ARE YOU HOMELESS, SOFA SURFING OR AT RISK?

Young Person Oldham St

Welcome to 52 Oldham Street

In 2020, Centrepoint embarked on its most ambitious project to date: redeveloping our service in Greater Manchester to ensure we can provide homeless young people with a safe place to move on from homelessness.

Two years later, we have launched the new, psychologically informed environment that has been created both for and with young people. 52 Oldham Street is a safe space for vulnerable young people to recover, grow and make steps to independent living.

We have called our building in the Northern Quarter home since 2017, but it was time for some much-needed updates. More than just a paint job, in fact – a complete overhaul. A chance to take it back to the bones and build it up again.

The building is home to our flagship Homelessness Prevention & Relief Service (HPRS), and our aim for the redevelopment was simple: we wanted to give homeless young people across Greater Manchester a safe and welcoming environment for them to recover and grow, so they can eventually leave homelessness behind for good.

And the best bit? The building has been designed for young people with young people. The space is a psychologically informed environment (PIE), meaning it takes the psychological and emotional needs of young people into account. Homeless young people often experience neglect and abuse, and these traumatic experiences can continue to affect their behaviour long after the trauma has ended. A psychologically informed environment helps young people heal from this, which is essential for progression beyond Centrepoint.

As such, the building has been completely modernised. “Careful consideration was given to the layout of the building, in order to both maximise space needed for staff but also to ensure that teams were able to work together more easily to increase collaborative and supportive working,” says Helen Miles, Centrepoint’s PIE Lead. “Discussion around what was actually needed in the building, such as a separate staff entrance, sufficient one-to-one rooms, communal spaces for young people, as well as meeting and training spaces for staff, was key.

“It was also important that we didn’t end up with a clinical looking ‘white box’. We [had] input from young people that use the service, as well as staff, to create physical spaces that considered the importance of aesthetics. For example, the confidential one-to-one assessment rooms were all named and themed (e.g. Forest Room, Mountain Room) and decorated in different colours with vinyl transfers that were in keeping with the theme so that they were pleasant and welcoming.”

Throughout the refurbishment of its service, Centrepoint engaged with young people to understand what they wanted from the new space, including a mural which would be displayed in a communal area. The mural, co-produced with local artist Tasha Whittle and the Manchester Art Gallery, is a reflection of what the young people thought would help and inspire others who are supported by the service.

The purpose of the building is to provide support for thousands of 18 to 25-year-olds who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness every year. Skills development, mental health support and floating support services are all available on site, with the aim of helping young people become independent and move onto their ultimate goal of a job and a home.

Frankie, 21, is currently being supported by Centrepoint and was impressed by not just by the aesthetics but the breadth of services provided: “It’s really important to have a building like this that is dedicated to easing the anxiety that comes with not knowing where next to turn when you’re facing homelessness. The mental health support will be so important for many new young people potentially finding themselves homeless for the first time. I really like the idea of the cooking and hospitality programmes that will give people opportunities and things to look forward to, and can’t wait to see how this building and service evolves in the future.” 

For these services to thrive, the physicality of the building was important. “We all know first impressions count, and for an already marginalised group often feeling rejected by wider society, to enter a physical space that challenges this perception can be very affirming, positive and increase their willingness to engage with whatever services are on offer,” Helen adds. “Arriving at a building that is welcoming and well looked after gives you the impression that you are of value and are equally worth the time and investment increasing your motivation for change.”

All these considerations are key to helping us achieve our aim of ending homelessness by 2037. And this is just the start – as our CEO Seyi Obakin says, our work in Manchester can be the blueprint for many psychologically informed buildings across the UK: “Spaces like this, where young people are safe, and feel supported and inspired, are critical to realising this ambition.”

The refurbishments were made possible thanks our amazing supporters and donors – including The Co-operative Bank and the Garfield Weston Foundation, who helped raise over £900k for the project. 

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, attended on launch day, and noted how important it was to keep working together towards our aim of eradicating homelessness: “Centrepoint have been such an important partner for us and will continue to be. This hub they have provided, is a sign of the journey we’re on in Greater Manchester, to support people that need our help. Nobody should spend even one night on the streets.” 

Moving on from homelessness isn’t just about having a temporary roof over your head – it needs long term solutions. That’s why this building is so important; the desire for young people to succeed is built right into the foundations. The services on offer give a more tangible sense of moving forward, of something brighter, but the feeling of the building does the same to the subconscious.

Read Helen's blog on psychologically informed environments here. 

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