18th November 2020

Bob Eldridge founded Street Zero in 2018, with the mission of eradicating homelessness and “rough sleeping” in Newcastle by 2022. In 2020, the City has reported 87% fewer people sleeping rough over the previous year. He was previously the Chair of The People’s Kitchen, a charity which also plays a unique role in helping to meet the needs of rough sleepers and vulnerable people in Newcastle.

We recently spoke to him about the impact Covid-19 has had on the work of Street Zero, and his vision for the future of the organisation.

Could you please tell me a little about your background?

I founded the consultancy Retail Directions over 30 years ago. We built a team of 20 experts based in London and Newcastle, who advised retail clients in leisure, aviation, and travel across Northern Europe. I retired from consultancy and now live in Tyne Valley with my wife Jo and our three children, with an aspiration to focus on voluntary work in the charity sector.

What inspired you to get involved in the charity sector?

My strong desire to help the vulnerable stems from my Christian beliefs to ‘love thy neighbour.’ I had an empathy to do something practical as a volunteer to help those marginalised in our society. Over 30 years ago, I helped to form the Newcastle-based People’s Kitchen from the outset, using my business skills around governance, funding, and people management. I helped build its reputation and vital life support work, which has grown with the support and generosity of the local community.

What were your first steps into the charity sector after retiring from consultancy?

In 2018, I formed the Newcastle Homeless Commission (NHC) with Newcastle City Council with the aim of bringing a together collective rough sleeping strategy across the city. I had previously seen charities working autonomously doing good work but failing to collaborate with other organisations in their sector. It was clear that a coherent approach was needed to address rough sleeping in Newcastle.

From an outside perspective, it appeared that individuals seeking support had to navigate pathways and often fell between the cracks. Therefore, establishing NHC was to act as a catalyst to bring together all partners, charities, public, and private organisations with a clear plan of how to tackle this crisis in our own city.

How was Street Zero established?

Street Zero was established with the NHC, alongside Newcastle City Council and partners, in 2018. It was created as a way to coordinate city-wide efforts to prevent homelessness and ultimately eradicate rough sleeping in Newcastle for good by 2022.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the work of Street Zero?

When the pandemic hit, it was not surprising to learn that the vulnerable – who live with acute crises and are often affected by mental health struggles – were potentially even more marginalised than others. However, within Newcastle we already had two years of planning behind us and were able to move quickly to accommodate 185 rough sleepers into hostels.

Throughout 2020, Street Zero partners working with the City Council have been able to move 120 people from these temporary hostels to independent supported living in the community. Through the public and local businesses, alongside Fenwick, we have been able to raise £100,000 for the Street Zero Emergency Fund. We have been able to redistribute £57,000 for Covid-19 related issues to help individuals through this difficult period.

What is your vision for the future of Street Zero?

We are absolutely delighted to have reduced rough sleeping by 87% in 2020, alongside our partners. The challenge for those involved now is to ensure we support individuals in their accommodation; in particular to make sure they have the right healthcare provisions and addiction support, rather than them seeking to return to a life on the streets.

We currently have a pipeline of 117 new self-contained flats which will be accessible by May 2021. Newcastle City Council are also working effectively with neighbouring councils to ensure those from outside of the area, who have a connection to another area, are safely reconnected– 48 individuals have already accepted reconnection outside of the City.

You’ve mentioned that rough sleeping has been reduced by 87% this year. How much has Covid played a part in that?

The reduction is a testament to the success of the joined up, city-wide Street Zero plan to bring a seamless approach where everybody involved is on the same page. The pandemic in March merely accelerated what was already underway so we were in a better position than many other cities in that respect. A lot of public funds are spent on tackling rough sleeping across local councils, and Street Zero has proven to be a very successful model.

We have raised an additional £1.2 million government funding to focus on housing and health initiatives. Although all the partners and I are encouraged by this relative success, both my and Street Zero’s personal mantra is that it is an absolute failure that anyone in Newcastle sleeps rough – particularly in the current climate.

How has UNW supported you, both with The People’s Kitchen and Street Zero?

I have worked with UNW over many years under the professional stewardship of Anne Hallowell. I have great confidence in UNW to explore collaboration and innovative management approaches.

Receiving charity sector advice from UNW as a sounding board has been extremely valuable. Anne and the wider team have supported in setting up new models at The People’s Kitchen and helped introduce good governance and management accounting procedures in a voluntary-run organisation.

More recently, they have helped establish the Newcastle Homeless Commission from scratch as the infrastructure behind the Street Zero partnership. It is always good to be able to share ideas with someone who is professionally equipped before you “jump” – even if, like me, you have run a successful business and been an adviser to many corporate clients.

If you would like to find out more information or to support Street Zero, please visit the website here: https://streetzero.org/

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