The Finnish Youth Housing Association (NAL in short of Nuorisoasuntoliitto) celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. NAL50 blog series focuses on different aspects of youth housing and the work of NAL and its partners (on this occasion in English). In this post Amanda Oliver and Hugh Russell share how NAL has inspired them to develop their own model of youth housing – Tai Ffres aims for system change in housing service for young people in Wales.
Wales has a problem.
More specifically, Wales has a housing problem. Housing costs are rising fast here – faster, in fact, than in any other UK nation. Communities are squeezed by commodification of housing – buy-to-let landlords and second home ownership – temporary accommodation has been filled, and young people, more than most, are feeling the effects of a failure in years gone by to build enough social housing.
Welsh Government, which has devolved responsibility for Housing from its UK counterpart, recognises these challenges and is responding – a target of 20,000 low-carbon social-rent homes is in place over the next 5 years. Homelessness legislation is being reappraised. Commitments have been made to promote community-led housing.
For young people specifically, though, there remain significant barriers to access to affordable housing, so it is with great excitement that in Tai Ffres (Welsh for ‘Fresh Housing’), we are developing a solution. A solution that presents a housing offer to young people that is unique within the UK.
It is not a model that is without precedent elsewhere though. As with so much, by looking beyond our own borders and learning from the pioneering work of organisations like NAL in Finland and My Foundations in Australia.
Indeed, when we first heard Tiina Irjala speak about NAL and its intrinsically youth-focussed model at a FEANTSA conference, the idea struck us like a bolt of lightning! Wales totally lacked a youth-specific social housing provider. The gap was so obvious when we thought about it!
The development of Tai Ffres has evolved significantly since then. From that initial flash of inspiration, we are now on the cusp of delivering a service capable of providing high quality, genuinely affordable and sustainable accommodation for young people. Homes that can provide a base from which young people can complete college courses, find work, develop relationships and make a start in life.
Through the partnership of United Welsh Housing Association and the youth homelessness prevention service, Llamau, we have been successful in two rounds of Welsh Government Youth Innovation Funding, which has helped us to develop and evolve the model for Tai Ffres from a small-scale project to a sustainable service which can act as a vehicle for system change in housing service for young people in Wales.
We have recently bid for capital investment into Tai Ffres from the Welsh Government, to enable us to scale up the number of homes available to young people over the next 18 months to make Tai Ffres financially viable without any continuing grant funding. This is critical to ensure that we have a sustainable model that will meet the needs of the young people who fall through the welfare gap as they transition into adult support.
We could have focused on a small-scale project that in reality would have continued to need ongoing funding and would likely to have ended up as ‘supported accommodation’ under a different badge. By not doing this and by spending the time researching and developing the model, we have we have a real opportunity to change the future of young people in Wales.
One of the guiding principles of Tai Ffres is to focus on the strengths of young people. We’re interested in their stories, in their words. Focusing on a young person’s strengths creates a more positive, respectful way to work together and achieve meaningful change for the service and young people.
This focus on young people’s strengths is reflected in Tai Ffres’ governance. Our approach is guided by two project boards – one of professionals from a range of disciplines, who contribute some fantastic experience and insights, and a second (and arguably the more important [no argument – Hugh]) Youth Board. In a way, the pandemic and shift to working in a virtual world has meant that we have been able to gain input from a wider range of voices than we might have otherwise heard from, as demonstrated by the membership of the Youth Board, which features young people from right across Wales. This means that Tai Ffres’ ongoing development can be influenced by the voices of young people with lived experience of homelessness and care services as well as young people who have had a more “traditional” transitional pathway into adulthood, without intervention from statutory services.
The Youth Board have been at the centre of choosing our name, developing our values, our brand and fronting our launch. They’ve been the driving force behind our principles of service delivery, coaching and mentoring and property development. As with our Project Board, the Youth Board have held us to account over the design and the standards we are seeking to achieve, as well as on the financing of the model. It’s been a brilliant opportunity for all to learn from each other.
As we begin refurbishing our first homes, with a view to opening them to tenants in 2022 we are committed to keeping young people and their needs at the centre of everything we do. We will also continue to learn from and share with international partners as we grow and develop and remain indebted to NAL for the initial inspiration and for their ongoing support through our early development.
Tai Ffres offers an opportunity to revolutionise options for young people in Wales and provide a realistic and sustainable preventative pathway for them, rather than them ending up in unsuitable accommodation or entering a homelessness system that can be very difficult to exit.
Follow us as we continue on our journey to deliver a fresh approach to housing for young people in Wales on @TaiFfres and at www.taiffres.com
Amanda Oliver, Tai Ffres Project Manager and Hugh Russell, Chair of the Tai Ffres Project Board