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  • Writer's picturePaul Clark

Gaming the situation

We’re conscious of the gap in blog posts in Q1 this year, and then two come along in quick succession. Rest assured, that Covid-19 aside, we’ve been flat out at Stories and have lots of interesting things in the pipeline. In addition to getting our first project mobilized (more to follow another day), since the new year we have been joined by Oli Bennett as a Development Manager, Richard has become a Non-Executive Director on Cambridge University’s West and North West Cambridge Estates Board, James has had a haircut(!) and I have been supporting the new Social Impact Game at Nottingham University.

It’s the latter that I wanted to share some insights on, but subject to demand I could also write about James’ new Barnet.

Last year I replied to a request for interested parties to get in touch with Nottingham University to help out with a new project that was to be run within the Advantage Award programme that the university offers its students. The Advantage Award is not something that existed in my day (and would I have noticed??) but it’s an excellent way to give the students formal extra-curricular opportunities to increase their commercial awareness and general employability. Participation is monitored and assessed by the university and it gives the students something firm to refer back to when asked that infernal graduate interview question “Tell me about a time that you had to work in a team…”. This academic year the university piloted a new Social Impact ‘game’ for social science students. The module was delivered by Learning without Borders (the quite amazing Gabriel Flores and Dr. Phyllis SantaMaria) on behalf of the university. As a Project Advisor I provided support to a team of four students who had chosen to work alongside Pathway Housing Solutions to help with the researching and drafting of a business plan.

It started for me back in October with my first visit back to campus in almost 20 years. Since I left so much has changed - the investment that has been made in the campus (since fees were introduced, of course) is nothing short of stunning. The facilities that are offered at Nottingham were always good but now really are impressive. I also managed to nip in to my old hall bar for a pint and was disappointed to see that it was no longer student-run. Even accounting for inflation, beer is more expensive than it was (but I don’t recall the union shop selling crates of beer, so potentially swings and roundabouts on that count). And being able to hit the bar in your PJs and drink for a £1 a pint probably wasn’t, in hindsight, that helpful to my first year grades (but I’m still great friends with people met in that bar c.1997).

Having met my Impact Game group we convened virtually a few times whilst they got to grips with the complexity of Pathway’s ambition and the housing development industry. Pathway Housing Solutions is a Community Interest Company with the goal to acquire properties to renovate or land to build housing which they will rent out to the income deprived population of Nottingham through their “Home Made” project. By doing so they also aim to provide construction skills for underskilled people in Nottingham through their “Building Futures” project. 

To their credit the team made short work of this and we progressed to looking at how Pathway might scale its ambition – quite quickly focusing on the potential for social impact bonds and outcome contracts and whether these could be used in this context.  As the students noted, Nottingham is in desperate need of social housing; not only from escalating house prices but also after the impact of ‘Right to Buy’. For example, placements in temporary accommodation are up 52% from 2010 to 2016, the use of bed and breakfast is up 250% since 2009 and rough sleeping is up 132% since 2010. A total of 5,532 new applicants for social housing were registered during 2018 and as of December 2018, the housing register was at 7,940 showing a significant increase from the 3,436 in 2013. This is a common picture across England.

In 2015 Crisis estimated that the cost of a single person sleeping rough for 12 months was £20,128. The minimum cost to Nottingham City Council per year, based on the 635 rough sleepers that were recorded in 2018, is therefore some £12.8million. The team rounded on these figures - what if this budget could be deployed in a more pro-active way? What could Pathway achieve with this annual budget? The students have taken it as far as they can in the time they had but it's definitely something to be picked up and I’d be interested to hear from anyone working on this agenda.

As for the students themselves, they have proven themselves to be incredibly diligent and engaged (and very good at teamwork 😉) and I look forward to seeing where each of them goes from here.

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