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Volunteering at HOS: May update

This month has been a strange one, as we continue to operate through lockdown. Despite this, our volunteers have been keeping active and it’s exciting to see more and more things come together!

Online Researchers

Paula has made fantastic headway with producing two “Your Area” guides for Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire. It has been a pleasure working on the guides with her and we now have a smart looking draft Renfrewshire guide, ready to share with clients and other organisations. Great work!

Our other researchers continue to work away on their guides separately and I’m excited to see more of them come to life over the coming weeks / months.

Housing Buddies

As client visits are currently impossible, there have been less engagements for our buddies to be involved with. Despite this, the broker team have kept in touch with the buddies and benefited from their local knowledge and expert advice on several occasions. Our buddies have also made contact with some clients in this time to check they are coping well in the circumstances. Thank you to everyone for their hard work!

Other volunteering

We have begun to conduct some research about the provisions made for applicants with learning disabilities in allocation policies of housing associations. Tessa, one of our volunteers based in Edinburgh, has begun this project and we are excited to see how it develops.

A year of volunteering at HOS!

Thank you to our volunteers!

It’s been a whole year since we began redesigning the volunteer programme at HOS. What’s below describes a few highlights of our work so far.

It’s been a year since I came into post as the Volunteer Coordinator at Housing Options Scotland. In that time, I’m proud of the work we have done to build our volunteer programme. We have designed new opportunities for people to get involved with the charity and recruited a team of 23 volunteers right across Scotland. There are lots of things which I could highlight from the year so consider what’s below as a snapshot of some of our activities. I’ve presented the information (somewhat) chronologically to show how the programme has grown and developed. Thank you to everyone for their involvement and the Bank of Scotland Foundation for funding the post.

We began designing the volunteer programme by holding workshops with stakeholders to determine what kinds of projects we could involve volunteers with. We designed the Housing Buddies role for housing professionals, asking volunteers to support clients by buddying them at events and appointments. We also designed the Online Researcher role, asking volunteers to write informative guides about different local authority areas to share with clients when they moved. The idea was to design the volunteering around the needs of our clients. I also attended training with Volunteer Scotland about how to co-ordinate a volunteer programme and launched the Volunteer Blog to document our work over the year.

In the Autumn, we began to recruit volunteers, advertising roles with different volunteer organisations and via Scottish Housing News. We recruited 3 Housing Buddies in Glasgow, Dundee and Stirling and saw them undertake their first cases with the broker team. We also completed several case studies and recruited our first Online Researcher in Edinburgh. In November, we had our AGM where we celebrated the work of our volunteers, and formally launched the Housing Buddies programme. At the end of the year we recruited two more Housing Buddies in Falkirk and Perth and met to evaluate the success of the programme to date. We also recruited several more Online Researchers and I began to re-write the volunteer role descriptions and induction processes. The Volunteer Blog was redesigned and continually updated.

In the New Year we saw our first Your Area guide for Edinburgh finished, and recruited more researchers in Stirling, North Lanarkshire, Highlands, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Glasgow. We saw our Housing Buddies support our brokers further, with them helping at 18 different events/appointments. We also completed several more case studies with clients. I designed the HOS Volunteer Portal where we now keep all documents related to the volunteering. We also hosted peer support sessions both with the researcher volunteers, and Housing Buddies.

Moving forward, we are excited to grow the volunteer programme further. We have plans for research projects which volunteers can be involved with and hope to link up with other organisations in the sector to expand the opportunities we offer our volunteers, and our clients and broker team. Onwards and upwards!

Volunteering at HOS: April update

Like everywhere, this month has seen us adapt to the changing environment we find ourselves in following the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, lots of the month has involved scenario planning and re-evaluating our aims and objectives for the coming months. Despite this, we have still managed to employ our Housing Buddies, grow the researcher team further and begin to make plans for future volunteering opportunities too.

Housing Buddies

Our Housing Buddies have been helping the broker team with welfare calls and check ins with clients. This has been tremendously helpful and appreciated all round.

