Cumbria Woman of the Year 2015 Winner
Combining passion, drive, overwhelming determination and vision, a young woman has realised a dream: in September this year an innovative homeless hostel opened in Copeland, West Cumbria – The Time to Change project.
Our Woman of the Year, Rachel Holliday is an energetic, smart woman who has been described as a human dynamo with a heart the size of a house!
Despite enormous opposition and an earlier project being abandoned because of fierce objection, her enthusiasm was undimmed. Listening to the fears expressed, Rachel set about learning all she could about working with homeless people, exploring sources of funding, researching law and legislation around homelessness, the benefits and welfare system, and even project management, so she could develop her idea of providing not only safe and secure accommodation, but also of supporting people to rebuild their lives.
Focusing firstly on people who have served in the forces, she cared deeply about the plight of a growing number of ex-military personnel who sadly are returning from foreign climes traumatised by their experiences and have difficulty reintegrating into society. This results in a life of sofa-surfing and living in unsafe conditions. With no home address they are unable to find employment or training. Time to Change addresses this need: the services and opportunities available at the hostel will help residents move back into society to live worthwhile lives, restoring their self esteem and confidence.
Rachel worked for the Cumbria Action for Social Support for 7 years as a project worker providing supported accommodation to homeless ex-offenders and gained experience of homelessness prevention. That led to her setting up and running the very successful Homeless football team which has won two awards from the High Sheriff of Cumbria. Her experiences of the outcomes for these people made her realise that there was a gap in services and she eventually became so driven with the force to make a change she left the security of her job and worked to realise a project that would help to stop the homelessness circle.
Fired up by a senior politician telling her that “No-one like you will ever get anything done” she launched into the challenge, and started looking for a suitable venue. She noted that the empty police station in Egremont remained unused and approached the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Her enthusiasm and dynamism, along with a well researched business plan were so impressive that agreement was reached on the basis of a peppercorn rent. Having gained planning permission, she set about raising funds to cover the capital costs of conversion, raising the best part of £500,000 on her own, including an application for Home Office Innovation Funding of £130,000 which was successful. She commissioned an Architect and builder and supervised the building work herself – all this as well as bringing up a young family with a son of fifteen and daughter of four.
In September, Calderwood House opened as a social enterprise where residents take ownership and responsibility for their lives. There are 11 residents’ rooms which have each been sponsored by corporate sponsors and private bequests, offering a maximum stay of 6 months, and an opportunity to rebuild their lives by taking care of each other through cooking, eating and cleaning together, vocational training with local businesses, improved health and wellbeing and integration of residents into society. The hostel is staffed 24 hours a day by paid staff and it is a clean safe environment – drink and drugs are forbidden and there is a programme of testing for all residents.
All under the watchful eye of its enthusiastic Founder and Director, Rachel Holliday.
Rachel herself experienced the brutal & unrelenting nightmare of homelessness during her teenage years so she is uniquely qualified to understand its challenges. This remarkable young woman has triumphed over adversity, turned her life around with education, drive and a steely determination, as well as the love of her family and husband, who is a policeman at Sellafield, to win over hearts and minds to truly positive effect and we suspect there will be much more inspiring change to come.
Chairwoman, Tess Hart said “It is my privilege to present the Cumbria Woman of the Year award to RACHEL HOLLIDAY, a strong and inspirational young women with extraordinary determination and vision”