Learning new ways to support homelessness organisations

© Martha Lester-Cribb, ESS
Over the past three years, The National Lottery Community fund has taken a new approach to funding work around homelessness in Scotland. We’ve also been checking in regularly with the organisations we fund, bringing them together to learn what works best. In this blog, Kate Robinson from our Knowledge and Learning team walks us through what we’ve found out so far: 

2018 was a time of change in homelessness policy in Scotland.  Having announced additional funding the previous year, the Scottish Government issued an action plan using an expert group’s recommendations on rough sleeping and temporary accommodation. For The National Lottery Community Fund, this was an opportunity to review our own investment in tackling homelessness. 

We wanted to understand more about gaps and priorities and be sure that National Lottery players’ money went where it was most needed. After consulting with organisations and people with experience of homelessness, we awarded over £3 million to 8 projects in Edinburgh and Glasgow, most of which were partnerships. 

This presented a golden opportunity to do some deeper learning with projects and understand what works in preventing homelessness and how partnership working could lead to greater impact.  

Our learning sessions on tackling homelessness and partnership working 

We firstly sought help from Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) to develop our learning sessions on the topic. Over the past 18 months, they have distributed questionnaires and facilitated regular sessions so projects could share their experiences and record their learning (instead of preparing full written reports).  ESS has analysed and written up their evidence, checking that the results reflect participants’ experiences. 

At the first session, in November 2019, organisations identified common themes to explore further, including: preventing homelessness, collaboration, working in a people led way and access routes to services. 

These were explored at learning sessions, and we closed 2020 with a session on how to evaluate partnership working. In March 2021, we came together again to ask what good evidence looked like. At this session, the Fund gave its response to challenges projects had encountered in their work. Whilst we had no magic solutions, it was important to us to listen to projects and respond directly to their concerns. 

What we’ve learned so far 

Colleagues from projects commented they appreciated meeting similar organisations and building relationships beyond their immediate partnership. Having others to reach out to during the pandemic was a great help: “Enjoyed talking about shared experiences/challenges, makes you feel less isolated”.  This way of working also seemed inspiring for people: “there is a genuine desire to learn, collaborate, reflect and evaluate together among all partners” 

For the Fund, it’s fascinating to hear directly from those who are doing the work. Bringing projects together makes for rich conversations as people speak honestly about their challenges knowing others are going through the same thing. 

Jamie Munro, a member of our Knowledge and Learning team at the Fund commented: “It’s great for us to hear first-hand from our grant holders about their experiences so we can stay informed and develop our support further”. With representation from a range of organisations, we have a better idea of what works, doesn’t work, and what are the trends and pressure points to help inform future funding decisions. 

ESS played an important role and kept the work focused on learning and how to use it in a practical way; projects were encouraged to consider issues bubbling up in their work and what their advice would be to new projects starting. 

Martha Lester-Cribb, Senior Evaluation Support Manager from ESS commented: “We are delighted to be involved in this programme.  We find that this way of “reporting” often unearths important hidden themes, and that projects grow in confidence to share the good, the bad and the ugly with their funders.  Our aim is to make it easier for both The National Lottery Community Fund and funded homelessness projects to use and share the shared learning that emerges.”  

Continuing the learning into the future 

As we look to the future, it’s exciting to reflect that people want to continue this model of working beyond the initial deadline. As a result, the learning sessions will continue beyond summer ‘22… and it’s wonderful to think some of this might be in person! 

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