For the last ten years Connection Crew has been helping ex-homeless people get back to work with events, Nicola Macdonald catches up with director Warren Rogers on the firm’s innovative social enterprise.
Since 2005, Connection Crew has been training and hiring ex-homeless people to work as events crew, giving them a chance to learn new skills and regain financial stability.
The company was founded by the charity The Connection at St Martins as a social enterprise, tackling social problems while functioning as a commercially successful business.
“Like charities, social enterprises exist to fulfil a social mission and reinvest the majority of their profits,” says director Warren Rogers, “however there is a key distinguishing characteristic between these two types of organisation: enterprise.”
In addition to Connection Crew’s own work with homeless people, the firm provides clients with the opportunity to become ‘CSR Account holders’.
Each year Connection Crew publishes its top CSR Account holders, often event organisers including Media 10, and Underbelly topped the list after using the company for all of its 2015 events.
Underbelly director Charlie Wood says: “It’s as much a credit for Connection Crew, for their business and their people. They produce people for the right type of work, they listen to what our requirements are and what tools we need and they produce people accordingly. The reason why we use them is that they’re always good.”
According to Connection Crew, the drive to make money is a vital part of the company ethos, but it never overshadows the important work they do. Initially the intention was for the entire crew to be composed of ex-homeless people, but it soon became clear there was something missing.
“We needed to bring experienced crew into the mix to help nurture and up-skill new and inexperienced crew members from homeless backgrounds,” adds Rogers, “after some experimenting we settled at 25 per cent ex-homeless crew. Getting to this balance meant that we have been able to continue to create job opportunities for people with a history of homelessness for nearly a decade.”
The Connection Crew Academy, a ten-week training and work experience programme, was brought back for January 2016.
“It’s helping us reach more ex-homeless people,” he explains, “our social agenda creates a supportive and positive working culture that motivates the whole workforce.”
Contrary to popular belief, says Rogers, anyone can suddenly find themselves homeless, often due to circumstances out of their control.
“In 2013, research by the YouGov poll for the charity Shelter revealed that 35 per cent of British workers are just one pay check away from being homeless if they lose their jobs.
“As such, many individuals who are affected by homelessness just need a little help to get their lives back on track. It’s this chance that can really turn someone’s life around, the benefits are undeniably clear both on the individual and the state.”
Connection Crew strives to make a difference to the lives of ex-homeless people by breaking the cycle of homelessness and providing stable and on-going employment. The firm achieves this partly by recognising when candidates are unsuitable for the opportunities it can offer.
“Quite often, we are not the right fit for someone who has been sleeping rough for a long time, because of the various demands of the job,” says Rogers, “so it would be irresponsible and potentially damaging to employ them.”
Every ex-homeless person the company has recruited in the last ten years has gone on to further employment, education or travel with non returning to homelessness.
Connection Crew’s brand of business makes it part of a growing trend in Britain, with around 70,000 social enterprises contributing more than £18 billion to the UK economy. As the crew continues to go from success to success one thing is clear: the future is bright for social enterprise.