I’m thinking outside the box to help local communities from the ground up. My goal is to create opportunities for everyone.
In the winter of 2017, Signature Living’s shift towards social responsibility took an unexpected turn. The days were bitterly cold leading up to Christmas, and we’d seen a sharp incline in the number of homeless people sleeping in the doorways of Liverpool. Every day I was having to ask our city’s homeless to leave our venues, but they kept finding a way back in.
On the 2 December, I decided that rather than keep fighting the issue, it was time to offer a solution. At the time, Kingsway House was an empty property, a former office block that we were set to restore. In the meantime, it felt only right to utilise the space in the best way we could, so on 4 December 2017, Kingsway House homeless shelter was born.
A Life Changing Shelter
As the first 24-hour centre in the city, we decided to open our shelter to everyone, including those that had been barred from others due to mental health or addiction. While our doors were open, up to 150 people were fed 3 meals a day, and Kingsway became a tight-knit community.
Leaning on our passionate volunteers and each other, our homeless guests found life-changing companionship, restored their confidence and some even turned their lives around.
The scheme made national news after The Guardian filmed ‘Our House: The Homeless Man, the Hippy and the Property Developer’, a documentary covering the challenges we faced, and the pressure from local councillors that ultimately forced us to close our doors.
Our House Documentary
Brian was down on his luck and sleeping rough in Liverpool. Lawrence was a successful hotelier and property developer. David was a self-proclaimed hippy in a dead-end job. Together they formed an unlikely alliance and created a homeless shelter like no other. But can it last?
The end of Kingsway was hard on everyone, and we weren’t sure what the future would hold.
“The powers that be did not like it. To say we’d entered another person’s garden would be an understatement; the garden privets were so high, it was impossible to see inside.”
Despite the challenges we faced along the way, Kingsway was only the beginning of our fight to end homelessness in Liverpool.
The Cotton Street Project
Following the closure of Kingsway House, Signature Living launched The Cotton Street Project, a unique homeless shelter designed with a difference.
From our experience with Kingsway, we knew what worked and what didn’t. After seeing the positive impact Kingsway had had on some of its guests, we were able to identify the best methods for approaching such a complicated social issue.
Creating a Community
We knew that keeping the sense of community spirit and inclusivity felt key to Cotton Street’s success. We decided to go bigger and better, choosing a spacious warehouse as our location and bringing it to life with bright, uplifting décor, sociable games areas and fantastic facilities that wouldn’t be found in a standard homeless shelter.
At Cotton Street, our homeless friends are invited to make the most of expert help and long-term support for addiction and mental health issues. The shelter also incorporates unique accommodation, café facilities and skills workshops to ensure guests have access to a comfortable place to sleep, nutritious food and drink and productive training for future career opportunities.
“There’s a clear path out of Cotton Street – it’s a flag in the sand.”
Ultimately, Cotton Street is designed to bring people together. We see it as the first social recovery program of its kind. For homeless people in our city, it’s a deliverable pathway to get back onto their feet and to return to society.
After finding out that Kirkby ABC was going to get closed down by Tesco, I wanted to save this important community hub.
The boxing club has produced some of the most successful fighters in Liverpool, but it also shapes the lives of local teenagers, and recovering addicts, helping people to stay on the right path.
While the system in our country often lets these integral community spaces slip through the cracks, I feel it’s up to businessmen like myself to step in and do what’s best for our city. We spent 80,000 realigning and extending the building for the team at Kirkby Amateur Boxing Club to continue the admirable work they do.
Signature Fight Club
Our team at Signature Fit Club help us put together fantastic white-collar boxing nights in Liverpool. The past few years have seen money raised for some wonderful local charities, including Claire House children’s charity.
Participants have been taken through an intense training program, starting as a boxing novice and finishing the course ready to face the ring.
This has proven to be a hugely rewarding night for all involved and I would encourage anyone who wants to push themselves, boost their confidence and make a difference to get involved.
L6 Community Centre
L6 Community Centre is essentially a food bank for local kids. It was only opening 2 days a week – and I just thought, how does that work? Families are left to go without enough food in the meantime.
So, I wanted to step up and help with funding. We’re currently in the middle of the conversation that will determine what we can do for them in the long run.
We’ve provided the centre with lot of toasters and essential bits and pieces that they need, just trying to help them in any way we can. The end goal will be to have it open daily, ensuring it works in the way that it should do.
Signature Living has 9 more hotels in the pipeline. We’re set to create around 1400 new jobs across the UK in hospitality, construction, management and Head Office roles.
The system in our country simply doesn’t work, and people living below the poverty line are left to fall through the cracks – I want to change that.
Politicians Aren’t the Answer
In my view, politicians aren’t the answer. They clearly don’t have the skillset. They haven’t worked for 20 or 30 years, so they forget the importance of having enough money to feed their kids by the end of the week.
“Politicians have never created, they’ve never built, they’ve never led, never employed.”
And all if a sudden, they’re in charge of the purse strings to create, build, employ etc. How do you become the boss of that when you have no knowledge of that?
So, I’ve made it my goal to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity and skillset required to secure a job and career path for life.
Opportunities for Everyone
Taking on the challenge isn’t easy, but my plan is to start with NEET children (not in education, employment or training).
I wanted to revive Everton Library, currently left derelict, and open its doors again as a library and community hub for the kids. Everton is one of the most impoverished areas in the UK, so wouldn’t it be amazing to try and fix that from the bottom up by creating thousands of jobs?
Unfortunately, we haven’t been granted permission to transform the library, which I’m still hoping will change. We’re the experts at restoring derelict buildings, and this would be the perfect space to turn these kids’ lives around before they end up on the wrong path.
“I would love to make a difference in the place that I come from, and this is what it all leads back to. I am what I am, and I am who I am when I’m doing it.”
There are various reasons why social responsibility is so important to me, but as a former NEET kid myself who grew up in L6, giving back to this community would mean the world to me.