Angela Herbert and her team at Highwater House are pioneering a new approach to supporting traumatised homeless people.
The residential service is located near Norwich city centre and is home to 22 people who have both a diagnosed mental health condition and a drug or alcohol addiction. All the residents in the service have been homeless or at risk of homelessness at some point in their lives and require ongoing intensive support.
Angela has worked in social care for 25 years and is passionate about supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society. She said, “Some of our residents have experienced unbelievable trauma, neglect and abuse in the past. While others have written them off as hopeless and useless, we see the value in these people and we help them recover.”
Angela and her team are leading the way by becoming an early adopter of a Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) approach. Angela said, “Everything we do takes into account the thoughts and feelings of our residents and how past traumatic experiences may influence their behaviour. We work hard on building genuine relationships with our residents based on respect and tolerance.”
The home has been renovated to create a large activities room which is used for structured sessions and informal socialising in the evenings. There is also a quiet lounge and a designated wet lounge where residents can drink alcohol. “Our approach means that we build trust,” says Angela. “We don’t have staff space and resident space; this just builds barriers. Instead, we eat our meals together and we occupy the same space. Relationships are the principle tool for change. In order to build relationships, you need to develop trust.”
The close-knit team, led by Angela, has vast experience of working the frontline of homelessness and complex needs. With an average length of service of 15 years, their skills in providing consistent care have improved the lives of hundreds of people deemed by society as unreachable or too chaotic. To provide this level of support, the home promotes a ‘whole team’ approach – domestic workers and chefs are equal partners in delivering care. Residents can approach anyone in the team for support, with the relationships they forge being recognised as key to supporting recovery.
Angela said, “I am honoured and proud to have such a dedicated staff team, whose kindness and commitment over my 25 years is outstanding. They are a credit to St Martins and to the care sector.”
A book on a new approach to care
In March this year, Angela’s colleague Iain Boag published a book Psychologically Informed Environment Principles in Adult Residential Care. It documents the changes and improvements Highwater House has made since introducing the approach, and explores best practice in working with dual diagnosis and complex needs. The book can be purchased at https://www.routledge.com/ or on Amazon.
Written before the coronavirus crisis