Shadowing experience with the Cyrenians – 22nd October 2019

Sirea Jabar (Partnership & Training officer) & Hayley Fisher (Communications officer) from Target Housing visited the Cyrenian project in Edinburgh.

We had a really great opportunity through the shadowing fund to visit the Cyrenians in Edinburgh.

The initial aim of our visit was to look at how the Cyrenians look after the wellbeing of their staff. Our visit however, allowed us to see how the Cyrenians have created an ethos, an environment and culture in which they can build the resilience of their staff and clients.

Cyrenians serves those on the edge, working with people at risk of becoming homeless and supporting them to transform their lives by beginning their story, helping them believe that they can change their lives, and as walking with them as they lead their own transformation. The name Cyrenians comes from the biblical story of Simon the Cyrene but Cyrenians was founded as and remains a secular organisation’.

3 years ago the Cyrenians decided to create a more ‘value’ based rather than outcomes based organisation. This was reflected in their work with clients as well as their staff.

The Cyrenians way of work has been built on 4 core values;

Compassion, Respect, Integrity and Innovation. – These values were created by frontline staff.

Our day visit at the Cyrenians involved meetings with a number of people in the organisation. We met with the outreach team manager and outreach workers, the Quality & resilience manager, the CEO and the Conflict resolution manager.

The Cyrenians are leading on and delivering many projects and it was inspiring to hear and see how they deliver their services and develop their staff through innovative ways of working. It was really positive to hear everyone express their passion for trying innovative ways of working in order to achieve better outcomes for people experiencing homelessness.

There were number key things that we took away from this visit;

“The Scottish Government have committed to developing a national Trauma Training framework for the Scottish workforce. They recognise that when people have been affected by childhood traumatic experiences, this can have a detrimental impact on them reaching their full potential. It can also increase the risk of poorer physical and mental health and poorer social, educational and criminal justice outcomes. They have commissioned the Scottish NHS education to provide Trauma informed skills training to all frontline workers across the board.”

 This really stood out for us as it makes so much sense for frontline staff to be trained in trauma informed skills so that they support people effectively.

“We do not need everyone to be trauma experts, but we do need everyone to feel confident about their role in relation to ensuring excellence in outcomes for people affected by trauma. Responding to trauma is everybody’s business. We want people to change the way they think about people’s difficulties. Ask not “what’s wrong with you?” but “what has happened to you?” (Maureen Watt Minister for Mental Health)

Outreach Service

 The Cyrenians outreach service does not have any set predetermined outcomes by funders or the service provider. This allows for flexibility and natural outcomes to develop rather than being forced. This way of working seemed to have a real positive impact on individuals who were sleeping rough or who were homeless.

 I asked the CEO if he thought the ‘no predetermined outcome’ based approach was a better way of working with people who were experiencing homelessness? The CEO felt that having a ‘no outcome based’ approach can be a double edge as for some staff it can be easier to follow an outcomes based approach because they know what they are working towards. Overall though he felt that it was much more flexible and person centred way of working and gave some examples of positive outcomes from this way of working. An example of where Nick (outreach worker) had been trying to engage with a man living on the streets for many months but the man had not been willing to engage much. One day the man asked Nick to buy him a cigar so he did. This changed the relationship so much that he then had breakfast with Nick. He has now started engaging has made an appointment with the dentist. Another example was where a man that Birgit had been supporting called the office to cancel his appointment with her. That was a breakthrough and a positive outcome as Birgit said it was the first time this man had taken responsibility and ownership by making that call to cancel. I asked how this way of working had been received by commissioners. He said that commissioners kind of ‘got it’, politicians wanted to get people off the streets and procurement couldn’t count ‘trusted relationships’ as an outcome. The CEO placed a lot of value on innovation and trying out new ways of working to achieve better outcomes for people in difficult situations. They have another 2 projects funded through the NHS. These are also not outcome based. One is based in GP surgeries and the other is working with veterans but supporting the whole family not just the veteran.

It was really inspiring to see how through the frontline network events a new ‘change leads’ project was funded through the Homeless network.  This is to encourage frontline staff and people with lived experience to identify the needs in local areas.

Staff Wellbeing

The Cyrenians seemed to really recognise that ‘people’ were their most valuable resource and they wanted to invest in their people. The CEO said he wanted to create a set of values that matched up with how people felt. He wanted to know how do they know when they are really value led and how do they build trusting relationships? This was achieved through creating safe spaces for people to discuss their experiences and values. It was about listening to people and creating change in the organisation, driven by what people want.

