When Christmas lights go up, people who are homeless play more on our conscience.
When Christmas lights go up in the city and nights become colder, people who are homeless and without family play more on our conscience. Any uncaring notions about “scroungers” who “choose” to live on our streets take an annual holiday.
Tucked away down a narrow alley off North Street is The Clock Tower Sanctuary, one of the 33 charities in Brighton and Hove providing a solution to what many see as a problem particular to our city. Inside is an airy space that feels new and fresh, decked out with computer hubs, sofas, a coffee table, kitchen, and washing machines.
The Clock Tower Sanctuary was founded in 1998 and works with young people aged 16 to 25 to find housing solutions and build their confidence. Open from 11am to 3pm, the aim is to prevent homelessness from becoming an entrenched way of life by providing an aspirational alternative to more intimidating services for adults.
It has now partnered with Centrepoint, the biggest and arguably best-known homelessness charity for young people in the United Kingdom. Centrepoint supports more than 8,400 young people a year, has Prince William as its patron, and is sharing its expertise with homelessness charities across the country; its staff are training The Clock Tower Sanctuary volunteers to deliver a schedule of workshops and AQA qualifications to their clients.
Kevin, a volunteer, believes using the word “client” - rather than “service-user” - marks a crucial shift in attitude among charities towards homeless people. He said: “It’s not about them using us; it’s us providing a service, a professional delivery to a standard.”
The Centrepoint training sessions include life skills, budgeting, personal relationships, and anger management - all modules that translate into AQA points and basic qualifications. These are especially helpful for clients looking to get housing tenancy from landlords.
The training is particularly relevant for Brighton and Hove, where there has been a 52% increase in people qualifying as homeless since 2010, compared with a 19% decrease nationally.
Lisa, a trainer from Centrepoint, said: ‘I think the unique thing about the workshops is that they are delivered by volunteers the young people know already. A long-term relationship is important for this to work.”
Kate Kirkham, director of The Clock Tower Sanctuary, knows that measuring success by goals such as employment is pointless when helping young people who are not yet ready for work. Success is often on a much smaller scale: “Statutory provision will often shut the door if a young person misses a session or stops communicating. Here, the door is always open, and success follows from that.”
Being work-ready is particularly difficult to aim for when work itself is not abundant. Andy Winter, chief executive of BHT (Brighton Housing Trust), thinks Brighton lacks a particular economic machine that keeps the city and jobs ticking. He said: “Brighton is what I call an ideopolis. It recreates itself successfully around an idea, rather than an actual industry. And homelessness goes against that affluent ideal."
This precarious “ideopolis” has further been hit by the government's austerity measures. According to a report last month by Homeless Link, people under 25 now make up 52% of those seeking emergency shelter and homeless services in the UK. Inside Housing, the magazine set up by Bill Randall, chair of the city council's housing committee, reported a drop of 26% in funding for services such as The Clock Tower Sanctuary, with single homeless individuals losing the most help.
Trying to step into the breach left by cash-strapped local councils is collaborative effort between businesses and charities, as well as between charities themselves. The Clock Tower Sanctuary has also partnered with The Pret Foundation, the charity of café chain Pret a Manger, through the company’s apprenticeship scheme. Nicki Fisher, head of the Pret Foundation, has seen 250 apprentices go from being without an address or bank account to becoming baristas, trainers and shift-runners. She said: “They just need someone to believe in them and give them a chance. That’s all.”
And this chance comes first of all through groundwork services like The Clock Tower Sanctuary. Nicki said The Pret Foundation has to work with staff to identify candidates who are “in the right space to change their lives for the better” before offering them an apprenticeship.
The “up-and-on” approach of The Clock Tower Sanctuary, Centrepoint and Pret a Manger matches Mr Winter’s concern that some forms of help in Brighton are Victorian in their approach. Mr Winter said: “Many charities, like soup kitchens, just have the bottom rung of the ladder and nothing else. What are churches thinking, in this day and age, serving food in the cold and rain on the seafront when they have a building? I think we can do better.”
It seems many of Brighton's young homeless are looking to do better, the importance of a hot meal notwithstanding. At the forefront of this move, the Clock Tower Sanctuary is searching for volunteers. Ranging from MA students with top social work degrees, to those who have succeeded in leaving the streets and are enabling others to follow them, the team wants to deliver as many workshops as possible to their clients in the coming months.
To volunteer with The Clock Tower Sanctuary, visit: www.thects.org.uk