Spotlight: Gemma Copp, Buttress Architects

Gemma Copp, Architect from Buttress Architects in Manchester talks about her role as a LandAid Ambassador, the upcoming 2023 SleepOut, why ending youth homelessness is so important to her, through her own lived experience, and how the property industry can play a vital role in providing young vulnerable people with safe and secure places to call home.

Take us through your position with Buttress, and how you came to be an Ambassador for LandAid.

I am an architect in the new build residential and social value teams at Buttress. Buttress is a B Corp Certified design studio and has embedded social value and EDI at the heart of its values, by targeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance. Their support enables me to be a Deputy National LandAid Ambassador. 

I became a LandAid Ambassador due to my own personal experience. From an early age, I faced many challenges living in a dysfunctional family unit whilst growing up. At 16, I moved out of my home and into supportive accommodation, ran by the Frome Foyer as part of Mendip YMCA in Somerset. 

SleepOut is fundraising for the homeless aged between 16-25. How will LandAid use the money raised from SleepOut to support young people struggling with homelessness?

Each SleepOut participant will be asked to raise over £166 –the cost of funding one bed space for a month. Collectively we hope to raise over £600,000 this year; every penny raised will take us one step closer to ending youth homelessness.  

This money will be used to fund local projects, led by LandAid’s charity partners, in each of the seven locations the SleepOut is taking place this year 

Why should people take part in the event? 

The SleepOut brings people from across the industry together to make a direct difference to the lives of young people who do not have a safe and secure place to call home. 

What impact do you hope SleepOut will have for those struggling with homelessness?

I was given a support worker who taught me how to cook, use a washing machine, budget finances, and provided mental health support.  

Their support gave me the opportunity to continue on to college which was key to me becoming an architect.  They helped me revise, drove me to university open days, and prepare for interviews. At the YMCA, I received a studio apartment with a shower room and kitchenette. They believed in me, giving me the confidence to go further and look for opportunities where I could develop my skillset.  

The money raised by everyone taking part in the SleepOut will help support 16-25 year facing homelessness, giving them opportunities for personal growth and development, building the confidence to go on to their chosen careers and achieve their life goals. 

With the event taking place across seven cities and online, how do you believe people’s perspectives could change regarding homelessness after taking part?

There is a stigma around youth homelessness.  The ‘why’ is often misunderstood. The why is the part that is often out of a young person’s control, due to family breakdown, benefit cuts, or unemployment; just one of these reasons can put the young person at risk of homelessness.  

Many of these young people are dealing with low self-esteem, loneliness, feeling trapped, and suicidal thoughts, with guilt/self-blame due to their homeless status having the strongest impact on their mental health. They’re experiencing more than the average 16-25 year old should ever face.  

Breaking down this stigma requires a collective effort to support young people through their difficult experiences and receive the same vital and essential support that I did.  

What else will LandAid be doing to support those struggling with or facing homelessness? 

In 2022, LandAid awarded over £2million in grants to charities across the UK. Its core grants fund emergency bed spaces, move-on accommodation, and capital projects to renovate existing or create new safe and affordable accommodation for young people experiencing homelessness. LandAid’s pro bono programme matches the professional skills of its property industry partners with charities to help them create greater impact in their communities. 

LandAid wants to form unique connections with industry partners to tackle the issue of homelessness together. No partnership looks the same which is what is so exciting.  

How has the ongoing cost-of-living crisis impacted UK residents facing homelessness?

Last year, around 122,000 young people in the UK approached their local council for housing support. Homelessness is more than just sleeping on the streets. While this can be the most dangerous, and most visible, form of homelessness, it is the tip of the iceberg. Homelessness means not having a place to call home – a place that is private, secure, decent, affordable, and where you have a right to stay.  For many young people this is a dangerous reality.  

Many of the charities that LandAid supports are seeing more young people trapped in a cycle of homelessness, moving from sofa to sofa, not knowing where they will sleep that night.  

As an architect, how do you believe building design can help improve the mental wellbeing of vulnerable residents in the UK?

Architecture is as much about people as it is buildings, shaping how we feel and perceive a space. I take particular interest in holistic design to achieve meaningful and authentic experiences of space that can positively improve our well-being. 

I believe conscious thought as to how a particular project will be used, the primary movements, the social interactions or situations that may happen, can advise the design development of the built environment. If we get this right, we provide the safety and physiological foundations such as shelter, health, stability, a proper night’s sleep and access to food and water. This could shift the thinking of vulnerable residents in the UK from fear of achieving basic needs and instead, give energy and attention to their futures.  

What more would you like to see from the residential/property industry to help support the homelessness issues the UK faces?  

LandAid already has some brilliant support from the property industry and beyond. However, we know there is always room to do more. We would love to see the industry rally together under the collective goal to end youth homelessness for good.  

Working with LandAid on a strategic charity partnership enables organisations to achieve greater social impact and engage staff at all levels. This could be through participation, skills-sharing, fundraising, or volunteering. And it offers senior leaders the opportunity to explore how working with LandAid can achieve a tangible and measurable impact on youth homelessness in the UK.

What more would you like to see from government to help support LandAid’s ambitions, as well as the wider homelessness crisis in the UK?

I would love to see the government encourage the building of more rough sleepers’ short-stay accommodation, similar to the studio apartment I received. These can act as a pathway to settled accommodation, providing a genuine home that will help prepare occupants for full independent housing. 

Buttress has just had planning permission granted for the development of eight modular move-on homes to support homeless people in Salford, but we need more of these across the country! 

On a personal note, I’d like to thank all my support workers and friends in similar positions at the Frome Foyer and Mendip YMCA as I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. 


A version of this article first appeared in Property Week

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