Benjamin became homeless aged 17 and was referred to Centrepoint through social services. He has been supported in a variety of areas including mental health and benefited from working with one of Centrepoint’s amazing volunteers, a chef called Ben Mariner. This is his story.
A tragic turn
Benjamin was only 16-years-old when he travelled alone from Vietnam to the UK. His dad was British and Ben was hoping to stay with him and continue his education here.
However, a week before Benjamin was due to leave, his father tragically passed away from Covid. Benjamin still travelled to the UK, but without the support network, he struggled with navigating life here and his mental health plummeted.
He managed to find a place to stay, but being young and naïve and in an unfamiliar place, he was ripped off by a private landlord. Thankfully, he was picked up by social services and stayed for a short time with a foster family before being referred to Centrepoint.
The staff team at Centrepoint supported Benjamin in a variety of ways, from setting him up with a GP and dentist, to budgeting and independent living skills.
Benjamin says that Centrepoint ultimately has been like a parent to him.
“They have changed me into a different person. I was feeling really down and lonely when I first came here, but the staff members have encouraged me to talk to people, helped me with benefits, my health – physical, mental and emotional. They’ve been a parent to me.”
Benjamin enjoys working with all the staff at his service, but says he has formed a particularly close bond with one of the night workers, Joseph.
“I like to wake up early and he gives me a wakeup call whenever he is in for the night shift which I really appreciate. We bond over our stories. It’s really helpful having him as my alarm clock and also to talk to. It’s interesting to talk about our lives with each other. It’s like having a grandparent to share things with.”
Since living at Centrepoint, Benjamin has also able to access sessions with one of Centrepoint’s dedicated psychotherapists.
“It really helped me to have those regular sessions with a psychotherapist and be able to check in and talk about how I’ve been feeling. It’s helped me to know myself better; how to treat myself and to give myself encouragement. I am very harsh with myself and have very high standards. I think the opportunity to have psychotherapy really helped me to be kinder to myself and to have a different perspective. Although it’s been hard to work through some of the pain and trauma I’ve experienced, I feel a sense of relief now.”
A volunteer and mentor
Volunteers are vital to Centrepoint's work; from supporting at fundraising events to mentoring young people. Benjamin was lucky enough to work with one of our wonderful volunteers, a chef called Ben Mariner.
Ben has volunteered at Centrepoint for a number of years, teaching young people about healthy eating, budgeting and cooking skills.
“Working with Ben was amazing,” says Benjamin. “He was like my mentor in a sense. I always looked forward to him coming to the service to cook with me. It was one of the highlights of last year for me. Ben came at just the right moment – I was feeling quite down at the time and he came and would cook with me every week. We would share stories together and he would show me different cooking techniques and how to budget. It was amazing to see a real chef cooking right in front of me. It was such a nice experience working with him and really improved my mental health."
Ben, the volunteer, says he also got a lot out of the experience of working with Benjamin.
“He was always there on time and keen to learn which motivated me,” he reflects. “He has such a great attitude and is a caring and positive character. I'm looking forward to see where the future takes him and I'm happy to have had a small impact on what he has learned at Centrepoint.”
Centrepoint recently won The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award and Benjamin went along to the event to accept the award on behalf of Centrepoint on Tuesday 28th November 2023.
Kris Heskett, Centrepoint's volunteering manager had this to say about about receiving the award.
"It's a fantastic recognition of the efforts and passion Centrepoint staff and volunteers give every day to support and empower the young people that come to us for help. I’m always struck by how our volunteers put our value of humility into action and always put the needs of young people first. I know they will feel proud of this achievement and I hope it encourages more people to get involved with Centrepoint and our work supporting young people trying to leave homelessness behind.”
Ben enjoyed attending the event. “It was a new experience for me. It was great to dress up and talk to so many different people. I talked to the CEO of Centrepoint, Seyi Obakin and lots of others. One of them tried to persuade me to apply to Cambridge instead of Oxford,” he laughs. “I felt like an ambassador of Centrepoint and I think I did a very good job in representing the organisation. I am very grateful.”
Benjamin already has his future planned out. He intends to finish his A-levels, take a year out to gain some work experience and then go on to university to study economics. He hopes to go on to work in data analysis and one day to set up a foundation for vulnerable children in Vietnam. By the time he goes to university, he should be settled in his own home.
A huge thank you to our corporate partners ASOS who kindly provided clothing for Ben to attend the Awards.