Former homeless people help shape the future of new Keystage service

People who have experienced homelessness are helping shape a future service for Keystage Housing clients. Keystage Housing staff have been working in partnership with a group of volunteers who have been homeless and used our services, to launch a brand-new service in Luton.

This exciting project is the first of its kind for Keystage Housing and will see those who have already been through the experience of sleeping on the streets helping design our next accommodation.

Keystage Housing is expanding its services in Luton with plans to open new accommodation in the town in the April. The group of volunteers are helping us map out the details, so when the new accommodation is ready to open, we can be confident that it will meet the needs of our future service users.

Jane Foster, Community Engagement Manager at Keystage Housing, has been working with the group of volunteers and staff. She said: “What we are trying to do for Keystage is set up a bank of lived experience volunteers. These are people who have either been homeless and lived in our service and now have their own accommodation, or who have been homeless and currently live in our service. They are helping to co-produce our services for the future.”

The team consist of 50 per cent volunteers and 50 per cent Keystage staff.

Jane said: “During the sessions everyone in the room is equal and the agenda is agreed by all of us. How we progress is decided by everyone, we are just the facilitators.”

The team will work to design a new house and transform it into our next service.

“We have discussed what our service users like and don’t like. We took them to the property and showed the plans that have been drawn up and listened to their suggestions such as having a communal kitchen and dining area so people don’t feel isolated,” explained Jane.

Two of the volunteers helping us are Andy and Liz, who were homeless together for 12 years. The couple were supported by Keystage and offered a room at the Lord Lister when it opened in Hitchin during the winter of 2021.

Andy said he was happy to be part of the new project, helping shape new accommodation for others in the future. He said: “It’s been enjoyable meeting ex residents and current residents as well as members of staff. I think the new building will look amazing.

“On the first day we felt shy, but we were made to feel very comfortable and welcome. No one was judgemental about us. We’re looking forward to the opening and we’re happy to have been part of this.”

“We were made to feel very comfortable and welcome. No one was judgemental about us. We’re looking forward to the opening and we’re happy to have been part of this.”

Andy – Keystage Housing lived experience volunteer

Another volunteer, Malcolm, was also positive about the project. He said: “I think this is something Keystage should do for every service in the future, it should engage its service users and there should be 50 per cent staff and 50 per cent ex residents. I’ve felt comfortable and relaxed taking part.”

Jane said the knowledge and experience of the volunteers is invaluable in helping shape future services.

She added: “We’re so grateful to those taking part in this project. If someone has lived in a service and has had the experience of being homeless, they know exactly what they need because they have been through it themselves.”

Keystage is hoping to launch the new accommodation April and we have several further meetings planned with the group, including for them to offer opinions on the bedrooms, communal areas, décor and staffing once the builders have been in.

Jane said it is hoped that the project will lead the way for developing services in the future. She added: “We want to do this going forward and have a bank of volunteers who can be called upon to offer their expertise. Keystage has always collaborated with our Lived Experience residents, however this is the first time we have a group of Lived Experience volunteers. Moving forwards we intend to do many more groups like this.”


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