CEO on the frontline

As authorities struggle to fund the services people with complex needs require, one association is stepping up to the plate and showing how it’s done…

On a busy roundabout just a few minutes from Burnley Football Club sits Calico and its chief executive, Anthony Duerden.

As we make our way to Duerden’s unassuming office, his head of communications says he is “the most down-to-earth CEO I’ve ever worked with”.

And this humility shines through in his first few words: “I can’t do the jobs on the frontline – I just help with the business side of it.”

Positioned between Manchester and Leeds, Burnley is sometimes a forgotten town. But there are efforts to breathe new life into it, with engineering jobs rising and a desire to retain young talent.

Calico is helping that drive, raising the standard of public-sector jobs and contributing to Burnley’s evolving landscape.

Take Gateway, a complex-needs homelessness scheme launched in September 2018. Winning Best Homelessness Scheme at the 24housing Awards 2019, Gateway works with individuals to overcome their issues and live independently.

The scheme boasts 26 rooms and four crisis rooms and allows Calico to work with residents to overcome addiction, mental health, and violence through a perpetrator programme. It’s staffed by those with lived experience of homelessness who possess the knowledge and ability to have those difficult discussions and deal with problems when they occur.

Tesco donates bread, vegetables, and fruit for cookery classes; and retailer Boohoo donates clothes.

When people are ready to move on, Calico works with them to find a property and an assured shorthold tenancy. It is a group of people many landlords would not house, a group that ends up in poor private housing where their issues would likely spiral back out of control.

Communal area at Gateway
Communal area at Gateway

“One of the best things I’ve done is to listen to people and realise their problems are not far from anyone else’s – it has been really eye opening,” says Duerden.

“I’ve had my own naïve thoughts on addiction, but it’s only by exposing people to the reality that it changes the way we do things. Now in housing, the way we deal with ASB or arrears has changed a lot if there are other issues.

“Before, we would have said ‘leave off the drink and behave’, but now we approach it as a package of support.

“It is all about connections. If you think of the people we have working in Gateway that have had previous issues and a record that many people would never employ. Staff now understand that people can change.”

Another vital service Calico provides is Jane’s Place, a specialist refuge that offers vital accommodation to those fleeing violence and who may have complex needs.

The scheme has been so successful that previous residents now volunteer, providing important interventions and ensuring the scheme continues to work for all.

The scheme holds a clinical room, play room, and study room – all providing activities for residents to combat boredom, one of the main reasons for relapses.

Putting on activities for residents is something Calico has taken to the next level with its Valleys Street centre. Through offering classes on textiles, cookery, boxing, and everything in between, the centre has become a hub for the local community.

The centre used to be run by the council, but it couldn’t make it work. But Calico wasn’t content with letting it go and decided to provide the service itself. As Duerden explains: “It is all about the effort and the people that makes it work.”

Calico’s Gateway scheme

It is testament to the commitment of Calico to drive standards in Burnley that it works so hard, not only with the individuals in schemes such as Gateway, Jane’s Place, and Valleys Street, but in terms of investing in infrastructure.

The association is working to resolve Burnley’s empty-homes issue, and it is building around 150 new homes a year, which has seen private-sector standards rise.

“Housing has a part to play in nearly everything we do,” says Duerden. “It helps people deal with everything else that is going on.

“Housing plays an important part in sustaining good outcomes.”

As we return from the frontline, Duerden explains he doesn’t go to frontline to “check up on staff”.

“I don’t see my role as deciding what to do – we make sure that things are happening throughout the organisation, listening, and learning from it,” he says.

“One benefit from being on the frontline is that people see you as being approachable and a normal guy.”

He adds: “I remember when I was on the frontline and saw the chief executive because they were always the sort of people that spoke in a certain way, very engaging and confident – all the things I wasn’t when I was younger.

“Then, I got older and learned that everyone has their own insecurities and are just better at hiding it than others.

“Making sure that people trust you, that is what I try and get out of being on the frontline, rather than checking up on them, which there isn’t a need to do.”

Calico is run on sound values and empowered staff who are involved in all decision-making processes. And by achieving such success in helping the local area and the people within it, Calico has left a legacy of which many housing associations would be proud.