Interesting news emerged from fast-food outlet Pret a Manger on 8 February, with the firm’s charity wing the Pret Foundation revealing that has partnered with charity the West London Mission (WLM) to open a home for the homeless in the Capital’s St Luke’s area. 
Dubbed Pret House, the facility will accommodate up to 13 people at any one time, each of whom will live there for six to 12 months before moving into privately rented homes. The ambition behind the project is to help at least 20 individuals recover from homelessness by the end of the year.
The Foundation’s announcement points out that WLM is dedicated to empowering those affected by homelessness, poverty and trauma to make positive changes in their lives. As such, Pret House will focus on financial-resilience training, accommodation and support, with residents paying monthly rent at affordable rates relative to their wages.
“Each resident will have their own private room,” the statement notes, “and will receive advice from WLM on how to get a bank account, save for a deposit [and] develop wider literacy and computer skills. They will also join the Rising Stars programme, working in Pret shops nearby.”
Commenting on what has been a “five-year project in the making”, Pret CEO Clive Schlee said: “Ever since Pret opened its first shop in London, helping the homeless has been part of our promise to our customers and the communities in which we operate. We set up the Pret Foundation with the singular purpose of breaking the cycle of homelessness … The opening of the Pret House at WLM St Luke’s is the next evolution in our efforts to help the ex-homeless live their lives independently.”
WLM interim CEO Roger Clark added: “The values and services of WLM are built on the foundation of continual transformation for those we serve since 1887 … Pret House at WLM St Luke’s is an exciting new partnership between WLM and the Pret Foundation, with our shared vision of ending homelessness. We really believe in the positive difference it will make for individuals and the community.”
Early last year, the Duke of Cambridge sparked debate in the charity sector by saying that charities must be more willing “to collaborate, to share expertise and resources, to focus less on individual interests and more on the benefits that working together will bring”.  Many already collaborate with businesses – so what are the best-practice approaches that corporate and charity leaders should take to ensure they collaborate effectively?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This reminds me of one of our leadership podcasts from last year, when we looked at how US telecoms firm Nextiva had improved its retention of millennials by organising its charity operations into a fully-fledged subsidiary [Ed’s note: you can find that specific podcast here]. What’s particularly compelling about Pret’s news is that combating homelessness is a cause with which the firm has been aligned for quite some time – certainly as far back as I can remember. As well as providing support through the Foundation, Pret donates a significant amount of leftover food to homeless people.”
She explains: “Charities are hugely knowledgeable about the needs of what we might call their ‘customers’ – ie, the people they are trying to help. But businesses such as Pret have a huge amount of expertise in service delivery; in creating the systems and processes that yield the most efficient experience for the end user. So what we can see from this joint effort between WLM and Pret is that they are entirely compatible and complementary – not just in their aims and objectives, but their capabilities, too. Straight away, that makes for a strong platform on which their leadership teams can work together – and provides other organisations with a feel for how they may do something similar. A shared mission is key.”
Cooper notes: “In a broader sense, we are seeing corporate social responsibility (CSR) transform into something a lot more substantial than a loose arrangement under which firms either give donations, or provide staff with the scope to volunteer. While both of those are still valuable and important, CSR is rapidly becoming a more hands-on business area, with a deeper strategic focus: ‘What are we really trying to achieve here?’ Leaders are beginning to realise that their firms will achieve their altruistic goals far more effectively by collaborating with other organisations.”
She adds: “CSR is now more about channelling i) energy, ii) expertise and iii) a sense of purpose that partner organisations can buy into. In the long run, that will prove to be a more sustainable model. A donation stream can always run dry if a particular company runs into a difficult trading period. But a joint endeavour that hinges upon people power – and a shared desire among leadership teams to solve specific problems – will be the foundation of something far more enduring.”
For further insights into the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on social responsibility
Image of Pret signage courtesy of Willy Barton, via Shutterstock