We have also managed to arrange our first group Knowledge Exchange call by Zoom. That call brought together our buddies and broker team to share experience, ideas and knowledge between themselves. About the call, our Head of Casework Services, Olivia Lindsay, said:

It was great to get together with the Housing Buddies and share our experiences of the housing sector. The Housing Buddies bring such a wealth of knowledge and it’s an amazing resource for our Brokers to be able to tap into.

Olivia Lindsay, Head of Casework Services – HOS

Plans are in place to schedule regular catch ups between the staff team and volunteers to continue to grow our networks and build up our collective knowledge.

Online Researchers

This month we have welcomed a further 2 volunteers to the team – Heather Campbell and Paula Cleary. Heather will be working on a guide for North Lanarkshire with us; Paula on guides for Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire. You can read more about our volunteers here.

We have also begun a process of peer support with the research volunteers where Tessa – who has completed our Edinburgh guide – has been offering email advice and support to the new volunteers about their research.


As our Volunteer and Engagement manager, Ben has worked on writing new induction processes for the volunteer roles, gathering feedback from the current volunteer team. The role descriptions, handbooks and support sites for the volunteering are now all updated.

We also have plans to launch a volunteer research project looking at provisions made for people with learning disabilities in different Housing Association allocations policies. Watch this space!

What it means to have the support of our Housing Buddies

Our Volunteer and Engagement manager, Ben, spoke to the HOS Broker Team about the support they have received from our Volunteer ‘Housing Buddies’. Here’s what they had to say:

Moira Bayne, CEO

I have benefited greatly from the support of the Housing Buddies at client meetings.

In each case the meetings were covering sensitive and complex areas with clients feeling understandably anxious. I met with each buddy in advance of the meeting for a briefing session. This was very helpful in giving me a chance to explore what might happen and think through appropriate strategies. The buddies questions and observations were very helpful in expanding my thinking. Each of the buddies did some specific research on behalf of the client and were able to contribute positively to the outcomes.

It’s so helpful not to be “alone” in a meeting. It takes the pressure off to not be solely responsible. The debriefs afterwards have been very worthwhile and insightful.

Olivia Lindsay, Head of Casework Services

I have found the support of the Housing Buddies to be invaluable. Recently I have been working with Shirley to support an older client in Broughty Ferry. We hadn’t had much engagement from the client, so I thought that a home visit would be useful. Shirley attended the visit with me, and came prepared with some useful information. As Shirley is from the area, she was able to find out about local services that might have been able to assist our client. Since our visit, Shirley has kept in touch over the phone with the client, to see how she is getting on, and find out if there is anything else that HOS can do for her.

Karen Campbell, Military Matters Broker

When a client contacted me to look at housing options in Glasgow, I asked our volunteers for some help.  The client was interested in social housing but didn’t know where to start.  With over 40 Housing Associations in Glasgow I asked our volunteers to help by researching the housing stock of different Housing Associations in my client’s preferred area. The results were fantastic.  Two of our volunteers, Shirley and Anne, took the research on.  They gave me a detailed update on which Housing Associations were best to approach.

More recently, I spoke to a new client who wanted to put his housing options on hold due to the pandemic but was struggling emotionally with the challenges of the government restrictions.  I asked if one of our volunteers could contact him by phone to make sure he had the opportunity for a regular chat with someone.  One of our volunteers, Shirley, has been in touch and is going to keep in contact during the lockdown.  Once he is ready to look at his housing options again we can resume his case support. 

Susan Mendelovitch, Housing Options Broker

I was supported by Fiona, one of our Housing Buddies, with one of my clients who lives in Bridge of Allan.  Fiona accompanied me to a home visit where we were able to discuss the housing options my client had.  It was great having her with me during this visit because Fiona not only has a wealth of experience in the housing sector, she has excellent local knowledge of the local area of Stirling and Bridge of Allan. She was able to suggest areas that might be of interest to my client and identify the street names where the council had housing stock and if these areas would be suitable for someone who struggles with mobility.  After the visit she also continued to support me in the case work by suggesting other suitable housing options for my client. 

