Between April and July 2015, Mustard Tree piloted its Leadership Faculty: a new project for developing and releasing the skills and insights of previously homeless and disadvantaged people, led by Leadership Faculty Coordinator Jez Green. The premise of the project is that people who have personally experienced homelessness are the real experts on the issue. As such they have the best understanding of the situation for those who are currently homeless, and potentially the best ideas for solving the problem. The same is true of other challenges, such as recovery from addiction, poor mental health, and cycles of offending. We believe that positive, lasting change requires the full and active participation of those who have come from these disadvantaged sections of society, and have such valuable “lived experience.”
However, their insights and ideas are frequently unheard and undeveloped due to external barriers, such as low levels of education and lack of opportunity, as well as internal obstacles like poor confidence and self-belief. The leadership faculty seeks to develop both the personal and the practical skills that are required for translating potential into change – applicable at individual, organisational and societal levels. Two criteria were set for participants’ entry into the faculty: a personal experience of homelessness or other severe disadvantage; and a demonstration of leadership skills or leadership potential in their current setting.
In the end five participants were picked for the pilot project, all of them having experienced homelessness, and some of them also having overcome additional challenges. Three of the participants – Graham Hudson, Haydn Smith and Peter Tomcik – had all previously taken part in Mustard Tree’s Freedom Project. Graham is currently Mustard Tree’s Creative Programmes Manager, Haydn is one of our Van Drivers, and Peter manages the warehouse at our waste recycling social enterprise, StandFirm. Kylie Wegener volunteered at our Little Hulton branch, while Alistair Papworth volunteered in our Eccles shop. Since completing the course, Alistair has started working part-time in our Ancoats base as a Cashier.
Left to right: Alistair, Graham, Haydn, Kylie, Peter & Jez.
The pilot course combined group learning sessions in leadership development, a group project for outworking these new skills, and six one-to-one coaching sessions for each participant; all delivered one day a week over a sixteen week period. We were very fortunate to have input into the group sessions from Catherine Loftus, leadership development manager from the North West Leadership Academy. Catherine helped to design the course content and also delivered a good deal of it, including sessions on emotional intelligence, motivational theory, talent management, communication skills and organisational development. Another eight trainers and coaches also volunteered their time, each delivering between half a day and a day’s worth of sessions to the group, including coaching skills, political campaigning and even group meditation sessions.
The five participants recorded their learning through a combination of reflective learning logs (completed after each session) and other written materials. Their learning was evidenced at a final exhibition, held at the Virgin Money Lounge in central Manchester. Each participant displayed three photographs and talked to a small audience about their own leadership development as part of the faculty. See a summary of each participant’s learning.
An additional opportunity emerged while the pilot was underway, in which participants were able to meet with representatives from Manchester City Council to share their own experiences of homelessness and to discuss the development of the council’s homelessness strategy. This meeting led to two of the participants being invited to speak at a multi-agency event organized by MCC to mark International Homelessness Day. Speaking alongside the Bishop of Manchester and a local GP, they shared their stories to a crowd of nearly one hundred council officials, voluntary sector workers and business people, some of whom were visibly moved by what they heard!
The best way for people to discover more about the impact of the course is undoubtedly to read the summaries from each participant. However, we also learned a great deal as an organisation, and it is fair to say that future incarnations of the project will be different in many ways as a result of that learning. Key to that was feedback from the five learners, as well as from Catherine and the other trainers. We also involved the participants’ line managers at every stage, and collected evaluations from them throughout the course.
Jez tells us ‘’It has been a great privilege to be able to work alongside such talented and inspiring people, and also to be able to pioneer a new project at Mustard Tree. I derived particular pleasure from coaching each of the participants, and from seeing them develop and progress as a result of their learning. It is my hope that future versions of the leadership faculty will include greater input by participants into the shape of the course; group projects that they can more fully take ownership of; and a core content that takes more diverse leadership models into account. There is no doubt in my mind that we have delivered something fairly unique in this sector, and that it holds the potential to both equip individual participants and to create much-needed change in our society.’’