In today’s interview, we speak to member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Gavin Hailes about his work with the Community Self Build Agency.
‘It could be bad luck, post-traumatic stress disorder, a mixture of alcohol or drug abuse… Any manner of different reasons for living rough on the streets. Many just finished tours in Iraq and Afghanistan prepared to give all for queen and country. In their service life they’ve had many things organised for them, from accommodation to food. It’s partly helping them administer themselves, to learn very basic tasks, and enable them to fit back in society.’
Gavin Hailes joined the Grenadier Guards from school. On leaving after 10 years he gained and took various surveying roles until he started his own business. He is an associate member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a volunteer mentor with the Community Self Build Agency.
On the last project all 10 previously homeless ex-servicemen went on to get their NVQs and find sustainable jobs in the building industry. ‘They’re all living in the flats they helped build themselves.’
Gavin focuses on one or two individuals and helps them choose a career within the building trade to pursue. ‘It’s a challenge to get to know them, build bridges with them and raise their self-esteem, and also to think about the practical issues that they’re likely to encounter. Being an ex-serviceman, there’s a common bond: we’ve been through the same sort of experiences.
‘I say it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been. We wipe the slate clean. The important thing is to have honesty between the two of you and a two-way flow, so you get advised of problems that might happen along the way. You’re there in a supporting and a leading role; you’re not there to do everything for them.’
Striking the right balance
It’s not straightforward. ‘After a time, when they’ve not kept busy something can go wrong with disruptive behaviour, but if you push too hard it can backfire and they can end up back on the streets. They’re all working on the site in a volunteer capacity. There’s always baggage, always history, and invariably when you’ve reached a certain level of mutual trust between you they’re more committed, more open about what they’re doing.
Building the community
‘To be able to bring yourself from having nothing, sleeping rough on the street with a pretty dim outlook on life, to get to the point where they’re learning a new trade, a new job, where they have somewhere to live, are readjusting to society and becoming a valuable member of the community… I think they’re all success stories.’