Nicholas Bewes, Howard Group CEO, examines youth homelessness in a city of prosperity.
Our home, the city of Cambridge, is one of the fastest growing, most successful cities in the UK.
On one end of the growth scale, the city has the highest proportion per capita of start-ups in the UK. At the other end, it has 20 billion-dollar corporations, two of which have been valued at over $10 billion.
Cambridge’s life science and healthcare businesses in particular have demonstrated record levels of venture investment, corporate deals, property investment and product development generating over £4bn in turnover over the last three years.
Cambridge is also home to 5,000 tech companies, employing around 68,000 employees, and generating over £12bn in turnover every year which has led it to become the UK’s leading tech hub.
The globally renowned Cambridge University boasts some of the most motivated, inspirational and brilliant minds in the UK with 121 Nobel Laureates and 80 Olympic gold medal winners to its name. Cambridge University spinouts raised over $2bn in capital between 2013 and 2017, and major business investments and corporate deals have seen in excess of £1bn of private capital flow into the cluster.
One would think that, with all this dedication, innovation and financial wealth, our city would be one of the most equitable, stable and prosperous places to live…
The sobering reality and imbalanced experience
However, against the backdrop of a thriving business environment, there lies a marginalised minority who cannot access and do not share in this success.
As well as the positive accolades which have been bestowed on our city, Cambridge is also acknowledged as being one of the most unequal cities in the UK.
Average house prices are nearly 12 times annual earnings (compared with a national figure of 7.1 times), which, added to increases in rent and living costs, is leading to essential workers being priced out of the city housing market. Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, one in every six children in Cambridgeshire endured poverty whilst life expectancy between districts differs by as much as 11 years.
The latest figures from Shelter reveal that 1,823 people were homeless in Cambridgeshire on any given night last year and it estimates that almost half of those were children. These figures are likely to be an underestimate as they do not include other forms of hidden or unofficial homelessness, such as sofa-surfing.
A family-centred approach to creating positive change
With a traditionally long-term outlook, and embedded in their local communities, family businesses are well positioned to develop strong local community partnerships over sustained periods of time. The scale of the challenges faced by society should not be underestimated, but neither should the role of family businesses in driving and sustaining positive social impact at community level.
Families and family life exists at the heart of our communities. They are a source of love, care, support, and stability, all the while offering education, life opportunities and nurturing growth from ‘cradle to grave’. Recognising this is sadly not universally the case, I feel strongly that those who have been denied family life, often through no fault of their own, should not be denied the benefits that so many others have.
At the core of Howard Group sits our purpose “to enrich and improve lives” which includes a long-term approach to nurturing, supporting and sustaining communities, often working with affiliated partners to deliver social value. We feel we have a responsibility to help address some of the social challenges which we face today to improve people’s life chances tomorrow.
As a family business, we are thankful for a strong and stable family which has enabled us to create opportunities, partnerships and employment for other families and individuals since 1935. If we can make a difference, even to a single individual’s situation, then we will strive as best we can to help effect positive change.
We believe that everyone has a right to a place to call ‘home’, regardless of their age, status, orientation or background. It is a worrying statistic that over 120,000 young people in the UK are homeless or at risk of homelessness – 12,200 of whom are in the East of England. And it’s a problem we are genuinely engaged in for the long-term.
Ending youth homelessness
Now, more than ever, we need to work collaboratively to confront the reality of youth homelessness in our city – its causes, its challenges, its solutions.
As Chair of the LandAid Eastern Region Board, I am deeply committed to addressing youth homelessness within the area. LandAid is the property industry charity with a specific focus on ending youth homelessness.
Working with others within the property sector, we are establishing a focus across the East of England and making a real impact throughout the region with fundraising activities, pro bono help, and practical support for charities such as YMCA and It Takes a City, which are working to tackle homelessness.
For smaller towns and cities, youth homelessness is predominantly a local challenge. Paul Morrish, CEO of LandAid, points out that this is why local businesses and especially those in the property industry, are so well placed to engage with, and impact on the problem in their area.
“Our businesses depend on and benefit from local areas” he explains. “Our staff live locally, their children go to school locally, they make our communities. The moral case to help those in need is only strengthened when we consider the needs of those who are most vulnerable and on our doorsteps. Business has extraordinary potential to shape society for the better, and particularly to help young people facing homelessness who have so much to offer if given the support, opportunity, and accommodation they so desperately need”.
One practical opportunity for business to engage positively is the upcoming LandAid SleepOut, taking place at Cambridge University Rugby Club on 2 March. We are asking participants to brave one night outside – not to replicate sleeping rough, but to give an idea of the harsh realities faced by a growing number of vulnerable young people. Last year, a record-breaking 840 sleepers raised more than £560,000 nationally which provided many young people with the shelter and support they deserve.
The other significant local initiative is FutureIN, a programme started by Howard Group working with young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to establish apprenticeship training opportunities across the construction sector.
This collaboration between the private and public sector works to equip young people with skills, and provide affordable accommodation whilst they train, to give them the opportunity to become independent and employable.
Over the past five years, youth homelessness in the UK has increased by 40% - the recession and wider economic and mental health problems will have further exacerbated this – and young homeless are three times more likely not to be in education, employment or training. At the same time, a recent survey found that 96% of construction firms are adversely affected by skilled labour shortages (Civil Engineering Contractors Association – CECA). The programme therefore not only helps to provide secure employment for young people, but also addresses a growing industry issue.
You can read about the inaugural FutureIN ‘Green Skills - Pre-Apprenticeship Training’ programme here which provided seven young people from challenging backgrounds, with hands-on work experience and short courses in property and construction.
Getting the right balance
These steps are small but potentially significant acts towards making a difference in some young people’s futures and they sit at the heart of our family company’s values.
Our Centenary Vision expresses the kind of organisation we wish to become by 2035 – the point at which we are 100 years’ old. The challenge we have set ourselves is to create a balance across three strands – social impact, environmental responsibility and financial performance. It is the strong desire of the shareholders that we maintain balance and avoid any single aspect being achieved at the expense of the others.
The work described above, highlights just a little of what we are delivering in terms of social impact at a very grass roots and practical level.