Berwickshire Housing Association: BeWell Mental Health Support
Scottish Procurement Alliance (SPA) Partner: Berwickshire Housing Association
Supplier: Community Benefit Fund/Penumbra
Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA) recognised some of its tenants were experiencing mental health and wellbeing challenges that might otherwise impact their ability to manage and retain their tenancy. But it needed funding to put in place specialised mental health support to improve their situation.
The housing association discussed the initial project idea with Lintel Trust, and, after demonstrating the need for additional help for its vulnerable tenants, it received funding from Scottish Procurement Alliance’s (SPA) Community Benefit Fund to pilot specialised tenancy support service BeWell. This was initially provided to 30 tenants who were identified as being most in need.
SPA’s core business is in delivering public sector construction frameworks, but it also delivers a Community Benefit Fund, granting £140,000 annually to local projects with the aim of improving the lives of the people in Scottish communities in which it operates. To bring the fund to life, SPA formed a partnership with Lintel Trust – an independent Scottish charity with a 44-year history of working with and supporting social housing communities.
Mental health in crisis
BHA is a registered social landlord and registered charity providing homes for more than a fifth of households in Berwickshire. It provides independent living accommodation in Eyemouth, Coldstream and Duns.
Experience of working across rural Berwickshire had shown tenants were suffering from sparse community mental health services and rising thresholds for accessing statutory mental health services, meaning they could only receive support in the later stages of a condition. As a result, only the most serious mental health conditions were being treated, leaving others until crisis point. This situation was increasing the risk of tenants disengaging, losing benefits, and accruing rent arrears which could ultimately lead to eviction.
Compounding this, the nearest mental health facilities are more than 30 miles away offering limited public transport links, and mental health referrals carry up to 18 weeks’ waiting times.
Explaining the scale of the issue the Community Benefit Fund stepped in to help tackle, Kate Christie, Lintel Trust Senior Business Development Officer, said:
“The Community Benefit Fund was set up to improve lives and the BeWell project is tackling one of the most difficult challenges facing people today. Ideally, everyone would have access to appropriate support through the NHS, but this is not currently the case. Statutory mental health services are unable to keep up with demand, particularly in rural areas with fewer resources. BHA has recognised poor mental health as a key contributor to failed tenancies and has addressed the problem in an innovative and sensitive manner.”
How does it work?
Many of BHA’s tenants arrive having lived in poverty and suffered significant trauma. They are often in a cycle of stop-start tenancies – something BHA wanted to halt with additional mental health support its housing officers were not qualified to deliver.
The nature of the relationship between tenants and housing associations can also make engaging on a personal level difficult. The Community Benefit Fund support meant this gap could be bridged by providing independent mental health support through the BeWell scheme, delivered by specialised mental health service provider Penumbra.
Penumbra, which co-designed the BeWell scheme, works with a set number of tenants annually to provide individually tailored long-term support. Its mental health experts work to develop trusting and effective relationships with tenants who are referred to the service.
Kate Christie added: “The fantastic service Penumbra offers is the kind of scheme and community support the Community Benefit Fund was designed for. It’s great to see BHA has been able to provide the specialist, expert help needed, removing further barriers for people to get the help they need.”
At present, this is a first-of-its-kind for the housing association sector. BeWell staff can also act as community connectors, accessing local community support networks and resources available in Berwickshire for tenants, such as community gardening and trauma therapy programmes. Where customer relations between tenants and BHA have broken down, BeWell employees can also act as advocates.
A funding lifeline
Intervention by BeWell has turned problematic situations around for BHA residents by providing specialist intervention where tenancy breakdown was a likely outcome.
Thanks to the £10k funding from SPA and the Lintel Trust’s Community Benefit Fund, during the pilot phase 30 tenants identified as being at risk of losing their tenancy were referred to BeWell, with 29 referred within seven days. There were no evictions for participating tenants and a significant reduction in rent arrears, while 19 participants remain engaged. All 30 participants reported an increase in confidence and self-management skills.
The service also helped:
- Develop trusting and effective relationships with at-risk tenants
- Support people to engage with resources and support structures available to them
- Support the development of self-management skills to allow people to maintain secure homes.
- Improve the physical and mental health of participants.
From the programme, BHA also estimates a cost saving of around £35k in legal costs by preventing five potential evictions.
It has also ensured tenants have secure, sustained homes and renewed hope for the future, with comments from participants including:
"Support has improved my mental health. I don’t have the bad days like I used to. And it’s improved my family relationships… I would never have told my brother how bad things were… now he knows and he helps me out. In fact, something has opened up in me and my outlook is completely different."
"When you phoned the doctor, it really made a difference to the care I got. When you were fighting my corner, it helped me to fight it for myself. I’ve been to such bad places I even felt like I was losing my reason. I feel like I have been fighting for years and I was losing the fight. I fall back down sometimes but I know there is somebody there rooting for me to give me that push back up.”
SPA and Lintel Trust will continue to support the project for as long as necessary and anticipate the service will be extended to other Borders housing associations, should there be demand.
Continuing to make a difference
Launched in 2017, the SPA Community Benefit Fund was set up to give back to Scottish communities.
As a not-for-profit organisation, SPA’s Community Benefit Fund is generated by surpluses from its public sector construction frameworks over the financial year. Offering an annual £140,000 to support vital community projects across Scotland, with fund management from Lintel Trust, its beneficiaries receive help in accessing match funding, and in monitoring and evidencing the social value of their projects. This helps identify which projects are most impactful which assists with future decision-making.
Lesley Anderson, SPA regional director said: “The work our Community Benefit Fund delivers makes such a difference to local communities across Scotland. Schemes like the BeWell mental health support programme can really transform people’s lives. But the Fund also helps provide community facilities such as playgrounds and social groups, mobilise support in crisis situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic, or offer food deliveries for those most in need.”