Jil Dyson, Housing Options Broker

When one of my clients approached me to ask for some local information about Edinburgh as they were planning on moving there, I asked Ben if a volunteer who knew the area would be able to help. Ben put me in touch with Tessa.

Tessa was able to help to offer my client some helpful local knowledge on the area in Edinburgh she was considering. Tessa offered advice on bus routes, local clubs she could attend, shops, and nearby doctor’s offices. She also offered my client to get in touch at any time if she had any other questions about the local area. For my client, who would be moving from England, this offered a wealth of local knowledge that could make my client feel more at home if the time comes that she does move to Edinburgh. Tessa gave helpful information that I would not have known (with me not being local to the area), and assisted me greatly in my role as a broker.

Introducing our new volunteers

Over the past month or so, we have been lucky to recruit more Online Researcher volunteers. They have told us a little more about themselves in the bios below. Welcome Heather, Jessica and Paula to the HOS family!

Heather Campbell

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m from Glenboig in North Lanarkshire. This summer I will graduate with a degree in Geography and Public Policy from the University of Glasgow. As well as having a keen interest in housing policy, I love to travel and see the world. My favourite place I’ve been to so far is probably Yosemite National Park, its grand landforms and waterfalls are insane!

Closer to home, I have a fond love for the Isle of Skye, having spent every Easter there as a kid, holidaying with family, building fires on Talisker Bay and bagging Munros in the Cuillin hills, has made me love the island (even enough to write 10,000 words on Airbnb and how its impacted the island for my dissertation).

I must say I am also a self-confessed eco-warrior with a passion to cut the amount of plastic and fossil fuels we use, as a society and do our bit to make our Earth a happier, healthier place to be.

I have worked as a lifeguard for the past 5 years which has supported me through uni and all my travels. However, as a soon-to-be new graduate I am looking to gain experience working in the third sector, particularly in the housing sector, so I hope this volunteering opportunity will be a great steppingstone for things to come

Jessica Sweeney

My name is Jessica and I’m originally from West Yorkshire but my family moved up to Inverness around 20 years ago. I also lived in Stirling for 4 years whilst at university and I’m now back in Inverness where I met and married my husband.

I respond to visitor feedback for a living – the compliments are lovely but, unfortunately, they are few and far between!

In my spare time, I love to travel and I like to buy books and read.  I also like to volunteer!  I’ve been a Girl Guide leader for 12 years and I’m also currently a District Commissioner.  I’m also about to start training to become an advocate for Sepsis Research UK.  I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer online and came across Housing Options Scotland.  I read about what they were offering and decided I definitely wanted to be involved and now I’m helping with the “Your Area Guides”! 

Paula Cleary

I am a recently retired educational professional with experience in qualitative research and evaluation. I’m based on the south side of Glasgow and love taking long walks locally with my husband and dog. I’m currently assisting Housing Options Scotland to research and write guides for people moving into a new local area. Having recently left work as an education consultant, I’m keen to use my skills and experience to help charities like Housing Options Scotland meet their aims and objectives. In my spare time, I love reading of all sorts, caring for my houseplants, jogging and stamp collecting – but not all at the same time!

Robert’s LIFT story

I had the pleasure of speaking to Sue, one of our clients at Housing Options Scotland. She told me all about the support she received from HOS broker Susan, to help her son purchase a flat in Blairgowrie. Here’s what we discussed:

Sue’s son Robert was living in a shared, rented house in Sheffield. He was settled and with a good support package which meant that when Sue and her husband moved to Scotland, they knew that Robert was safe and happy.

It had always been in the family’s plans for Robert to move to Scotland at some stage, but things were taken out of their hands when Robert’s landlord decided to sell the property he was living in. Sue recalls:

“It was due to be a steady move but when the landlady decided to sell her property, we received 3 months’ notice that Robert was to be made homeless. That put the pressure on – Robert had to move. Although he had wanted to come up north and we’d been looking around, the fact that the decision was no longer Robert’s anymore really upset him. Anyone is anxious when moving and especially so if you’ve nowhere lined up to move to, but as Robert has mild autism and moderate learning difficulties, for him it was a double hit.

