A personal understanding
Stephen’s own personal experience of living in hostels means he is able to empathise with the young people he works with. “Helping young people is so important to me- I was one of those young people myself. When I was 17, I lived in a hostel till I was 20. I was a drinker and a drug-taker, but I’ve been sober for nearly two years. I like to help the young people and I can speak to them on their level because I’ve been in their position and they respect me for it.”
Stephen loves his job because no day is ever the same. “I mean one minute we could be in a social services meeting and another minute we could be cleaning a flat out after a resident has moved out,” he says.
In his job, Stephen comes across all manner of problems that young people are dealing with, but mental health is at the forefront.
“Many of them have mental health issues. Even though we aren’t mental health workers, we try our best to help them in any way we can - that might be referring them to our health team here in Barnsley. We will bring anyone through the door no matter the circumstances and give them all a chance like everybody deserves. Some young people thrive off social situations but some don’t. They're all different, but we treat them fairly," he says.
Finding a way to engage
For Stephen, it’s important to get to know the young people and what interests them. “I think the best way is to talk to them on their level. I find out what they’re interested in through conversations, be that cooking or sport, then I’ll use that to keep the conversation going and I’ll try find events and things out in the community that will benefit them or they will be interested in. If you find that thing, then they will want to engage because they’re interested. I think that’s the best way it works for me.”
“It’s heart-breaking at times when some of them for whatever reason are not ready to accept help. That's one of the hardest things for me because it’s like seeing my old self every day. But I think that’s part of what inspires me on too. It’s the hardest thing and the best thing.”
“I hope I am making a difference because that’s why I do this job, I’m passionate about what I do, I mean it’s being in their position. Before this job, I was in dead end jobs, I mean I worked 12 hour shifts 6 days a week in a bakery for minimum wage. It was awful. But this, I feel I’m valued here, I make a difference here. I like it.”
Stephen with Gareth (one of the young people he works with) at the King's Cup Regatta on the Isle of Wight