Case studies for VCSEs

NOAH Enterprise

NOAH Enterprise is a charity supporting people struggling against homelessness and exclusion, with services across Bedfordshire working to find and help people with nowhere else to turn.

Founded in the late 1980s by a nun, Sister Eileen O’Mahoney, the charity initially operated out of a block of condemned flats but has since grown significantly in scale and impact. NOAH now includes an outreach service to help people off the street, work experience and skills training to get people into employment, and social enterprise shops to raise money for the cause. Its welfare centre also offers warm meals, medical and dental care, accommodation support, clothing and laundry facilities, immigration advice and much more.

In the last year, NOAH has supported 1,038 people at the welfare centre and 466 people on the streets, as well as helping 284 people into accommodation and 20 people into employment.

How does NOAH work with government departments?

NOAH’s primary work with central government departments is with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) for which it delivers street outreach services under the Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative. Winning this contract has allowed NOAH to expand this element of its work into central Bedfordshire and central Luton.

NOAH has also worked on contracts with the Home Office to provide EUSS advice and, outside of central government commissioned services, is also working on a pioneering hospital discharge project with Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

How did NOAH succeed in winning the contract?

Paul Prosser, Head of Welfare Services at NOAH, believes that core to the charity winning this DLUHC contract was its proven track record of transforming lives. The way NOAH operates means that they can “build trust, get to know people and work with them to create bespoke solutions”. Being an independent provider also has its advantages, as people are more likely to seek support from organisations they have a personal relationship with than bodies like the local council who they may have had a negative experience with.

NOAH’s broader holistic support offer was another contributing factor in its DLUHC bid success, as people helped through the street outreach programme can also access the wider services provided by its Welfare Centre. Whilst the centre is not statutorily funded, the ability to co-locate services around a central hub adds value to the contract.

When the service was put out to tender, NOAH’s application included a supporting letter from the local authority highlighting the charity’s expertise.

What were the benefits to DLUHC of working with you?

NOAH brings additional value to the contract through its commitment to impact and its proximity to the frontline. The charity’s years of being embedded in the local area mean that the community really believes in its work, meaning that the charity can work with volunteers who are passionate about delivering on its mission whilst also keeping down costs.

Paul believes that commissioners now have a “greater risk appetite for embedding lived experience”, a core tenet of many VCSEs, which can be lacking in local authorities and private sector providers, who are driven by minimising costs and maximising shareholder value.

What tips do you have for other social enterprises and charities who want to work with central government?

A key tip from NOAH for other VCSEs is to use your existing knowledge, and the strong relationships you have built with the people you are set up to support, which is often a key differentiating factor between VCSEs and other providers.

Paul also advised to not be afraid of proposing innovative solutions to funders, stating that: “VCSEs are in a strong place because they know what people are saying to them and they know what’s needed. They can be brave and test concepts with people and can go back to statutory funders and suggest new ideas and pilots. Sometimes there’s a willingness to try to new things.”

While acknowledging there may be a degree of guesswork in establishing whether a statutory body is willing to test and trial new things, Paul’s experience with NOAH is that “where pilot projects have been co-produced with people who are experts by experience, that carries a lot of weight”.

Based on a conversation with Paul Prosser, Head of Welfare Services at NOAH Enterprises