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Engaging young homeless people: publishing with purpose

Young homeless people have been recruited in the creation of a new magazine to reduce youth homelessness. Jeff Mitchell, Managing Editor of Quids in!, reports on how the publication is engaging social housing tenants and the lessons landlords can learn from.

Quids in! is a money management magazine for people on low incomes that has recently been commissioned to support a youth homelessness prevention programme. It already reaches over 130,000 households across England and Wales, with bulk orders coming in from housing associations that use the lightweight glossy as a supplement to tenant newsletters. It helps them in the fight against financial exclusion. Now, it has been commissioned to publish a young people’s edition, taking a unique look at the realities of homelessness by training and involving foyer residents to produce a publication to take into schools.

To make it happen, Quids in! had to reflect on the process that led to its own success. It all started during a financial inclusion workshop where credit unions, debt advice agencies and community regeneration officers were bemoaning their collective impotence in heading off the threat in the poorest communities from loan sharks and high interest lenders. I was representing the worklessness project I run, Clean Slate Training & Employment, but it started me thinking about my time as Managing Director at The Big Issue. Publishing with a social purpose is something I had continued to work on (with Welsh Housing Quarterly, as one example) and with the right distribution channel, it could reach the poorest in our communities and arm them with information.

With the mission clearly identified and the expert information on tap, we could focus on the publishing process. As with all the magazine launches, our team of experienced designers, writers and publishers ransacked newsagents’ shelves, looking for the titles our target audience would read. We looked at Take a Break, Heat and Now, as well as the Sunday supplements to the tabloids. We pulled apart the language and use of images and studied the tricks they use to engage readers – titbits, pull quotes, sexy headlines. We learnt a real respect for the production of magazines we might not normally read ourselves. Then I realised that the sale of Quids in! was not going to be easy – the people with the purse strings (social landlords’ communications managers) would really have to buy into the issue of financial inclusion and the shamelessly populist approach we were taking.

At the foyer, we ran workshops on the whole process, including the creative tension between customers and publishers, (who have a message to promote and sales to achieve), and journalists (who just want the damn thing to be read). We delivered taster training in writing news, profiles and top tips. And we engaged the young people in the look and design of what transformed into a fold-out-map-format publication, complete with poster image. They dictated the style of language and the tone, which still had to try to dissuade young people from leaving home until they’re ready (unless they’re at risk), and gave us a product we can confidently distribute to 10,000 16-24 year olds.

Looking to the future, we’d like to deliver this training to wider audiences. Tenants and officers from housing associations who want to help improve how well newsletters engage readers could benefit from small workshops we run to review what they’re doing and pick up new ideas. We could even develop new partnerships to help produce shared content across a number of tenant newsletters or work on development, design and production of customers’ newsletter themselves.

For our part, we’d like to learn how to gauge the impact we have. We’ve tried Twitter and Facebook and it’s not really taking off, but we do know that competitions work – and now we ask readers to comment on Quids in! whenever they enter. We’re also looking at taking what we’ve learnt about engaging people off the page and into those communities. We have new financial inclusion products to distribute – our Healthy Saver postcard raised some eyebrows with its sexy front image until people read the reverse to find it is designed to encourage people to save, perhaps for a summer holiday – and loads of contacts in the financial inclusion field. There’s more work we can do in communities. Oh, and there’s now work on offer to the young people we trained up at the foyer.

For more information, contact: [email protected]
www.yourquidsin.com / www.cleanslateltd.co.uk

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