Vin Totton is retiring after clocking up over five years as Project Manager for Housing at Action Foundation. We caught up with him on his last working day to find out more about his time with the charity and how he’s feeling about the next chapter of his life…

When did you join Action Foundation and where had you worked before?

Prior to 2000 I was a Housing Manager working across several local authorities and within that time the most recent appointment was an Area Housing Manager in Newcastle for the council and I was responsible for about 8,000 tenancies.

From 2000 I started my work in the asylum and refugee arena. I moved across to a new post managing the Asylum Unit in Newcastle. That put me in a position where I was dealing with public sector bodies, to deliver the first dispersal contract and then the first three consecutive contracts. I stayed in that role for about 13 years, then in October 2014 I started at Action Foundation.

What was the charity like when you started?

When I look back, it was a shadow of what it is now. You still had Language, Lettings and Housing services. At that time we only had three members of staff in the housing team and not all of them were full time. Simon did a lot of all the back up stuff as well – but now we have Richard and Eugenie. It was a bit of a feat to keep all those plates spinning! Denise was there too.

We had a total of 7 houses split between 29 clients with 21 letting clients.
We didn’t have the other services we have now, but what we did have was a desire to do a lot more.

We’ve now got 29 properties set up and capacity for just shy of 100 people. And there’s currently as I leave discussions underway for another three properties in the not too distant future.

Any particular career highlights?

What’s struck me has been the largesse of some of the benefactors. We have 11 properties that are provided at no extra cost to us – no rent at all which is fantastic. Also the generosity of people who are prepared to give up a room in their house as hosts for Action Hosting. The ability people have to engage has really been quite phenomenal.

Setting up the Asylum Unit from a standing start to a successful service spanning the best part of 14 years was a huge highlight in my career. I developed the move-on service, which is still part of the YHN arrangements and that’s lasted 16 years. It’s meant people going through that process haven’t ended up on the streets, and that makes me so happy.

Everything that’s been done at Action Foundation – moving forwards some of the services that are already there, and developing new things. We’ve developed into Sunderland, and in setting up two wholly new services through hosting and the work with the Home Office on Action Access. That positions us quite differently I think.

What have been the main challenges?

Throughout my working life in the refugee communities one of the challenges that’s always been there is getting people on side with what we do. It’s never been high on a lot of people’s agendas. But I think when I set up the asylum unit, getting within statutory organisations and making asylum seekers part of their agenda by setting up a multiagency group was great. Some of those relationships have been longstanding friendships which is nice.

The resilience of some of these communities has been quite amazing. But within Action Foundation, working within the sector, getting them to understand the value of what we do and what we provide for them in terms of avoiding homelessness, it’s really rewarding.

There’s only so much we’ve been able to do. In some cases, particularly around destitution, there’s still so much more to be done. We offer beds through housing and hosting, but it caters for a fraction of what the need is. One of the challenges going forward both locally and nationally, is what more can be done to prevent people going into destitution.

Lobbying and trying to change policy would give us scope to change more things going forward.

Any words of wisdom?

I’ve been lucky in the work I’ve done over the years – it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve put the skills and knowledge I have to good effect. But I’m manager and not a support worker. It’s a marvel to see the staff deliver excellent support work so people can make a new life for themselves here. It’s been very much a team effort.

It’s quite humbling to look at some of the clients we’ve helped and really reflect on that. I hope they’ve had the start that they needed. Some of those clients have become friends and it’s really nice to be able to say that.

What’s next for Vin?

Our intention is to travel and we have plans, but given the current situation with Covid19, we’ve already cancelled two holidays.

There are certain things that I’d like to do more of – I’ve joined a choir. There are also things which have been past hobbies that I’d like to pick up again like photography. It’s also about family, seeing grandkids, playing a part with them.

The Action Foundation team would like to wish Vin well on his next set of adventures…

“Vin is going to be a real miss and leaves a great legacy as he has built the Housing Services scope and professionalism during his time at Action Foundation. His expertise and experience in the Housing Sector has been invaluable but most of all his care and compassion for our clients and staff has added great value to all who have come across his path. We wish you well in this next phase of life.” – Julian Prior, CEO, Action Foundation