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Interview with Emma Osman

Restoring hope and dignity; Only A Pavement Away (OAPA) is the charity supporting people facing homelessness, prison leavers and veterans to develop careers within the hospitality sector.

You’ve recently become an Ambassador for Only A Pavement Away, what appealed to you about working with the charity?
I like the fact that Only A Pavement Away (OAPA) doesn’t just throw money at vulnerable people, it seeks to empower them to not only find work but to help them receive the support that will enable them to progress and find long-term solutions. I believe this to be incredibly liberating. It’s like the saying: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.  

What does your role as ambassador involve, and what are we likely to see you getting involved with over this coming year?
Greg Mangham CBII, the Founder of OAPA, contacted me about the Ambassadorial role after seeing the work I do with United Agents. Much of my work puts the focus onto marginalised groups of people, those without a voice – a good example is my role as Carol in Band of Gold [Kay Mellor’s stage production].
I bring people’s stories to life, but equally my non-acting work supports them on their life journeys. I am currently involved with OAPA’s Inspire to Aspire Campaign, which works with 18-24 year olds specifically, aiming to give these younger people a greater chance of securing work and/or going on work experience. For instance, I will be running workshops and speaking to people about what assistance they need and how we can provide that. It’s about giving young people who have become disconnected from society the opportunity to move their lives forward.
My background and the fact that I’m a qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) and Counsellor, provides OAPA with another dimension. With more younger people dipping into homelessness and poverty, I believe it’s essential to provide them with what they need, rather than telling them what we think they need.
I’m looking forward to the workshops this spring and to seeing the results, which will ultimately be about getting people into a job, feeling stable, happy and supported.

As an Actress, Producer and Influencer, you hold a high profile position and can do much to support the work OAPA is doing, to both encourage employers to willingly give people a chance, but also to build awareness of OAPA with the public. What difference do you hope to make?
As a young (I’m 27) woman of colour, I naturally bring a different perspective, which is important. I’ve been involved with various community projects, like the Girls Network, which mentors and motivates girls from working class backgrounds. I’ve worked in schools as a Teaching Assistant and have helped children aged between 2-16 years old. I like to think of my work as helping to turn people’s pain into power.
There is pressure on people today to try to be perfect. It’s unrealistic and it’s why we have a mental health crisis in this country. What I do is to mentor people to believe that perfection isn’t possible, but you can use what’s happened in the past and turn it into a positive.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that we all face the possibility of becoming homeless, it’s not just prison leavers, military veterans or those with mental health disorders. People become dysregulated. OAPA’s campaign is about giving people the space to have conversations and discuss ways that they can move forward. It’s in everyone’s interest to give people the skills to become engaged with our society and I’ve seen first-hand the positive difference community support can make.

Have you had much of an opportunity to connect with people in the hospitality industry yet?
I met lots of people at the BII’s Winter Event last November, and I’ve been meeting people from different hospitality environments.
It’s interesting because I’ve been speaking to people with various views, for instance, someone told me that young people today don’t have sticking power. I don’t agree. But I do think this mindset is indicative of the divide that can sometimes exist between the young and the old. It’s not about sticking power. It’s to do with young people today not feeling they have a stake in the economy.
Young people are expected to work ridiculously hard for the homes they can never afford. People need to bear in mind that it’s a difficult time and it’s disheartening for them, especially when the previous generations could work hard and attain the things they wanted, like a home of their own.
It’s what made it all worth it – the hard graft, being shouted at when things don’t go well and to be under the incredible stress that comes with working in a sector like hospitality. I’ve had jobs working in pubs, rugby clubs and McDonald’s, and it’s high paced and stressful, but knowing a pay packet will allow you to save for a mortgage is what makes it all worth it. Today, this once simple aspiration feels like mission impossible, unless you are living with someone. But, hospitality has much to offer: it’s a sector where, with training and support, you can achieve. You can move up the ranks quickly and be entrepreneurial. There are many successful entrepreneurs in this industry and by promoting their achievements, we can provide that incentive to stick it out and work your way up – then it begins to make sense.
The BII is doing an amazing job in promoting the opportunities and showing what’s possible. Employers can do more too by talking to the young people on their teams about the various opportunities: how they can work their way up the ranks and be part of a team that can make that difference.

You’ve said that real change comes from people believing in themselves and developing new life skills. How do you believe we (as an industry) can get the message across to people that change is possible?
It’s about encouraging young people to open up and share their fears and feelings. It’s something people seem to be happy to do with me and I know it’s also true of good people like Greg and Steve [Steven Alton CBII, CEO of the BII]. It’s up to all of us to bring young people on board and to encourage them and their aspirations. It’s about ensuring people have the confidence and the necessary skills to feel empowered and to able to make change in their own lives and to be part of a successful team. It’s in everyone’s interest to help create this change.

Tell us, what’s next for you? 
I’m currently involved with the Unboxed Festival, which is an arts project that tells untold stories from marginalised people, bringing them to life through audio and 3D images. I’m speaking to people in Lincoln’s communities, where I live, uncovering fascinating stories that shine a light onto individuals with an aim to change perceptions.
The work I do isn’t only about marginalised people, but about businesses, including pubs, that need help and support and where people are struggling currently.
The shocking reality is that in Lincoln currently there are 22 beds in shelters, but 88 people identified as homeless, which begs the question, where do the other 66 sleep?
I hope that my time with OAPA will help humanise homeless people. People can often have an odd view on what it means to be homeless, but if you’re living from pay cheque to pay cheque, it’s a position that anyone could end up in.
By supporting and empowering people, things can change. We all need to be more patient with those who are vulnerable and believe in them, so they will believe in themselves.

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