Centrepoint’s activities team empower vulnerable young people into independence

21 January 2022

Residential trips are a mainstay of British school culture – they generally take place over the span of a few days, where students are required to stay away from home. Sometimes they’re linked to a topic being studied, or sometimes they’re just a chance to explore somewhere new, learn outdoors, and try some activities that are new and exciting: abseiling, for example, or orienteering.

For the young people at Centrepoint, this will often be something they’ve missed out on. The opportunity to discover not only the thrills of the great outdoors, but the joys of teamwork and the buzz of facing their fears, are all key to young people feeling empowered to move on to independence. So, in December 2021, the Centrepoint Activities team took 16 young people for their first residential trip, giving many the opportunity to try things they’ve never tried before.

The new Engagement Team

The Engagement Team – now renamed the HOMES Activities Team, after the launch of our HOMES programme, which fosters a psychologically-informed approach to excellence in Centrepoint’s housing – started its pilot year in 2021.

“Working with 12 Centrepoint services across the UK, we developed bespoke programmes of activity for young people,” says Catherine, the team’s Senior Arts Programme Officer. “We design and deliver enriching, inspiring and motivating opportunities that empower Centrepoint young people to improve in outcomes star areas, and work towards the outcome of a job and a home.”

These opportunities span across a wide range of interests, with a particular focus on creativity and sport. Throughout the last year, the team have been working with established partners such as Manchester Street Poem, Streetwise Opera, the Saatchi Gallery and Arsenal Football Club.

“Our work with these partners enables us to provide an exciting menu of activities, ranging from structured programmes to stand-alone workshops. These opportunities act as a catalyst to encourage and support young people to engage in new and impactful experiences, and positively move on from Centrepoint,” Catherine adds.

Getting out after COVID

More than just a fun day out, these experiences are invaluable. Research shows extracurricular activities like these not only help to develop social skills, but they also increase self-esteem and widen a young person’s social support system. They’re also believed to foster a sense of belonging for young people who are not in their country of origin. 

But young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are often the least likely to be given the opportunity to benefit from experiences like residentials. With the pandemic, this gap has widened. We know that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected poorer communities, and we also know how it has affected the mental health of young people. As such, it can be particularly hard to get young people in services engaged in activities, as many have felt extremely isolated over the past couple of years and are unsure about getting involved with something new.

“It takes time to build these groups and develop new activities,” Catherine says. “And unfortunately COVID regulations meant some of the activities at the end of 2021 were cancelled. This was obviously disappointing, but we’re replanning some events that had to be cancelled.”

Luckily, the event just before Christmas was able to take place – and it was a memorable one. Young people came together from services in Bradford, Manchester and London and travelled to Whitemoor Lakes residential site in Staffordshire*.

They braved storm Barra to take part in a variety of outdoor adventure activities, including climbing high ropes, abseiling, zip lining, archery and fencing. It was an unforgettable trip for the young people, who came together to problem solve, encourage each other, and just have fun.

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” said one young person from our Manchester service. “At first, I was nervous and thought that maybe other people wouldn’t come, but I thought I’d try because you never know until you try. I got to do a lot of things I’d never done before – and I made new friends. The highlight for me was the zip line, that was really fun. Because I’d never done things like high rope climbing, it really gave me confidence to push myself again. I think I learnt how important it is to try new things; I think next year even more people will try it out.”

Preparing young people for independence

Other young people also spoke of the mental benefits of being in an outdoor environment: “It’s important to do things like this because it refreshes your mind,” they told us. “There were lots of physical activities and we have learnt things we can use in the future. I’ve never had an experience like that before. It was so good to be outside in nature.”

Despite the difficulties of starting a new project in the middle of a pandemic, the HOMES Activities Team have adapted remarkably – and there’s so much good stuff to come. Music and photography workshops, parent and baby yoga sessions, self-empowerment sessions for women, football training with Arsenal Community Foundation. That’s just spring 2022.

To see the full effect of these activities we need to look at how experiences like December’s residential will feed into their everyday lives. As Catherine says, our goal for vulnerable young people is “A Job and a Home”. We often say the thing that stands between the young people in our care and success is opportunity. This is true, but when opportunities do arise, young people don’t always feel worthy; it can’t truly be seized without the confidence, the inspiration, the gumption to do so. Residential outings encourage this change in mindset: “We encouraged each other. We took a risk and did things that scared us, even when we thought we couldn’t,” said one young person. It’s daring, it’s risk-taking, and for these young people, it’s life-altering.

*A huge thank you to our partners NAYC-ACUK who donated this trip to Centrepoint.

If you'd like to donate to Centrepoint and help fund life-changing trips like this, you can do so here.