I’d already started looking at the private rental sector and council lists but he was 7500 down the waiting list so I knew I needed other options. We wondered about Robert buying somewhere – the stress caused with moving from one rental property to another was something we wanted to avoid. The first time Robert had to move flat he locked himself in and wouldn’t come out. We knew it would be better if we could buy.”

Just before Robert moved to Scotland, Sue’s daughter – who was living in Edinburgh – came across the HOS website and suggested Sue get in contact. Sue had spoken to several estate agents about if there were schemes able to help people buy property in Scotland, and to see what was on offer in the private rental sector, but she was having no luck. She remembers:

“I’d asked everyone I could think of but nobody knew of any sort of support for buying in Scotland so I thought that there probably wasn’t anything out there. Still, I filled in the form on the HOS website just in case and it said someone would get back to me within a week. Happily, someone got back in touch and said they’d get back to us with more information within 6 weeks. Again, someone did.”

The next steps in sorting Robert’s housing journey were made much easier for Sue and the family:

“The day you got in touch with information was the day we were in Sheffield helping to get Robert moved out. The timing was amazing – I’d just said to a friend that I was hoping something would come from this and it did. That was the most wonderful feeling because I was so stressed!

I got that phone call and Susan explained the options for us, including the option to buy via the LIFT scheme. She told me about the costings and how it would work and said she’d send me everything by email. She did that straight away and then put me in contact with Ian Haughey, an independent financial advisor. Susan asked me to keep in touch throughout the process and it all got sorted from there.

Ian was absolutely marvellous too – talk about holding your hand through it all! We had just bought our property the year before and gone through the same process. Even though it was fresh in the mind, it’s still such heavy going. Ian took all the pressure out of the move – including the LIFT scheme and linking everything together. Everything was sorted and I was just told what to do, when and how. It was absolutely fantastic!”

When it came to finding a suitable property, Sue, Robert and family knew what they were looking for:

“The key things were that the property should be in a safe area. Robert is vulnerable and I wanted him to be somewhere where he wouldn’t be frightened or worried about going out. We also wanted him to have access to amenities – to be in walking distance of the main shops in Blairgowrie and of buses to Perth and Dundee.”

In the end, Robert purchased a new build flat:

“The flat is lovely – it has an independent doorway and access and some outdoor space which is gravelled and easy to look after. It’s nice and spacious with a big lounge and 2 bedrooms, one of which we’re going to use as a day room for Robert to have his computer and bits and pieces in. Being allowed a 2nd bedroom via LIFT is really useful – it will make a big difference for us, especially initially. Robert is used to having support at night which he won’t have here. If that doesn’t work out, then we’ll have the option to get someone into the second bedroom at night.

The flat is just 8 minutes away from us so we are close enough to be on hand to help but far away for him to have his independence and do his own thing. Moreover, the new place is so cost-effective to run – particularly with energy; it’s got solar power! Compared to older properties in Scotland it’s nice and warm.”

Sue is excited about what the future will hold for Robert and the family –

“It’s exciting now that everything is coming together: sorting out the house, getting packages for support – all that takes such a long time and now it is finally done. This move was also about future-proofing things – I wanted Robert to be closer to his sister in Edinburgh when we’re not around. I would hate for Robert to have to go into a home. He doesn’t need that – he’s been in supported living for 10 years and this is the next step. He’s ready for this and that’s what he wants too. The flat makes it all possible.”

Thinking about the whole process Sue is thankful for the support she received –  

“The support from HOS was great – there was such a lot of detail. It was brilliant! I knew what I wanted when I was contacting estate agents but I couldn’t explain it to people – HOS gave me the words and information about LIFT to make it possible”

Bumper updates: February/March 2020

Time flies! Or at least it does in the world of volunteering at HOS. We have had a busy few months and are just catching our breath from the various exciting developments we are seeing with the programme.

New volunteers

We have had 3 more volunteers join the HOS family – welcome to Sarah, David and Jess who are going to be working on our “Your Area” guides in Dumfries & Galloway, Glasgow and Highlands. Our volunteer programme is well and truly growing to be nationwide (!)

