A year ago, former policeman and businessman Andy Howarth set up a charity to help get the homeless into work. Catherine Scott meets him.
The Howarth Foundation is a real family affair.
Even Granny Joan, who is blind and in her nineties, makes tea bag holders to raise money for the charity which aims to get homeless people in Leeds and Kirklees into work
It is the brainchild – and labour of love – of Andy Howarth who launched the charity a year ago after taking a back seat from his Cleckheaton law and HR business. which celebrates its 15th anniversaray this month.
Andy joined the police force straight from school.
“Helen and have been together since our 20s – around 40 years – and we always wanted to run a business together,” explains Andy. “But time took over, I’d been in the police for ten years when the children came along – by then we had a mortgage and I couldn’t take the risk of leaving and setting up something new.”
But he never lost his desire to work for himself and, when he was getting towards the end of his time in the police, he decided to do something about it.
“I had always wanted to be a lawyer but I had no qualifications and so I decided to do my A-levels and a law degree.” Andy was 46 at the time. “There were 160 people who started the course and they all seemed so switched on, but in the end only 11 of us graduated.”
He did his research and discovered that in 2002 a new rule was coming into effect which meant that all businesses had to introduce grievance procedures for their employees.
“I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing,” he admits. “We went and got some business cards printed and hired a couple of rooms in Cleckheaton and wrote to as many businesses as we could and invited them to a seminar about the changes in employment law.”
Despite his lack of knowledge Andy landed his first client thanks to the seminars – a client who is still with Howarths today.
“We borrowed our son Gavin’s computer while he was at university and bought a fax machine from Macro and that was the start of Howarths.”
What followed was a lot of leg- work, knocking on doors trying to convince cynical businesses that they needed what Howarths had to offer. “We got a lot of knockbacks,” says Andy. “But I never once doubted what we were doing and nor did Helen.”
But when companies began to realise that they needed what Andy and Helen had to offer, things started to turn around.
That was 15 years ago and now Howarths People and Safety Management, to give it its full titles, employs 19 staff and has more than 500 clients. One of the Howarth’s sons, Gavin, joined the business eight years ago and is now managing director.
“It was great to have Gavin in the business and we have a great relationship but I did such a good job bringing him on that I soon realised I didn’t have anything to do. I’d talked myself out of a job.”
That’s when he got the idea for the Howarth Foundation.
“My passion has always been for the homeless,” explains Andy who, through Howarths, had also raised money for different charities though events such as their annual music extravaganza.
“I had a tough childhood and I had some experience of what it’s like not to have a normal, functional upbringing.
“There are a lot of stereotypes when it comes to the homeless. There a lot of good projects, especially in Leeds, with outreach workers helping people to get a roof over their heads but then they have nothing to do so often go back to drink or drugs. I felt there had to be a better way.
“When I was in my teens the thing that kept me going was my work ethic. We have a massive client base, many of them SMEs.
“I thought if we could get some people into work it would give them back their self-esteem and at least give them some hope.”
Andy recruited Natalie Wells from Howarths into the foundation to work with their ‘clients’. Natalie and Andy are not afraid of getting their hands dirty. They are on the streets of Leeds nearly every day, working with different agencies, but also looking for people who are ready to take the next step.
“People want to see that you care,” says Natalie who identifies closely with what a lot of their clients have been through.
But they soon realised that it was a much bigger job than simply finding homeless people a job. “These people have been through a lot, they have hit rock bottom and lost everything.
“They can’t just walk into a normal job, but they are ready to make the next step back into employment and that’s where we come in,” explains Andy.
Natalie works with the clients and builds up their trust, often she will help them get to a job interview, or even give them the bus fare so they can get there. “It is all about trust,” says Natalie. “Many are fighting addiction, they get clean, but then relapse and we have to start again.”
It is emotionally exhausting and often frustrating work, but Natalie, Andy and everyone at Howarths believes it is worth it.
While Natalie works with the clients, Andy builds up relationships with agencies such as Leeds Bid to try to get funding and support. In the first year they have successfully got five people into employing and six on training courses.
“We are a family business and we try to do things in the right way, but we wanted to give something back in a meaningful way,” says Gavin. The charity recently announced Olympic diving couple Jack Laugher and Lois Tolson, who is Andy’s niece, as ambassadors.
“We’re often asked to support charities, but we felt The Howarth Foundation is a very special charity as it gets right to the very root of the homeless problem at street level,” says Lois. “They are a very small self-funding family charity who are achieving fantastic results helping the homeless back in to employment.”
The Howarth family business and charity have been shortlisted in a number of catergories at The National Family Business Awards on July 14. They have been shortlisted in:
Family Business of the Year
Best Small Business
Big Heart (the charity category).
Their mission statement is “The prevention or relief of poverty in respect of individuals who are, or who have recently been, homeless in the districts of Leeds and Kirklees, by actively sourcing employers willing to offer employment and by providing those individuals with support and guidance.”
For more information about the work of the Howarth Foundation visit www.howarthfoundation.org.uk