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Social investment when you don't fit the mould

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In this guest blog, Ashley Horsey from Commonweal Housing talks about the positive impact that social investment has had on his company.

We approached Big Society Capital for social investment funding to help us purchase properties for an innovative housing based scheme to support vulnerable and destitute migrants. We are working in partnership with leading migrant support agency Praxis Community Projects, who will deliver the No Recourse to Public Funds project.

Together with Praxis we wanted to address the injustice faced by vulnerable migrants - individuals and families that have been left destitute by the UK government; those people who are left in limbo whilst they submit fresh appeals and new evidence for immigration claims. Whilst this group may be permitted to stay in the country, they are denied the opportunity to work and support themselves, or to have access to even rudimentary benefits or assistance. Such enforced destitution is the sort of systemic issue Commonweal seeks to address with the projects it supports.

The model

Commonweal is a small innovative charity that works in collaboration with expert charity partners to develop original housing solutions to social injustices. We do this by providing housing, securing social investment and developing model projects that can be replicated on a wider and larger scale. We’re not afraid of taking on risky projects that have the potential to help solve a specific social problem and injustices faces by an overlooked group.

Commonweal will lease the purchased properties to Praxis, they in turn will let some of them (on a shared housing basis under licence agreements) to destitute migrants to whom local authorities have a duty to provide accommodation under Section 17 of the Children’s Act as the household contains a child who would otherwise be homeless.

The process

Commonweal Housing submitted a funding application and is extremely pleased to have received a generous £1.1 million investment from Big Society Capital, a large proportion of the £2.5 million total we needed.  This initial backing from Big Society Capital helped to give other social investors confidence to commit funds.

Thinking back to the initial application process with Big Society Capital, we were aware that Commonweal is a unique charity that doesn’t easily fit into set moulds. This meant we needed to quickly adapt to Big Society Capital’s application structure and find information to answer questions that we did not always have immediate access to. I confess that looking back, we can see how gathering this information early on has been valuable later in the process.

Big Society Capital’s funding has allowed us to start purchasing the properties we need to test and develop this unique cross-subsidy housing model. We are excited now to be actively buying the homes to be used for this project. Our first purchase completed in early 2015, and after some minor redecoration and refurbishment works, is due to be handed over to Praxis in early spring.

Big Society Capital has been supportive throughout this process. We particularly value their approach at the critical house buying stages, when their quick action has both made it easier for us to move the process forwards and has also given confidence to our other funding partners.

Last updated | 
3 March 2015

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