Housing Buddies

Our Housing Buddies have been involved in all kinds of engagements and activities supporting the broker team. We’ve seen our buddies attend four conferences – including speaking about the Housing Buddies programme itself – in Glasgow (x2), Stirling and Dundee; visits to clients in Bearsden and Paisley; and lots of advice offered via email and phone to clients and the broker team. Thank you to Lindsay, Fiona, Shirley, Kath and Anne!

We have also made further plans to grow and develop the programme which we are excited to put into practice over the coming months. These plans will see us create space for our Housing Buddies to share their professional knowledge among one-another (and the HOS broker team), and to explore ways in which we can structure the programme as an opportunity for continual professional development (CPD) with different housing bodies. Watch this space!

Online Researchers

Our online researchers are working hard and we now have guides being written for the following areas: Edinburgh, Stirling, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Glasgow and Highlands. We have another 2 volunteers hopefully joining the team in April and are discussing the possibility of linking up with Stirling University to recruit further volunteers. It’s full steam ahead and we are looking forward to sharing our first guide for Edinburgh with clients very soon (!).

Other updates
Over the past few months we have also found time to build our ‘Volunteer Portal’ – an online site which we are using to communicate/support volunteers, and update the role descriptions and policies which were drafted at the beginning of the project.

We have also been able to increase staff support to the programme as our Volunteer Coordinator Ben takes on a new full time role in the organisation as Volunteer and Engagement Manager. Onwards and upwards!

Meet the Housing Buddies: Anne Matthew

We’ve been interviewing all our volunteer Housing Buddies at the beginning of their involvement with the programme, finding out more about their background and hopes for the volunteering. In our fifth interview, we meet Anne Matthew.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself – what’s your experience in the housing sector?
    I have worked in the housing sector for around 40 years, and have recently retired. I have worked with a Scottish local authority and two housing associations in Fife, Edinburgh and Stirling, carrying out new build and housing  refurbishment and regeneration projects. I am a Board member of a large housing association based in the East of Scotland.
  2. Why did you want to get involved with Housing Buddies?
    Although retired, I am still very interested in the housing sector, and I considered that the Housing Buddies role was something that I could contribute to. 
  3. What are you looking forward to most about being a Housing Buddy?
    Meeting new people and hopefully helping them with their housing issues
  4. Why do you think Housing Buddies is an important programme?
    Housing Buddies is a very good idea because it aims to help people in housing need with information and advice specific to their housing situation. Although there is a lot of information available to people about different types and tenures of housing , it can be quite a confusing topic to find what is relevant to your own housing situation and circumstances.
  5. Why is volunteering important to you?
    Although I am fairly new to volunteering, I realize the contribution that volunteers can make to  others.  I have already met a variety of people from different backgrounds which is interesting, and volunteering gives me an opportunity to help those in housing need through my experience of working in housing for a number of years.

Volunteering at HOS: January Update

In January we have continued to progress the different parts of the volunteer programme.

Housing Buddies
We have recruited one more Housing Buddy, Anne, who is based in Perth and are looking forward to welcoming Anne and Kath to the team at our next group Triage meeting in February. Shirley has joined Moira at a meeting in Perth with a client and the council, and has supported one of Olivia’s clients by giving her a call to discuss the next steps of her housing journey. Fiona attended an event with the Scottish Government as part of the Housing 2040 consultation process. We also have cases lined up for February with Lindsay and Fiona set to join Moira and Jil at different conferences, representing Housing Options Scotland. Full steam ahead!

Online Researchers
Our researcher team has been working away at the guides, with great progress made by Tessa in Edinburgh in particular. One of Jil’s clients has already requested information from the guides, and Tessa is set to have a chat with the client to answer questions she has about local services in Edinburgh.

Other activities
We are working with an animator to produce some informative videos for social media. Lindsay, one of our volunteers, has been involved in helping us produce a script for a video on social housing.
There has also been a significant amount of work completed in the ‘background’ this month, with the development of a new volunteer portal to support the team set to launch soon (!)