Sandra Schembri

The House of St Barnabas

Sandra Schembri

Sandra Schembri is the Chief Encouragement Officer at The House of St Barnabas, a charity pledging to halt the cycle of homelessness.

Their Employment Academy offers accredited qualifications, work experience in the not-for-profit private members' club, available on site, real job opportunities and mentoring to help the people they support back into lasting work.

Sandra is also a lover of sci-fi, things on two wheels with or without engines, and a beat she can dance to...

Ogunte: What is your most insightful impact story at the House of St Barnabas?

Sandra Schembri: The house of St Barnabas is a living, learning experiment in how business and non-profit can work in harmony to produce magic that changes people’s lives.

Brave doesn’t begin to describe the people who join our programme. The work they do in discovering about themselves, where they are now and why they do what they do and then being open to changes in order to move forward to their version of success is humbling.

A young man who was one of our stars started to become sporadic in attendance half-way through eventually dropping off and it was only a few months later we found out why.

He was living with his parents on their sofa and they seemed to have struggled with his choice to want change in his life and they started to sabotage him in small but effective ways. This culminated in hiding his phone (which he was using as his alarm) so that he was late and also had no way of making contact.

He made the decision to leave his parents and present himself as homeless knowing that as a single male the wait is long but there is support.

He was able to understand that their underlying motives were fear and shame and not hatred of him as it was coming out. As a young man, to be able to see this and have to step away from your own family must have been so hard.

He went on to move in to work and it now doing well for himself, even though there were other bumps along the road.

Ogunte: How do the Members’ club and the employment training and mentoring scheme overlap… do members and trainees meet? 

Sandra Schembri: Very much so, the people on our programme are part of the club team after 3 weeks as they are gaining experience within the club. Our members are our biggest ratio of mentors that support our programme participants for at least 1 year after graduation.

We also invite graduates to take part in events that we host within the club so they and the members get to meet each other on an equal footing.

Ogunte: How do you manage to successfully grow the House of St Barnabas?

  1. Social Finance: Charity Bank
  2. A board who understood and was prepared to take risks
  3. To surround myself with doers with so much optimism that we never once thought it would fail as we believed in the idea.
  4. I asked for forgiveness rather than permission

Ogunte: What do you know now that you wished you had known from the beginning?

Sandra Schembri: That there is always something to fill your time with a start up project that you are emotionally invested in so take the chance to see your friends and family when you have it.

You are never done, you are just done for now and that’s ok.

Ogunte: What questions do your members never ask you, you wished they did…

Sandra Schembri: Not much as they are such a brilliantly curious bunch they ask us so many things so much of the time. Maybe "Can I introduce you to Barack Obama?" That would be a nice question that I already know the answer to.

Ogunte: Do gender issues come into the picture at House of St Barnabas? If yes… what comes up?

Sandra Schembri: We wanted to always be a club with an equal gender split and we not only managed it but have maintained it, no small feat in the world of clubs. We have also managed this within the people we support in the Employment Academy (we started with a 80/20 male female split for the first two years). 


Ogunte: How is your eagerness to be involved as a social entrepreneur stem from what happened in your early years?

Sandra Schembri: I think quite a bit on reflection. I was lucky to be a part of the social mobility movement in the 70’s. My education was not great but I was given access to music and music school, support in after-school clubs and with the costs of university and from then on, the world became a much bigger place, full of opportunities that today are there to many kids growing up on the same estate I did. People need to be shown proof that not only are there doors of opportunity for them but they will have the chance and shown the skills to get to go through them.
 That is how I hope our support here helps.

Ogunte: If you were not doing what you are doing now, what other business or activity would you be contributing to…?

Sandra Schembri: If it was today I would love to be the number two to Sadiq Khan. What an amazing opportunity to affect real positive change in so many Londoners lives.

Ogunte: You are running fab events that support the social enterprise sector. If nothing was in the way, what would be your ideal unconference line up?

  • Michelle Morgan from Livity
  • Indy Johar (00)
  • Frances Morris (Director Tate)
  • Paul Polman (Unilever)
  • Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas)
  • Sir Ronald Cohen (Chairman Global Social Impact Investment Steering Group)
  • Clare Lynch (Belu Water)
  • Grayson Perry (Artist)
  • Akram Khan (Dancer)
  • Sadiq Khan (I would want someone with power to make some of the ideas a reality)

Gina-Soden- House of St Barnabas Staircase

Ogunte: How does your world look like in 2030?

  • We are supporting over 1,000 people a year into work.
  • There is a HoSB club and employment academy in Brighton, Manchester, two in Scotland, Paris, NY and San Francisco.
  • Some of my team have moved on and set up group breaking social businesses of their own and are flourishing changing the world (remembering to see their friends on the journey).
  • We have a HoSB dog called Barnie who is a also a therapy dog for the local residents who are over 60.

Company info

Ogunte is a Community Interest Company
and a certified B Corp
Reg. in England and Wales nr:06389473

Need to contact us?

Reg. Address 30 Parkhurst Rd | London | UK N17 9RA
m: +44(0)7932982379
e: hello at ogunte dot com
t: @ogunte

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