Croydon Council’s work in helping struggling families to avoid homelessness has reached the final of a national award that recognises housing innovation.
In January last year, Croydon and around 30 local charities and voluntary groups launched Community Connect so more households could get help from the council’s Gateway service, which offers help with housing, benefits, debt management and social care assessment.
This led to the opening of The Food Stop, London’s first welfare and food club. Based at the Family Centre in Fieldway in partnership with food charity FareShare and local groups, The Food Stop provides £20-worth of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and other foods each week to families for just £3.50.
The Food Stop now has 97 members, who in return for the cheaper food also get other benefits, including a weekly jobs club, a cookery course and budgeting help. It has saved its members thousands of pounds in bills since the scheme began, and the council is now exploring where else in Croydon the Food Stop model could work.
The council’s work on Community Connect has now led to it being named as a finalist in the Innovation of the Year category at the UK Housing Awards.
Since Gateway was set up in 2015, its staff have helped more than 1,300 families avoid homelessness, supported by more than 500 people into jobs and given £2million to support residents with rent arrears. In the last year, the Gateway service has also run budgeting, employment, debt and housing workshops for 500 residents and helped more than 2,200 people on Universal Credit with their digital skills.
In addition to opening The Food Stop, over the last year the new Community Connect alliance of statutory, voluntary, community and private sectors has widened the Gateway approach to:
• Prevent 29 New Addington and Fieldway households from becoming homeless, including preventing eight evictions
• Reduce rent debts and improved household finances among 34 families
• Help 27 residents into work or training, 14 of whom had been long-term unemployed
The winners of the UK Housing Awards, which are run by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the website Inside Housing, will be announced at a ceremony staged in Westminster on May 2.
The Food Stop is open every Wednesday and Thursday to anyone with an address in Fieldway or New Addington wards, with priority given to jobseekers on benefits such as Universal Credit.
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