When I joined the Foyer Federation in 2004, the Board told me I was joining an organisation at a crossroads. We had an established and growing network. Accreditation had been made compulsory (perhaps the first of many brave decisions made by the Foyer Federation) and recognised by government. We had helped create a funded learning programme and many Foyers were part of the UK Online network. However, not surprisingly given its focus on growing and servicing the network, the Foyer Federation itself had perhaps allowed focus to shift away from its core mission. One of the things that made me want to work for the Foyer Federation was that I knew that Foyers offered young people something different. The notion that the route to tackling homelessness among young people might be as much about learning and personal development as it was about housing was seen as being quite innovative. The Foyer ‘something for something’ deal had been downright controversial from the start.
As we prepare to launch our ‘reclaimed Foyer offer’ at this year’s Practice Event, I believe we are an organisation that has reconnected to its original mission. We understand that our beneficiaries are young people who do not get the right kind of start in life from home. Foyers are a means to do that and if, as has been the case over the last few years, the way they are funded is stopping that happening, then it is the role and, indeed, the duty of the Foyer Federation to do something about that. That has meant going back to first principles and asking ourselves and our network some searching and challenging questions.
The good news is that the Foyer approach is as relevant as ever. The problem is that its integrity has been compromised by a funding model that is no longer fit for purpose. We have been working hard to promote the value of the Foyer approach nationally and locally. This year we have made a significant investment of our own resources to remodel the Foyer offer so that it is relevant to the challenges facing young people today. That has meant working with Foyers and housing associations to create a new quality assurance framework and asset-based theory of change that can deliver positive outcomes for young people in the current and future climate.
We’re pleased to see that this message is resonating with the Foyer network, many third sector organisations and stakeholders in government. We are convinced that by taking this ‘Advantaged Thinking’ approach, we will make sure that you, our members, are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that do exist to transform the lives of young people. Increasingly, that will be about seeing what you do as much as a way of delivering the government’s skills, learning and welfare reform agenda as it is a response to crisis homelessness (although one of the myths you have well and truly de-bunked is that Foyers ‘cherry pick’!).
This year’s Practice Event once again gathers an inspiring group of people who are passionate about creating a world in which young people thrive. I hope you make the most of this day to reinvigorate, connect and inspire, so that we can all return to work more determined and enthused. Let’s reclaim the Foyer together.
As I write this, I can’t quite believe that this will be my 13th Practice Event. As some of you will already know, it will also be my last as Chief Executive of the Foyer Federation. My time with the Foyer Federation has been rewarding, sometimes challenging, but huge fun. The work that you, our members, do is awe inspiring. I have seen over and over again how, when you are allowed to use your skills and talents to the full, you can work magic in the lives of young people. In many ways, our work to reclaim the Foyer offer is the culmination of my time at the Foyer Federation. I will be leaving an organisation that is driven by its values, brimming with talent and potential and knows that the Foyer approach is more relevant now than it has ever been. I have every confidence that, in delivering our reclaimed Foyer offer, you will transform the lives of another generation of young people. Who could ask for a better legacy than that?