In the next blog in our #MeetTheMember series, we speak to Ellie Pearson, Head of Participation and Progression at The Wallich, a Wales homelessness charity. Ellie tells us about her journey from project worker to senior management, responding to homelessness during COVID-19, and The Wallich’s dedication to including lived experience in its workforce.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m from Cardiff in South Wales. I started working for The Wallich eight years ago, a month before I completed my master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Prior to that I completed a degree in Criminal Justice and volunteered with a range of organisations to gain as much experience as possible; including the Youth Offending Service, a charity that supports women who engage in sex work, and a training centre for young people who had been excluded from mainstream education.
I’m really grateful for the volunteer work I completed, it helped me gain knowledge and experience of working with a wide range of people affected by a broad spectrum of issues including substance misuse, homelessness, involvement in the criminal justice system, domestic abuse, discrimination and exclusion.
What drew you to working in the criminal justice sector?
I made my way through school and college unsure about what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with people, and I felt strongly about unfair treatment and inequality, but I had no idea where to start or what job to aim for.
Going to university was a very last-minute decision and I didn’t do particularly well in my A-Levels. I had almost given up on the idea. I struggled with my mental health in college and my attendance and grades suffered as a result.
I was encouraged to apply for a degree and luckily managed to secure a place. As I worked my way through my degree, I became increasingly fascinated by the criminal justice system, particularly about the societal and underlying issues that contribute to offending behaviour and what supportive measures can help to break cycles of criminal behaviour.
What does your role involve?
I am part of the senior management team, and I work across Wales. I am responsible for the operational delivery and development of services which run alongside and enhance our housing related support and accommodation provision.
Within my team I manage learning, volunteering, creative arts and employability programmes, including The BOSS Project, a learning and support project for people on both sides of the prison gate. I also manage a peer mentoring project, a network of counsellors, our mobile operations team which has a large truck and a fleet of vehicles, and outreach mentors who work directly with rough sleepers and people at risk of homelessness.
I also oversee some of our operational development around psychologically informed environments.
Can you describe your organisation in a few sentences?
The Wallich is a well-established Welsh homelessness charity that has been around for over 40 years. Some of our values include being courageous, determined and authentic in our response to tackling homelessness and striving for inclusion.
We have a fantastic diverse team of around 400 staff, and we support close to 10,000 vulnerable people every year to overcome barriers and improve their lives.
What do you love most about working at your organisation?
I love our culture, our values and the wonderful people I am lucky to call my colleagues. The Wallich is innovative and bold, and we use our platform to speak truth to power and challenge practices which discriminate against those we support. We are creative in our approaches and solutions to preventing homelessness, and we aren’t afraid to try new things.
As I mentioned, The Wallich has grown tremendously over the last few years and now has 400 staff and supports nearly 10,000 people. With this growth, we’ve had to ensure that we stay focused on our core aims, and we’ve done this by listening to the people we support. Every service we develop involves speaking to service users. We also employ people with lived experience, and plan to grow this part of our workforce. Despite the huge growth of our organisation, we still have that grassroots feel. Even senior managers know what is happening on the frontline.
What are your organisation’s biggest focuses right now?
Right now, our main focus is restoring our services slowly and safely, while protecting our service users and staff during COVID-19. When COVID-19 struck, we redeployed staff to our critical frontline services, and were able to continue supporting the vulnerable people who need us. We launched a bespoke call back service, with rapid response counselling and peer support for anyone struggling. We also partnered with a TV and film catering company in Cardiff to deliver hot meals seven days a week to our residential projects during lockdown. To date we have supplied almost 14,000 hot meals to vulnerable people staying at home. At The Wallich, we try to manage risk without putting up too many barriers.
What has been your proudest moment at your organisation?
I lead on the bid for our BOSS Project, which involved speaking to prisoners and prison leavers, doing gap analysis, liaising with partner agencies and writing the bid. We secured a £1m grant for the project, and it has changed the way we work. The BOSS Project is now well-known and has an excellent reputation.
I started at The Wallich as a project worker eight years ago and have climbed to my current role as Head of Participation and Progression. This makes me immensely proud. My job is not just something I do for money from nine till five – it is a hugely important part of my life. It means everything to know I have helped someone to overcome a barrier, rediscover a skill or talent, achieve a goal, feel better about themselves or feel like a valued member of society.
Do you have any routines or habits that help you succeed?
We are a collaborative organisation and I gain a great deal from reflective exercises and meetings as a form of evaluation and learning. We regularly hold focus or steering group sessions with our beneficiaries. Listening to their voices, feedback and lived experience fires me up and motivates me to develop new projects and services to reach and benefit more people.
Do you have any hobbies?
I have to make a conscious effort to switch off and take a break from technology. I try to exercise as much as possible to clear my head and stay healthy. I find that if I exercise and eat well, I am more productive in work. Before the gyms closed, I regularly went to a boxing-based exercise class – I’m really missing it!
I also recently completed a short university course in Counselling Skills and Awareness. At The Wallich, we aim to offer psychologically informed services, and I wanted a deeper understanding of the theory behind this. I manage counsellors as part of my team, and so it’s good to have an overview of what they do. I was also inspired to take the course because I have received counselling myself, and it really helped me. During this course I was introduced to the wonderful work of Brené Brown and have just started listening to her podcast Unlocking Us – which I think answers one of your later questions!
Danielle Steel and Sophie Kinsella are among my favourite authors. I also recently purchased a book by Layla F. Saad called ‘Me and White Supremacy’. I look forward to reading, discussing, and learning from it.
My taste in music is incredibly varied! My favourite song depends on how I am feeling. I never get fed up of Linkin’ Park or Adele and I can often be found singing along (badly) to Sia.
Any film with Will Smith in it.
What advice would you give to someone else in your role?
Listen to the opinions and perspectives of others, don’t be afraid to try out new ideas, and be willing to accept constructive feedback. Treat your beneficiaries as the experts in their lives and finally, find opportunities for your team to channel their individual skills and strengths.
What do you like most about being a member of the Criminal Justice Alliance?
The platform you provide for organisations to share best practice, the way you bring organisations working for similar causes together, the learning you share and the useful resources, policy developments and events you highlight.
Our Meet the Member series shines a spotlight on the organisations and individuals working towards a fairer and more effective criminal justice system. If you’re a CJA member and you would like to be featured on our blog, contact email@example.com.