This is a guest blog by Maria Mills, CEO of Active Prospects and one of the borrower charities in our Social and Sustainable Housing fund.

Active Prospects is a leading not-for-profit care provider in the South East supporting people with learning disabilities, autism, mental health needs, acquired brain injury and other complex needs.

Established in 1989, we primarily operate supported living and residential care facilities in Surrey and provide a range of services, including intensive 24/7 support for people with profound learning disabilities, supported living services, mental health services and emergency care.

Demand for supported accommodation like ours has risen steadily across the UK. A 2018 report from Mencap [i] highlighted that demand for supported housing from people with a learning disability is projected to increase from 38,500 units in 2015 to 59,800 units in 2030. The is due to the increase of people with learning disabilities and national policies that promote people moving out of or avoiding registered care to live in community-based housing.

In recent years, we have had greater demand for our services too. Fortunately, thanks to a £3.4m loan from Social and Sustainable Capital’s (SASC) new housing fund – SASH we are expanding our services.

The loan has been a game changer for us, enabling the purchase of five additional properties which will provide long term residential housing and care for at least 18 adults.

We have been able to expand our services into West Sussex. Commissioned by the County Council, we will house and support local people with autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues and in doing so, will meet a critical need for this service.

We recently opened our first supported living service in Crawley, West Sussex. This five-bedroom property will support the residents to live full and aspiring lives. Providing high-quality accommodation and support is essential for helping our clients live more independently. Our support staff and service managers provide round the clock support for individuals in our accommodation. They help people manage their homes, ensure they live in a safe environment and go to college, as most are primarily young people who move into the service. Every individual has a plan that addresses their health, support needs, and goals. For most, it will be the first time living in their own home and they are really excited they can focus more widely on their future lives.

Crawley MP Henry Smith, who attended the opening of our Crawley site, commented on the fact that having met the new residents and seen how happy they are, it was clear that having a real home has made an incredible difference.

We have already received some great feedback from our new residents. One told us,

“This is so different to where I have lived before, it feels like it will work for me and it’s my home. I get to live my life and I can truly be myself here and that feels amazing.”

The Senior Commissioner, West Sussex County Council was also impressed and said,

“I really enjoyed seeing the new service and listening to the residents’ experiences. What was really clear to me was that this is a homely place, and that the people who have moved in were full of optimism. The personalised room design seemed excellent. It’s so great to see the end product and meet the people now making this place their home.”

The social investment funding from SASC has not only enabled this purchase, it will allow us to scale our services more quickly, expand our team and meet the growing demand for our services in Surrey and West Sussex.

We will be able to build our infrastructure as we grow and ensure we have a community network in place to support people in the best possible way. For example, with our new site in Crawley, we will create 20 local jobs.

The investment came from SASC’s new housing fund – Social and Sustainable Housing (SASH) – which has a unique structure that allows organisations to scale in a low risk way, since it has the capacity to absorb uncertainty around voids, rents and house prices, which are risks that would normally sit with the borrower.

The fund is a true partnership model which allows us to own properties from day one, with the option to refinance the loan in 10 years’ time at 85% of the property’s market value, which is a fantastic opportunity.

Working with SASC also genuinely feels like a partnership as we are sharing risk with them. The team has also shown huge flexibility and responsiveness since we started working with them, and particularly during Covid-19. They are a funding partner that is committed to finding solutions for its investees and the people they support.

We feel positive we are now in a strong position to address unmet need for our services and we can work in partnership with county councils and the NHS to provide homes and support that will enable the people we support to live aspiring lives, supported by highly competent staff.