This was reinforced by the quality and resilience manager who said they had received some 3 year funding to look at resilience and to look at how they demonstrate what they do and demonstrate their values. She said that the values were created by frontline staff over a long weekend away somewhere nice in Columba.  They carried out a tools audit to look at what tools people already had in place to help build resilience. They discovered 80 tools. From this they developed a toolkit and shared these tools with the whole organisation.

They ran a workshop on looking at whether the organisation had a fixed mind set or a growth mind set. From this mind-set came out 90 different things that staff wanted fixing. So the Cyrenians started with re designing the organisations performance management system. They spent 18 months changing and developing this. They now begin all their supervisions and 1-1s with saying ‘How are you?’ They have also changed their competencies so that they are more value based and Supervisions and recruitment are now more value led.

They promote the ‘Speak up campaign’. There are 5 different ways for staff to speak up about any issue.

‘Ask Ewan’ (CEO) and he will publicise the answer. Supervisions are now more value led and recruitment is also value led.

They have created a ‘staff forum’ staff lead on this and organise a staff conference every year.

 Staff lunches take place where the CEO meets everyone in small groups throughout the year for lunch.

 An Equality & Diversity support group was also developed and from this group came out the use of pro nouns on ID badges.

 ‘Skilled helper training’ – this is where people who have been in the organisation for a longer time will support newer staff and be there to offer support especially around key listening skills.

 Encouraging people to ‘talk’. They offer counselling and have a clinical psychotherapist when required for people dealing with complex cases. They recognise that many of the staff also has lived experience and dealing with difficult cases can have an impact on their own wellbeing. They also have initiatives such as childcare vouchers; bike to work scheme, and flexi working. They measure their impact through staff surveys and talking to staff. They use mindfulness to encourage self care and are also currently looking at learning about PIE.

“We shared that we also use PIE and we offered for them to come and visit us to see how we implement PIE.”

Conflict Resolution Centre

The Scottish conflict centre for resolution provides free mediation and support services between young people and their families. With new funding they are now also able to focus on early intervention work within schools to educate young people about recognising their own thoughts feelings and behaviours. The project has developed some really good interactive free resources on their website for young people to access. Some of the resources include ‘monkey vs lizard and ‘flipping the lid’. These online activities help young people identify how they naturally react to difficult situations. It then supports them by offering them tools to manage their emotions and behaviours.


We have felt really inspired from our day visit to the Cyrenians.

The Cyrenians approach towards the whole organisation from their outreach services to early intervention work and staff development is one of ‘valuing people’. This is something that can often get lost in a world of commissioned and target driven services. Innovation is one of their values and it is really clear how they are passionate about innovative ways of working to achieve better outcomes.

One of the things that we would really like to take forward and campaign for is for local authorities in the South Yorkshire area to invest in free trauma informed skills training for frontline workers.

We will also share the Cyrenians tools, supervision templates, a short film on ‘growth mind-set’, and the trauma informed framework with the Frontline Network.

From a communications perspective we also learned a lot. While speaking to Rachel from Cyrenians we realised there was a lot of good practice they were sharing regarding communications that Target could adopt. Cyrenians organise an ‘ask the CEO’ item in their weekly staff update. This is where staff can ask Cyrenians CEO any questions they like, anonymously and they will publish the questions and answers in their weekly staff update. This encourages staff to feel more involved with the organisation and enables more honest and open communication between staff, management and the CEO.

During our chat Hayley asked how Rachel and the team manage to get staff to be so involved especially in regards to filling out and submitting questionnaires and sharing and writing good news and news articles for the team’s weekly updates and newsletters. She shared that even though sometimes it can be a struggle they have more success than failure, which is down to a number of things they do to get people more involved. For example Rachel demonstrated how wording can have a big impact upon engagement, as well as consistent reminders.

We then had the opportunity to hear from the Conflict and Resolution team and their use of interactive tools and techniques to get their audience involved. Even though their target audience is young people (and ours are adults) it helped Hayley think about how we at Target could be more interactive in getting our staff and service users more involved with the organisation.

Finally, we hope that the Cyrenians will take the opportunity to come and see how we deliver PIE at Target Housing because they have said that they are interested in learning more about PIE.  We think that much of what the Cyrenians are already doing is very PIE orientated so it could be helpful for them to see how we have developed this way of working at Target Housing.