Brighton housing chief spells out idea for 'transition housing'

Posted On 18 Oct 2011 at 10:01 pm

The legal aid protest in Brighton in June

Fewer people are homeless in Brighton and Hove than would have been the case were it not for a series of twists of fate almost 30 years ago.

John Holmström had just graduated with a degree in theology from St John’s College, Oxford. He was in the process of applying for ordination college when the Church encouraged him to gain some experience of life.

Around the same time his sister went travelling and Mr Holmström came to Brighton to look after her house.

He took a job at St Dunstan’s where he met his friend and future boss Andy Winter, the chief executive of BHT. Perhaps it was Mr Holmström’s fate that was ordained instead.

In 1984 he became a trainee housing adviser at Brighton Housing Trust, as BHT was known then. Mr Winter would later join the BHT board before taking over the top job.

John Holmstrom

Mr Holmström, 51, spent three years helping people who had lost their home or who faced losing their home before taking off to work as a musician for a couple of years. But he returned to his calling in 1988 and has been on something of a mission with BHT ever since.

He was promoted to his current role – assistant chief executive – eight years ago.

The father of four leads BHT’s housing advisers and works closely with private sector landlords as he steers the housing services provided by BHT.

He also looks after the charity’s legal services. This year he has been busy campaigning against changes to legal aid which, he says, will hurt some of the poorest and most vulnerable in Brighton and Hove.

A cap on the number of cases is likely to affect about 600 people in need of help and advice at a desperate point in their lives. MPs are about to send the draft law to the House of Lords so the campaigning continues.

He has also built up the IT team at BHT to the point where it forms part of the charity’s trading arm. Sussex Central YMCA uses the service, reducing costs for both organisations.

In his spare time he practises the martial art of ki aikido and is a black belt 3rd dan. He also stays in touch with his roots by reading Swedish literature.

Thousands of people turn to BHT for help and advice each year. So it’s no surprise to learn that Mr Holmström has given a great deal of thought to how to improve their chances of finding a suitable place to live. And he has come up with an idea called transition housing.

The social housing sector has standards setting out the minimum size and quality of houses and flats.

Mr Holmström is mindful of the waiting lists, overcrowded homes, sofa surfers, the people who need somewhere to stay after a relationship breaks down.

Transition housing is about offering a higher density solution – not unlike student halls of residence, with private bedrooms and bathrooms.

Other things, like washing machines or study space, can be shared. The communal set up would be more environmentally friendly. And the aim would be ensure transition housing was genuinely temporary as tenants get their lives back on track.

Mr Holmström said that changes to benefits would push more people, particularly those under 35, into shared housing from the new year.

Transition housing could offer a way forward.

The idea is still developing and seems likely to appeal to someone like Bill Randall, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.

Although Councillor Randall, a journalist who specialises in housing, is keen to maintain and spread good standards, he is also keen to tackle the city’s acute housing shortage.

Mr Holmström said: “There are issues that we need to work through.”

But he has great expectations and an impressive faith in a concept that could ensure BHT lifts even more of those in Brighton and Hove who have fallen on hard times.

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