"When I joined Centrepoint, Diana was the patron. As a volunteer meeting her, I remember feeling really nervous, but that soon dissipated. When I saw her face to face, she really relaxed me. She had a real niceness and for those minutes, I felt really quite calm. It felt really amazing really; an honour."
"While Diana was alive, it was sort of an unwritten rule that nobody talked about her. When she died though, everyone started talking about her, their experiences in the hostels when she visited young people. I guess this charity touched her. She brought her children when they were young to Berwick St. She cared about the vulnerable. She did private visits to hostels where there were no public, there was no press and she’d be dressed down. It showed she really cared. Nobody knew about it. It was only something we learnt about after she died.”
How the organisation has changed
“It’s definitely more professional. You’ve got to think about the climate in which it operates in. Essentially it’s more statutory and it’s definitely more accountable. I remember within a couple of months of working within the services and realising that the young people we were working with aren’t meant to go to the Salvation Army or St Mungos in their later adult years. They’re meant to be here and then by the time they go off into the mainstream, they’re ready. It’s not about filling up the homeless hostels for adults. It’s preparing the young people for tomorrow; getting young people back into the mainstream. The work around Education Employment and Training (EET) has really changed. We’re now meeting more support needs than just homelessness.”
“I think the pressures on the organisation now are that we have to compete with other RSLs and local authorities – I think that’s the big change in hostels. When I joined in 1993, it felt like there was more independence. When I started working in our hostels, we still had direct access, but the time I left, it wasn’t at all. I wonder if there is any organisation in London that has direct access provision anymore."
Making an impact
"It is lovely when someone comes back to say hello, it makes it very worth it. There was one person I really remember. He was incredibly intelligent. He was doing his A-levels and very much into his academic work. His mother had severe mental health issues and had put him and his brother at risk so they ended up in the care system. He was really supported by Westminster and ourselves. He went off to university and he came back and I thought I was talking to a different person. He was so confident. He just had this lightness to him. It really was a joy to watch. That’s what makes it worth it. You don’t see it often, but when you do it really makes it all worth it."
The picture of youth homelessness today
"I think you see a lot more complex needs today. That’s the big change and it’s not really been acknowledged by services. When they come to us we can start to see it. Sometimes it’s really difficult if they just don’t want to engage. I could guess that 25 years ago it was just about getting on your feet, steered in the right direction in terms of becoming independent. I think what we’re seeing now is when someone has serious mental health needs, you can’t expect them to have an idea of what they want to do with their lives if they have no awareness of where they are at the moment."
"When I was younger, I always thought of depression as something older people had. Coming to Centrepoint and seeing young people diagnosed with clinical depression, that initially was a real shock."
"It doesn’t surprise me anymore when a young person’s first official diagnosis is when they are with us. For example, young people have gone through education not being statemented until they come to Centrepoint. They’ve not had the support through school; they’ve just been labelled as naughty."
"I think at our hostels, the young person feels safe enough to disclose what’s happened to them in the past and we may the first time they’ve done that. They’ve been hiding it until then."
Working for Centrepoint
"I think this organisation attracts really lovely people and that’s the best thing about working here. I know people who’ve left and said they really miss the people at CP. Committed people who just want to do their best. It’s the people that make the organisation and they are by far our best resource. Really wonderful people."
"I came in when CP was celebrating its 25th anniversary and it’s now 50. While parents don’t have the support or don’t know how to bring up young people, I think there’s always going to be a need for places like Centrepoint."