Geoffrey Willis, CEO, celebrates one year at Stonepillow
We asked Geoffrey Willis to reflect on his first 12 months as Stonepillow's Chief Executive.
"The last 12 months have flown by. There has been a lot to learn, plenty of challenges to face, but I’ve really enjoyed meeting clients and working with the Stonepillow team to improve the support we provide.
Chatting with clients in our Hostels, Hubs and Supported Accommodation, I was in awe of the courage shown by so many in addressing the issues that caused them to become homeless. Stonepillow staff support our clients on their journeys, a hugely responsible and demanding role, therefore I soon realised that my prime responsibility was to support the staff to empower our clients to make positive changes in their lives. Team work is fundamental.
I guess it is inevitable that my 12 months have seen some changes. We’ve welcomed, and in some cases welcomed back, several new managers and now have a fantastic operational team in place. We’ve reorganised our support making it more flexible and more specialist. We’ve added a 'reduction house' - helping people to prepare for abstinence and getting them ready for our Recovery Service. We’ve also developed our Housing First model and added a female-only house to our portfolio of accommodation.
The number of people facing homelessness is rising - dramatically. Latest figures suggest that on any given night there are 4,134 people sleeping rough on the streets of England. Along the South Coast the number of rough sleepers has risen by 30% in just 12 months, not surprising when you consider the cost of accommodation locally, the average house in Chichester increased in value by £608 a week to £423,000 – which is 17 times the average salary. As more and more people are forced to rent the rental costs also rise so the number of people needing help exceeds the number of beds we can provide, which is currently 86. We need to find more rooms, continue to work more closely with other agencies and more funding will need to be found to tackle the challenges we face.
Why am I confident that we can tackle these challenges? Because of your support, I have been bowled over by the support we have received in the past year. At Harvest and Christmas we were inundated with gifts, individuals and groups spontaneously arranged concerts/sponsored activities and companies volunteered to help us revamp our properties. The support has been fantastic.
To build on this I have appointed a full-time manager to lead on events and external relationships to support individuals to run their own events and to increase the number of volunteer opportunities available. Given the fabulous level of commitment from our supporters we also intend to launch a Friends of Stonepillow initiative in the coming year – so watch this space!
We are committed to supporting homeless and vulnerable people and our clients remain at the heart of everything we do. A huge thank you for all of your support, as volunteers and donors, it is needed now more than ever. I know that by working together we can all play a part in supporting our clients who are determinedly trying to change their lives."