Every life, particularly young ones, has crossroads. The dreams we either did or didn’t fulfil, the travels we did or didn’t embark on, the risks we did or didn’t take, the people we either did or didn’t meet. At one Lifehouse in Accrington, young people who have nowhere else to go are learning the value, at this crucial point in life, of making a positive choice at their own crossroads.
In his autobiography, Former US President Bill Clinton wrote, “Most people will make it if they have one person who’s there for them. I was lucky. I had three.” In Clinton’s case, he was talking about his mother and his grandparents, but at Crossroads Lifehouse, many of the young people have nobody to turn to, for various reasons. But if a single parent can make a President of the United States, what difference might the individuals who work here make to the young people in these walls?
The answer lies in the success the young people have had in these halls. Last year, one of the residents here managed to gain five A*s at A level. With a mother with dependency issues and nowhere to live, they found themselves headed towards sixth form but with nowhere to live and nobody to care for them. Thanks to the support and help provided by the Crossroads staff, they have now moved out and are off to a flying start at University.
With eleven beds, it’s small enough that there’s a relative family feel to the place. The young people there are assigned their own project worker who helps them work through any issues and problems they have, as well as helping them find a tenancy and a way into their own accommodation.
Ishbel Cooke, who currently has responsibility for the Centre, is deeply inspired by the work here. Having previously worked with older people in homelessness units, she finds working with young people deeply rewarding.
“It’s fantastic when you see what they can achieve,” she says. “There’s a whole host of different successes out there – one of our residents is about to start training to be a joiner and earn his own income, which will finally mean he can move on. Several end up doing brilliantly at their A Levels, thanks to the stability this place provides,” She says.
“It’s a tragedy to see people so young in the situations that they are in” she continues. “But they’re so young, they’re much more flexible in their mindset – in adults sometimes disappointment turns into cynicism too easily. Young people can turn things around so easily – all they need is a bit of self-belief, which we try to give them.”
The other crucial ingredient to the Crossroads lifehouse is stability. To most of us, a bed for the night and a place to hang out is something to take for granted, but for a lot of the youngsters here, it’s a refuge from the street and a chance to put other parts of their life back on track. With people so young, it is often the fault of others, rather than themselves, which lands them in a Lifehouse, and for many residents it can be the first time in a long time these young people are able to take stock and think about themselves for a change.
None of this is to be naïve. “They’re not perfect,” says Ishbel. “A lot of them have been let down and you can feel the full force of their anger when they are in the wrong mood. But that’s true of all young people. It’s just our lot have been through things a little bit worse than the average teenager, so we have to be that little bit extra understanding. But they’re good kids really.”
The young people here have a living area, an individual room and bathroom, and also an IT lounge where they can go on the internet, chat to friends on facebook – a recreation far more valuable if you don’t have a family there for you – play games or crucially, do research for college or school work.
But the real value in Accrington Crossroads Lifehouse can be found in a simple story Ishbel tells of the football team there. “We had a team reach the semi-finals of a local football competition,” says Ishbel. “They were all there in borrowed shoes and kit and they got knocked out by Everton’s fully kitted out youth team.”
She continues, “But they played so well – they beat four or five teams to get there and were only knocked out by a team that trains professionals! But one of the lads came up to me afterwards, once they’d collected their semi-final medal, and said “I’ve never won anything before.” It wasn’t much, but it showed him what he could achieve – and that’s meant a lot, both to him and to us.”
It’s amazing what simple things like a little medal or offering some help can make to a young person. And the simple facts of age tell us that, like them or not, whether you demonise them as hoodies or laud them as the future, young people today will be the leaders of the future. If we write off our youngsters, we write off the chance for a better tomorrow.
Crossroads Lifehouse in Accrington offers a choice – a choice for people at one of the most decisive times of their life to continue in bad circumstance, or grasp what little hope is on offer and work towards a better future. If three people make a President, then Britain had better be ready for the future generations that go forward from these crossroads.