Pride Month & Community – An Interview with SPEAR’s Director of Operations


Community at SPEAR

Ahead of the Month of Community this June, SPEAR’s Interim Director of Operations, Mark Taylor, talks about the sense of community present at SPEAR. We are grateful to our local community for helping us in carrying out our work to support people from homelessness to independence.

How would you describe the sense of community at SPEAR?

SPEAR has a very palpable sense of community in as much as we are made up of a very diverse workforce including a lot of people with lived experience of homelessness either themselves directly or via family members that they’ve supported in the past. As a result of that, everybody does look after everybody. There is a sense of respect across the organisation and I think that definitely breeds that sense of community, that sense of culture within the organisation.

I can cheerfully say that there is not a single person at SPEAR who would seat and watch a newcomer struggle. Everybody would be in there trying to support, to help, offer advice, offer a quiet word or a moment. So yes, I feel very proud of that within SPEAR.

How is it beneficial to SPEAR’s clients?

I think it’s really apparent to any client working with SPEAR that they are respected and I think that comes from the approach that we have as individuals and as teams to the needs of the clients. There are no two clients that are the same and as a result, there are no two approaches that are the same. We make everything bespoke. So, if somebody has a specific support need or somebody is weak in areas then we’ll work to address that gap, very much from the offset. It’s the same as in any environment actually. When you walk through the door of a space, do you feel safe to be there? And I think with our services that’s a yes. You know it’s a cup of tea and a warm greeting before you get to the sign-in sheet and the more technical aspects of things. It’s little things like that that make all the difference to how somebody feels about a space.

How is SPEAR involved with the local community?

The local community created SPEAR. Thirty-five years ago, two people froze to death on the banks of the Thames in Richmond and the local community was outraged by this, banded together, borrowed a house, and created what became SPEAR. So, they’ve been there since the beginning and we are massively indebted to them and very much established as part of that local community.

We get a lot of input from all the boroughs we work in but especially from the Richmond borough in terms of time, volunteering, resources, food, sleeping bags, all manner of donations constantly flooding in, and if there’s a rough sleeper on the streets we will know about it because the local community knows that we’re here, knows to come to us, knows that we will pick them up so we’re very well connected with our local communities and in fact we wouldn’t be able to do this without them.

LGBTQ+ Communities and Rough Sleeping

June is also Pride Month, a month dedicated to celebrating our LGBTQ+ communities.

Mark here highlights the issues the LGBTQ+ community face when experiencing rough sleeping and homelessness. Almost one in five LGBTQ+ people have experienced rough sleeping or homelessness at some point in their lives. At SPEAR, we are committed to encouraging equality, diversity, and inclusion amongst our workforce and clients. In May, over twenty staff completed an LGBTQ+ awareness training delivered in partnership with Stonewall Housing which enables us to look at the specific needs of rough sleepers who identify as LGBTQ+.

June is Pride Month; can you tell us more about homelessness within the LGBTQ+ community?

We do a lot of work with LBTQ+ clients. It’s a different cohort of clients. In as much as if you’re LGBTQ and are sleeping rough, chances are you will not be in one of the hotspot areas alongside more traditional, heteronormative rough sleepers, quite simply because it won’t feel safe which means you’re more likely to be more hidden. It will make it harder for people to find you and that’s a coping mechanism. So of course, when you’re working with clients in that vein you have to look harder and you have to make sure that you are targeting areas where they might be.

One in five LGBTQ+ people would have experienced rough sleeping or homelessness at some point. There are many reasons why people are homeless but being kicked out of your home because it’s not safe you know is amongst the hardest to manage.

How does SPEAR support the LGBTQ+ community?

In much the same way that we would support anybody else. However, it’s about having that awareness of being accessible to LGBTQ+ people. And allowing them to feel that this is a safe space where they can have the conversation, that they can be open about who they are and what they’ve experienced. And it ranges from tiny things.

All our lanyards have rainbow stripes on them and that’s just about giving that implicit message to anybody who is LGBTQ+ that when they walk through the door they’re talking to somebody who could be an ally or who could be supportive to them and they don’t have to feel like they have to hide or occult a part of themselves in order to access the service.

SPEAR alongside our other services is doing a lot of work with Stonewall Housing. We’ve been working with them quite well for the last three years. We’ve had LGBTQ+ awareness training that has been running fairly consistently. It’s not mandatory training and yet every single staff member wants to be on it so that they can better understand the needs of that cohort of people. It’s been beneficial for both staff team members who have experience or want questions answered but also, more importantly, because that’s who it’s for, for the rough sleeper cohort with whom we work. It’s been really beneficial in understanding what some of the drivers and motivators are for them.

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