ARE YOU HOMELESS, SOFA SURFING OR AT RISK?

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"Young people are fantastic. There’s always something different to learn from them."

Carol Cordingley is the deputy service manager at one of Centrepoint’s therapeutic services near Bradford and has been with the organisation for four and a half years. Here, she works with Patrick Hollinger, a supported housing officer who has been at the service since its fruition over five years ago.

In this interview, they share their combined 32-year experience of working with young people.

Carol and Pat's Story

What made you want to work with young people?

Patrick: I started working with young people 12 years ago. I was a volunteer for a local youth service doing sport and play sessions with young people across Bradford and Keighley, then it just became something I enjoyed – spending time with young people from all different backgrounds, especially those from council estates where Carol and I came from.

I stayed at that youth service for about three years doing some wonderful stuff. I worked with disabled kids and kids in school and local projects. Then I decided to do a degree to become a manager in youth work. The problem with that was funding for youth services was slashed by 75% in Bradford - and I was finishing the last year of my degree wanting to become a manager in youth work provision. It really scuppered my opportunities.

When I completed my degree, Centrepoint had just started in Bradford. I began as a night support worker, doing activities with the young people and getting things up and running there. Then [Assistant Head of Housing] Tyler said that he’d like me to come over to this new project here as it would better suit my skills. I came here before it opened, doing some work in the background, then we formed a staff team some months later. We got going in March 2016.

Why do you enjoy working with this particular age group [16-18]?

Carol: I worked in children’s homes for quite a long time and I saw a gap in what these homes could offer them. There wasn’t much in the way of preparing them for independent living, and then they had to leave at 18 - I felt like [society] was putting a lot of young people in a position where they were likely going to fail because they hadn’t been able to have those experiences like they might have had in an environment like Centrepoint. I was interested in whether our model would work better than in children’s homes and from what I’ve seen, it does.

The reason I like working with young people is that they are so misunderstood in society. Young people are fantastic - there’s always something different to learn from them. It’s not about condemning, it’s about supporting them – that’s when you can make positive change and give them a more positive future.

There could be all sorts of reasons behind a young person's behaviour: trauma, neglect, trust issues. They might want to disclose something about their past, but they need to find the right person and the right time to do it. As adults, we need to teach them how to behave and how to recognise what they’re feeling, because they might not have had someone to do that before. They’ve got to feel like you care and that they can trust you and feel comfortable in your presence.

When we are doing key work sessions, I always tell the staff not to take a pen and paper because young people get worried about what you’re writing about them. Let them feel relaxed. Don’t even say it’s a key work session – it’s a chat. It’s about making them feel safe, secure and that someone gives a damn about what’s happening to them and wants to help them make a better future for themselves.

I always say to a young person when they first come here, "This is a fresh start. What happened in your past, happened in your past. Nobody will judge you here." Once the young people are given a chance to examine what some of their behaviour is about, the behaviour starts to change.

Can you describe what you do differently at your service?

Carol: The young people who come here generally have no skills at all. We’ve had young people that didn’t know how to use a tin opener; who don’t know how to cook from fresh or use a washing machine; who don't understand service charges. We’ve had to teach them all about bills. We do a tenancy ready course while they’re here, which consists of all the modules that relate to independent living: how to change a light bulb or a plug, read meters, and generally get into that routine and mindset.

Patrick: Some of the kids we support have severe mental health needs or learning difficulties so we adapt to make things more accessible for them, using pictures or transcribing for them rather than expecting them to be capable.

How would you describe a therapeutic service such as yours?

Patrick: The environment is so important. We’re totally out of the way here. The young people have to stay in a lot more; it’s not as easy to get on a bus so they tend to stay on site longer. That means you’ve got more time with them - you get to see them day in, day out and have a real chance to chat to them. In other settings you don’t get that.

Before lock down, they always came through the office to go out so we’d see them each day. That regular contact creates a better relationship. We also do more group activities – sports sessions and arts and crafts – to keep them occupied. That's when conversations happen and they tend to engage with us more. The kids that stay here have a better experience of supported living overall than in most other places – just because of where we are and how it works.

Also, we are always working with kids of a certain age [16-18] so our priority is to get that young person into some form of education and training, and teach them how to look after themselves. We are able to do that in more depth here.

The kids are all staying under one roof and share a kitchen and a living room, There’s a lot of shared space and there’s no way out of that. Often the kids become good friends. It’s very rare that you have smaller groups splintering off.

So more of a family?

Patrick: Yeah, the way we deliver things – the cooking, budgeting etc – is all around being a unit. Each week the food menu is based on each young person discussing what they like and don’t like, and that person will cook for the rest of the group on a given day. Once a week we take the minibus to the shops and they do their shopping there together.

They learn to collaborate well, then?

Patrick: Yeah, and they learn to share.

Carol: For me, it’s also about the fact that we ensure they have the wider support they need. Centrepoint can’t provide everything the young person needs, so it’s about building close relationships with other agencies and organisations such as CAMHS. CAMHS have been absolutely fantastic with our service. They run some of the sessions here if a young person doesn’t want to attend in their buildings. We’ve also got drug and alcohol workers that work with individuals and run group sessions. The young people see that there’s a team that actually care about their future.

What kinds of challenges are these young people dealing with?

Patrick: Most have just left their parents so there are massive detachment issues. Many think that they’ve reached 16 and can do whatever they want. Then they come to services and it’s a bit of an awakening – they realise there are curfews and licencing agreements and for some that’s a bit of a combative issue, because they wanted to get away from those boundaries at home, or there never were those boundaries at home. They don’t realise that they have to do a little bit more for themselves than they did at home. You’ve got to remember, we’re working with rebellious teenagers most of the time and a lot of these kids just want to do what they want and express themselves.

Have any of the young people come back to you after some time and said, "At first I was resistant, but now I realise that it was good for me to have these boundaries"?

Patrick: I think it’s fair to say that the majority of the people that come in here have an unrealistic idea of what it’s going to be like. A 16-year-old might come in here kicking and screaming and saying they’ve fallen out with mum and dad and they want their own place now. However, the longer they stay here, the more they work with us and realise that they’re not ready because they can’t cook or clean or pay bills. Six months down the line, they tend to be in a different mind-set and understand what they need to do to be independent and move on. You need to put those blocks in place so they understand where they need to improve.

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