In October 2013 The House of St Barnabas' pioneering not for profit members' club opened its doors in London's Soho. We have been quoted as a club and charity "demolishing stereotypes" - and long may that last.
Five months after its opening, the Employment Academy that works to get those affected by homelessness back into lasting work is up and running, the club is going from strength to strength and our exciting 2014 plans are underway. I can at last take a moment to look reflect on how we got to this point, and to look to the future for this innovative model.
My starting point as Chief Executive was what if this could be a place where the pleasures and needs of one group may facilitate the dreams of others? And that this should be at the forefront of all our organisational decisions, from the training we offer to the members that join, the networks they bring with them, the cultural programming we create and the suppliers we choose to work with.
The House of St Barnabas has been a charity in the heart of Soho, London, since 1846. In this new era, we want to create a future where lasting employment is a reality for those affected by homelessness. We do this by operating an Employment Academy offering accredited training through City & Guilds within the hospitality industry and integrating this training via a 12 week programme that includes financial literacy, personal development skills, as well as live work experience within our social business, our not-for-profit private members club - both of which are housed within our home at 1 Greek Street.
The club must be a successful business in its own right. The charity will be relying on the club for the funds necessary to run the Employment Academy and support its former students. Our aim is for the charity to be self-sustaining within five years of opening the club.
So we offer a new vision for members' clubs, one with the drive for social change at its heart. On graduation of the 12 week programme our participants are matched with a mentor and we will continue to work with them in a structured way for at least 1 year and after this, offer employment support to enable them to get work, keep work and progress within work. It is this continued support that paves the way back to independence and breaking the cycle experienced by many of dependence and independence.
Most of us have networks to rely on when we feel below par; someone at work who can give us a hug, or a friend with a cheerful text. Most of our clients have lost these networks. The house offers them a chance to make connections beyond the world of homelessness, rather than leaving them prey to institutionalisation.
We work with partner charities such as Broadway, Crisis, St Mungos, Vital Regeneration and Connection At St Martins who refer to us our participants for the programme. We want to ensure we understand their journey thus far and create an experience for them that will help them on their forward journey. We want the house to be a place where we train and support clients through their development, both personally and within the workplace.
We want The House of St Barnabas on one of our participant's CV's to be shorthand for professional and engaged, so an employer feels comfortable saying quickly and easily those magic words we all want to hear in an interview: "When can you start?"
So far we have been awarded a D&AD prize for our rebranding by The Gild, named a Deloitte Social Pioneer, been awarded Cool Brand Status for 2014 and a finalist in the "One to Watch" in the Social Enterprise UK awards.
We work with people such as Gilles Peterson, Margot Bowman, Andrew Weatherall, Miranda Sawyer, Rob Da Bank, Ekow Eshun and Jarvis Cocker to create a cultural hub in London nurturing talent. The more authentic and desirable I can make everything we do, the better it will serve those I am in place to, those affected by homelessness.
All of this is for one end - to support London's homeless back into lasting work.
Us "demolishing stereotypes"? I certainly hope so.
Follow Sandra Schembri on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SandraSchembri