Winter is Coming

A 7 minute read

Written by Soraya Sheikh, UK Network Manager 


Our most recent “Cost of Living Crisis” Network Event highlighted just how difficult things are across the country right now. As Gary said, “Listening to the Network brings three words to my mind: grim, challenging and inspiring”. Even though it’s a challenging time for all, there seems to be a lot of initiatives around the country, which got us all thinking about how we can help you to tackle homelessness more effectively.

Many people will be facing their worst winter ever, which is why it’s important that we do everything we can to mitigate the fallout this is likely to cause. Throughout the event, the word ‘proactive’ kept coming to my mind. This has formed the basis of this short piece. I’d like to give you my perspective into why we need to think further ahead, communicate more and share as much best practice and information as we can. 

Working for Mustard Tree

From 2011 – 2017, I worked for Manchester based homelessness charity Mustard Tree. 

To begin with, my role involved coordinating The Freedom Project; a training programme designed for people coming from various backgrounds and experiencing multiple barriers to learn new skills, find work and overcome barriers. After that, I transitioned into the leadership team as Corporate Partnerships Manager; designing and delivering a portfolio of impactful partnerships to generate income for the charity.

As well as tackling the consequences of homelessness, we also worked to tackle the causes of homelessness by expanding our services to those at risk. The varied roles I had in Mustard Tree taught me that a proactive approach was needed if we were to make long lasting change in people’s lives. Teaching, guiding and supporting people before they find themselves homeless is one of the best ways to prevent homelessness from happening

The 2012 Welfare Reform Act

The 2012 Welfare Reform Act and its changes such as Universal Credit and Bedroom Tax resulted in rising numbers of people walking through Mustard Trees doors. In 2015, the charity had served 1000+ people through various food initiatives. This was all done from a tiny kitchen in a huge building that was falling apart. We knew we had to not only improve our services, but to expand our reach to serve more people.

This was why we launched the biggest fundraising campaign in the charity’s history. Over a two year period, and through private, public, business and third sector donations, we raised £2m to refurbish and expand the branch in Ancoats – the heart of the city. By summer 2018, the refurbishment was done, Mustard Tree had grown rapidly; employing more staff and volunteers than ever before, and reaching more people with a better quality of service. 

As of 2022, the charity has been awarded 4 to 5 stars for food services and is now feeding up to 1500 + families a week. As we know, food is a doorway to deeper conversations and to introduce people to job clubs, healing therapies and life skills support to equip them to change the direction of their life.

Proactivity over reactivity 

I share this because it highlights the importance of being proactive in a predominantly reactive sector. The demand on organisations is huge, people feel stretched and exhausted, whilst the problem only gets bigger. I’ve been there, so I know that this is not a good place to be. When demand is high, resources are limited, and capacity is maxed out, it can be challenging to be proactive. But fighting fires ends up being more draining in the long run, we reach less people and it’s not cost effective; so my question is, how can we all be more proactive?

The Government’s new rough sleeping strategy

On Saturday 5th September, the Government published their rough sleeping strategy: “Ending rough sleeping for good.”

The strategy has been organised through four key themes:

  • Prevention
  • Intervention
  • Recovery
  • Transparent and Joined up System

For the first time, a clear and defined vision for ending rough sleeping has been created, which is that “[Rough sleeping] is prevented wherever possible, and where it does occur it is rare, brief and non-recurrent.” 

The strategy highlights that over the next three years, £2bn, including an expanded £500m, will be invested in their flagship Rough Sleeping Initiative in ending rough sleeping. This half a billion pounds of new funding will work toward championing partnership working between local councils and the voluntary sector, alongside health services. 

Homeless Link has provided an overview of the report, highlighting some key points for us to learn more. 


More families are likely to be affected this winter so reaching out to them now could be one of the best ways to prevent them from becoming homelessess. Last year, we launched Street Support Families in Manchester. Are our Greater Manchester partners utilising this section to its full potential? Do any of our other locations have some funds to contribute to developing the families section in your location? If so, please get in touch with me so we can talk.

