manchester Utd players to let homeless people squat over the winter in an empty building the stars own, one that is being converted into an hotel, is a generous gesture which according to the video link is much appreciated. It does, however, beg the question as to whether this is good for those with no fixed or stable abode, and whether there are any other solutions?

As Chairman of the Northampton Hope Centre, a day centre for homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the area, my first reaction is to wonder if there are social services or other agencies or charities that can help address the underlying problems that make people homeless in the first place. We know that social services are stretched with reduced funding, but there is a national ‘No 2nd Night Out’ policy in terms of finding emergency accommodation.

In addition, there are charities in Manchester such as the Booth Centre that offers advice, activities and support to homeless people in the city. Best practice in the homelessness sector is now focused on a ‘hand-up’ rather than ‘hand-out’ philosophy, with support given to help the needy to not only alleviate their immediate problems, but also engage with them. There are structured programmes to develop psycho-social and life skills and employment assistance, as well as therapy if needed. Many people in need of help suffer one or more of the following: substance abuse, mental health problems and learning difficulties. Furthermore, many have fallen foul of the criminal justice system at some point, and had terrible childhoods with abusive or negligent parents. Specialist skills are needed, such as those that the University of Northampton makes available as interns to the Hope Centre — case workers, occupational therapists, etc.

It was this ‘hand-up’ philosophy that first drew me to become a trustee of the Hope Centre in 2009. Over the years I have seen the need for charities to become more progressive, more business-like and more outcome focused — to deliver tangible outcomes for clients as well as provide hard evidence for funders. The third sector is changing dramatically, with many external pressures. Since becoming chairman of the Hope Centre I have been blessed with the support of this University on so many fronts. However, my work with the Hope Centre is just a modest example of a much bigger global movement that the University of Northampton, through its Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise & Governance (CCEG), is leading the world on — social value metrics that measure social impact, intangibles such as wellbeing. This methodology is unique in support of the UK’s 2012 Social Value Act, enabling the public, private and third sector to work together to create ‘blended solutions’ to social problems. It is currently being piloted in 10 local authorities, 2 NHS trusts and the Arts Council in public sector tenders worth nearly £3bn.

Back to the football stars — the risk of what appears to be a very kind offer is in danger of perpetuating the homeless situation, with no or limited access to the support that will solve the underlying problems and deliver tangible benefits to society. The footballers could have guided the squatters to the specialist support. And with the fantastic earnings of star footballers, I would recommend that Messrs Giggs and Neville take advice on leveraging their wealth for social good, to develop the progression and rehabilitation support that many people in Manchester and beyond need to avoid homelessness. Gary, Ryan, if you are reading, we have a great project in Northampton that needs £150,000 to turn an old building into a Learning, Development & Enterprise Hub for the 100+ people we currently see each day in the Hope Centre. Ryan, Gary — or anyone who’d like to help us or learn more — please get in touch!!

Adrian Pryce — Senior Lecturer, Strategy