Darren ended up sofa surfing at 19 years old when he had no choice but to leave his family home. He remembers it being a strain on his friendships. “Sofa surfing is difficult because you don’t have a place to be private and you feel like a burden on people,” he says.
Eventually he approached his local authority for help and an opportunity came up to live in a Centrepoint hostel.
“I didn’t know anything about the organisation and I was a bit apprehensive about moving into a hostel, but as soon as I moved in I was received with open arms. The staff were friendly and instantly felt better about my situation,” he says. “It was a turbulent time for me and everything was changing around me, but gaining back stability really helped and I began to feel settled again and able to work through any issues I was going through.”
Darren started out at a hostel with high support and after six months, he moved to another hostel with lower support, which he says, “really helped me to develop my independence at the right pace.”
Support at Centrepoint
Darren developed a positive relationship with a part-time youth worker, Louisa Benjamin, who ran sessions at Centrepoint. Twice a week they would have one-to-one sessions and she was able to support him in a variety of ways. “She helped me get on a course at South Thames College and find funding to do some acting courses too. She was instrumental in me moving forwards in lots of ways. She was also just someone that I could offload to. She was a calming influence,” he remembers.
Whilst at Centrepoint, Darren was able to take part in a number of workshops and short courses. He completed courses on building self-esteem and developing freethinking as well as money-management and budgeting courses, which he found beneficial.
“When you’re young you can be a bit chaotic with money, especially when your earnings are up and down whilst living in supported housing. It was good to make me understand priorities. It helps you to be sustainable for the long term, but you also start to be able to plan financially. I will always remember one of the facilitators telling us something along the lines of, "If you bought a ten pack of cigarettes three times a week, in five to ten years that amounts to the cost of a Ferrari". That really put things in perspective.”
This enabled Darren to think about money in different terms and learn about making sensible decisions. “You don’t think about £10 at the time, but if you’re spending that over and over again, it amounts to a lot and I’d never really thought about it that way before. It really made me reflect and think about my spending habits,’ he recalls.
Developing good habits and independence
“Centrepoint were always there to support us, but also in the long term, they enabled us to become independent. They planted those seeds in us. They didn’t want us to become too dependent. One of the ways that they did that was by running these workshops and courses. It might not hit you at the time, but you realise later how valuable it was.”
One thing that Darren learnt whilst at Centrepoint was the value of completing things. “Particularly for young people, not seeing things through to the end can really affect your confidence. However, when you’re young and vulnerable, seeing things through can be really challenging,” he remarks. “But Centrepoint really encourage you to see things through. It helps one to believe in one's self.”
“A prime example for me – I didn’t really go to the gym regularly when I was at Centrepoint. However, whilst at Centrepoint I was provided with gym vouchers. I took advantage of that. Even after I left Centrepoint, I maintained that consistency with the gym. I realised that it was adding value to my life and improving my well-being. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to a decent gym whilst at Centrepoint, I don’t think I would have developed those good habits," he says.
After leaving Centrepoint, Darren was able to secure his own place. As well as working as a youth worker for seven years, he also freelanced for many organisations such as the National Youth Theatre, The People’s Palace Project, YMCA and Arsenal FC Community. He now has range of experience working with a variety of different organisations, but also diverse groups of young people in different settings.
“After working with the National Theatre in a play about knife crime which we performed in schools all over the capital, I was told by one of the facilitators that I worked really well with the young people and built a good rapport with them. An opportunity came up with an organisation doing youth work and the same person told me that I should go for it, because I was exactly the sort of person that could relate to young people and support them. I went for it and that’s how I started working with young people. Now I’ve taken the experience I’ve got and used that more in an advisory role for the Student Union at the University of West London, and I’m working as a student support coordinator. I also act in my spare time.”
Writing a book
There is no end to Darren’s skills and he has recently authored his first book called Power of 21: Pathways Towards a Brighter Future. "Through my experience as a youth worker, I decided it would be good for young people to be able to have something at hand which could help them progress in their career. So I wrote a book. I interviewed people from different industries that young people were interested in. I asked ‘trailblazers’ from these industries to give advice to young people wanting to break into their sector. I put together a focus group of young people and asked them about the sort of people they would want to speak to and what sort of questions they would want to ask. And then I took that information and made it happen. I spoke to people like Dina Asher-Smith, Akala, Paul A Young, Christine Hodgson, Zawe Ashton, Kelvin Okafor, Michael Sani and many more. They were really happy to support young people.”
Darren recently became a Centrepoint trustee in order to advocate and empower young people living in Centrepoint, contribute to wider change and support the charity in its mission to help end youth homelessness.
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