East Lothian Council has been awarded £307,000 funding to develop an innovative Peer Flatmate Scheme aimed at improving options for care-experienced young people by pairing them up with local students
The young people will share accommodation with the students giving them all access to a low-cost home with the added benefit of mutual support.
The project will be run in partnership with Hub for Success, which brings together education providers Queen Margaret University, Newbattle Abbey College, Heriot Watt University, Napier University, Edinburgh College, The Open University and the University of Edinburgh.
Funding for the three year pilot project is coming from the Life Changes Trust and is a unique development amongst local authorities in Scotland. The council has also committed to match fund through the purchase of larger properties on the open market with any necessary upgrades to meet the quality standards required and the needs of the care-experienced young people.
The funding, along with the council’s financial contribution, will be used to buy and furnish two properties for the scheme, which will involve four care-experienced young people and two students initially. This will increase to 10 properties in total over the course of three years, which will remain as council stock and become homes to 20 care experienced young people and 10 peer flatmate students.
The students will be recruited through an advert publicised by the partner universities and colleges. Housing support staff will provide training and continuing support to the students and young people.
The Life Changes Trust funds a range of projects across Scotland designed to support young people with experience of care to achieve their full potential, in recognition of the many challenges they face as a group. These include significant overrepresentation in the homeless and prison populations, and higher than average rates of unemployment and mental health issues.
The £4m ‘Home and Belonging’ initiative, which has granted the funds for the Peer Flatmate Scheme, has been designed to provide tailored and creative support to young people when they decide they are ready to move on from care. The initiative recognises that home is about more than bricks and mortar, and is funding projects which help young people to feel a sense of stability, warmth and security.
Heather Coady, Director of the Trust’s Care Experienced Young People Programme, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the Peer Flatmate project in East Lothian. Care experienced young people have the same potential and aspirations as other young people, but generally they do not have access to the same supportive relationships as others when they begin to move into adulthood. Through our Home and Belonging initiative, we are investing in projects which offer creative and personalised responses to this challenge.”
East Lothian Council’s project was developed alongside the Care Experienced, Young People’s Champions Board; Children’s Services and Housing Strategy and brought in key partners including Public Health, Queen Margaret University and Who Cares? Scotland.
Douglas Proudfoot, Head of Service (Development) and Judith Tait, Head of Service (Children & Adult Services) at East Lothian Council, reflected: “We believe this is the first project of this kind in the whole of Scotland and a great example of partnership working between council teams and external partners to make a real difference to the lives of some of our most vulnerable young people.
“The role of a Peer Flatmate will be to provide guidance and share their experience of shared living. The role is voluntary, with rent and costs such as WiFi covered through the funding. A Housing Support provider will provide individual and group support to each flat-share project, covering issues such as budgeting and shared living.
“Central to the project is the role of care-experienced young people in the continuing development of the service and housing model by providing us regular feedback on their experience of the project. This will be aided by a funded full-time 18 month post for a care-experienced young peron, who will work as a Research and Link Worker between Children’s Services and the Housing Strategy teams.
“The key objective of the project is to provide a secure, safe and stable housing option for care-experienced young people in East Lothian and to reduce isolation which many care-experienced people can face on leaving education and moving into their own tenancy. Our hope is that they will be equipped with the tools and skills to live independently and improve their mental and physical wellbeing through housing stability.”
Callum Maguire, Head of Outreach & Community Engagement at Queen Margaret University, said: "It has been recognised that one of the biggest issues facing a young care-experienced person is social isolation. This exciting new project will give care-experienced young people in East Lothian the chance to live in a safe and secure, furnished property alongside a current student who may already have had experienced living in a flat-share situation.
“At QMU we are passionate about giving our students the very best opportunities and chances in life to reach their full potential. Innovative projects like ‘Home and Belonging’ will go a long way in giving care-experienced young people the grounding, security and most importantly, the home they deserve.
“We’re delighted to be working in partnership with East Lothian Council, our partners at the HUB for Success, Care Experienced Young People’s Champions Board, Children’s Services and Housing Strategy, and Who Cares? Scotland, and are looking forward to seeing the impact ‘Home and Belonging’ has on the lives of these young people and our students."
Charlotte Armitage, Public Affairs Support Officer at Who Cares? Scotland said: “As a care experienced person from East Lothian, I am delighted to hear of this exciting new initiative. The Home and Belonging project has long been needed for care experienced people across the county and it will prove to be of huge benefit. By providing young people with a peer flatmate, care leavers will settle into independent living with access to 24/7 support. This will make the transition easier, less lonely and will encourage young people to thrive in their tenancies resulting in a successful introduction to adult life. I know this project would have made my leaving care experience very different had it been in place. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.”