Initiatives around the country 

In the Cost of Living Network Event, Dave Patterson from Street Support Leeds flagged the Household Support Fund; a government led scheme which has distributed half a billion pounds to local councils to support vulnerable households. There’s due to be another payment in the future so it’s worth keeping this on your radar. 

Jamie Webb, Debt Advice Team Leader at Reading Borough Council walked us through Money Matters; a section of the council’s website dedicated to providing a myriad of financial advice and services to people in Reading. Jamie highlighted that £15 billion worth of benefits is currently unclaimed by households across the UK. Can you take some time to investigate what these benefits are and help guide your organisations who work with vulnerable households to apply?

There is no denying the fact that working in this sector is more of a challenge than ever. In past years, locations have been working in isolation, but being part of Street Support opens you up to 31 (and growing) other locations as well as us, to bounce ideas off, seek and offer advice and share best practice. There are untold opportunities out there that could be seized, utilised and shared across the UK

Winter is coming 

Did you know that Christmas is the most popular time of the year for people using the ‘Give Help’ section of SSN? From December 2021 to February 2022, 7,728 people visited that part of the site, with the intention of offering to volunteer or make donations. As we are now featured in 32 locations across the country, users to the site are likely to increase this winter. Are you utilising the ‘Give Help’ and ‘Find Help’ sections of our website and SWEP? If not, how could you do this and what do you need from us?

Retailers start thinking and planning Christmas in June because they know it’s the most lucrative time of year. Before transitioning into the third sector, I spent six years working in the leadership teams of Customer Services and Business Operations of The Carphone Warehouse. At the time, it was one of the most successful telecommunications companies in the world. My time there showed me how seriously Christmas is taken and how it accounted for more than half of the company’s entire revenue for the year. 

What if we applied that same perspective to tackling homelessness? What if we started thinking about and planning how to help people over winter and Christmas as early as June? It might feel like too much of an ask, but the initial growing pains would only be felt the first time we do it. We would then have a blueprint for the future to build on and improve. We could very well be able to help more people at risk of homelessness, preventing them from becoming homeless in the first place. Fighting fires is needed, but isn’t it better to prevent a fire from burning in the first place

Help us help you help more people

In preparation for winter (and beyond), some questions for you to think about:

  • How can you utilise ‘Give Help‘ more?
  • Is the Advice section of your page correct and up to date?
  • Is your organisation’s information correct and up to date? 
  • Are you aware of how SWEP works in your area and how to turn this on within SSN?
  • Are you thinking about publishing a Christmas timetable yet?
  • What initiatives are taking place in your location that could be shared with the Network and replicated across the country?
  • Is there funding for us to co-develop Street Support Families in your location?

Please, get in touch with me if you want to have a chat about any of these questions and/or to update your information on SSN. 

SSN Network Event 

‘Winter is Coming’ – Our last Network Event of 2022 will be held on Friday 28 October, 10:00 – 12:00. The intention behind this event is to find out any initiatives you’re planning to run, any best practice you can share and what your needs are. 

We want you to utilise the expertise of the Street Support Team. Between Gary, James, Eliz, Mara and I, and our growing team of volunteers; our skills, experience and wisdom is varied and vast. Ranging from leadership and management, and learning and development within the corporate and third sectors. Advertising and PR, marketing, communications and engagement, brand awareness, business development and business, health and life coaching. And of course, web development and digital. We encourage you to communicate, to reach out and to ask for support because if we can make something happen, we will. Help us to help you help more people.

Please, get the 28th of October in your diary. If you can make it, would you like a slot to share with the Network? Or, this event may be more of a ‘conversation’ between the Network where we see what comes up on the day. Let me know how you would like the event to be shaped, what you would like to be included and where we and the wider Network can support you in being more proactive this winter.

In Service,