- The Birmingham-based startup has been placing people experiencing homelessness into work since 2020.
- Founder and sole-employee Christy Acton aims to work with 20 businesses to get 20 people into work each year.
- The former shelter worker offers joined-up support for candidates, providing paid, real Living Wage work and accommodation over a six-month transition period.
- The unique Standing Tall model is both scalable and transferable with plans to expand UK-wide.
It was while Christy Acton was working at a homeless shelter in Birmingham that he had the idea for his new business.
One of the regulars was a man who’d been sleeping rough in the city’s Centenary Square for three years. He said nothing for the first month or two, before finally coming out of himself. It turned out he used to work in the building sector before hitting hard times.
“So I matched him with a job at a local builders’ merchant, EH Smith,” explains Christy. “And after a two-month trial, he was made permanent. He’s been there three years now.”
In fact, numerous businesses who donated or were connected with the shelter often asked if there was anyone with the skills and experience they were after. And what surprised Christy was how many at the shelter were actually ready and willing to work straight away.
“People thought I’d lost my head!”
So after successfully helping match several others with jobs, Christy set up Standing Tall in 2020, leaving the shelter to work full-time on the social enterprise in October. Its mission is to ‘enable people experiencing homelessness to get into work’, with the aim of working with 20 businesses to get 20 people into work each year.
“Lots of people thought I’d lost my head!” says Christy, when he started the company in the midst of a pandemic. But he’s managed to place three more people since March with Birmingham companies in the construction and hospitality sector, including M. Lambe Construction, Wayland’s Yard and The Indian Streatery.
“There’s been a lot of organic interest from companies and others on social media and elsewhere, so we must be doing something right,” says Christy. Indeed, M. Lambe Construction were so enthused by their experience employing one candidate that they’ve requested four more by the end of the year. Long-term, the company hopes to have the same reputation for employing people who experienced homelessness as the high-street retailer Timpson does with ex-prisoners.
Offering paid work and accommodation
The process of matching a candidate takes four to six weeks, and Standing Tall then employs them on behalf of the business for three months on a real Living Wage. So beyond the initial finder’s fee, there is minimal risk to the business if the trial period doesn’t work out.
But fundamental to a placement succeeding is Standing Tall’s ‘Amici’ hosting scheme, which trains, supports and pays (directly from each candidates’ salary) hosts in Birmingham with a spare room to provide accommodation for the candidates for six months. “If you don’t offer paid work and accommodation together, it doesn’t work,” says Christy, explaining that trying to control the situation as much as possible during the first six-month transition period is so essential.
Standing Tall is both a registered charity and a social enterprise, so it can take donations and grants as well as trade freely – so long as it’s for the primary purpose of the charity. Christy enjoys the flexibility this gives him and the peer support of 15 other social enterprises that are also part of the Enterprise Development Programme that helped provide initial funding and startup loans for his business.
While Standing Tall currently only has one employee, there is a board of trustees whose members include many sympathetic businesses that help spread the word among the business community and offer job placements themselves. Christy doesn’t know of any other organisation really doing what he does, sensing an opportunity to make ambitious plans for the future. “I think the business model for Standing Tall is both scalable and transferable and hope to expand next year into at least one more city,” he says. “Possibly Bristol.”