In 2010, Greenham Common Trust acquired a property in Thatcham to enable the charity, Young People and Children 1st (previously known as Children 1st West Berkshire), to create the first home in the country specifically to cater for young people leaving care.
This transition into independent living is exceptionally hard for care leavers with many falling quickly into negative lifestyles, homelessness, crime, teenage pregnancy or unemployment. The official outcome statistics for care leavers are truly shocking and saddening.
Stuart Tagg, chief executive of Greenham Common Trust 1997 - 2014, said: “It was brought to the Trust’s attention that there was an issue for young people coming out of the care system for the first time. The Young People and Children 1st West Berkshire project is one which aims to provide a safe transition for children coming to the end of their care arrangements. This means they can successfully integrate into mainstream society, become self sufficient and make a positive contribution to society as a whole. We are very pleased to be able to assist Young People and Children 1st West Berkshire. There is a clear need for this so we are happy to support them.”
Cornerstone, the home in Thatcham, was named by Young People and Children 1st West Berkshire Trustees after John & Patsy Stone, who had been the driving force behind the charity, and with the hope that the home would be the first of many. Both the charity and Cornerstone are now well-established in the community, and the plan is to have a further two houses soon.
And the best advocates of the Cornerstone project? That would be the residents who have brighter futures. The Cornerstone residents say what being part of the project has meant to them:
‘I don't know what I would have done without this place and all of you. This charity has changed my life. Turned it around’.
‘I’ve learned to cook, I’ve learned to read, I’ve sorted my life out, I’ve got a job, I’ve learned to be independent (sort of) and I enjoy it’.
‘Without this organisation I would most likely be in a homeless institution, with no real chance of feasibly being able to go to university and be statistically more likely to be living in relative poverty, have a criminal record, develop mental health issues and a wide range of negative repercussions, if this organisation did not exist.’
Cornerstone accommodates four young people in a comfortable, homely family-style home. A Live-in adult mentor provides day-to-day support, ensuring a safe, respectful, harmonious & pleasant living environment. Support workers help with emotional support, job searches, benefits etc. A Volunteer Co-ordinator manages a large team of dedicated volunteers. The ultimate aim of the charity is for these young people to leave Cornerstone as mature, confident, happy individuals armed with the lifeskills to live independently and contribute positively to the wider society. There have been some remarkable successes, with several going on to University. The charity quickly gets the young people actively occupied daily, volunteering, in paid work or back into education. It identifies and actively support the needs of the individual with a tailored 1-2-1 lifeskills training programme and support for emotional and behavioural issues. Lifeskills training covers money management, budget shopping & cooking, self-awareness and presentation, interview skills, CV writing, literacy and any other individual lifeskills needs such as swimming lessons. Social activities with young Trustee volunteers help their social communication skills & show them the fun side of life. An allotment gives opportunities for hard physical, outdoor activity and delicious, fresh, ‘free’ and healthy produce for budget cooking lessons.
The charity runs on a shoestring and volunteers bring a vast array of skills, experience and limitless enthusiasm for the project and provide the young people living at Cornerstone with the lifeskills programme. The volunteer team was nominated for the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service 2015, and though unsuccessful, the case was so strong that the charity have been put forward again for the award in 2016.
With the support of Greenham Common Trust, Young People & Children 1st really does change the lives of local care leavers.
If you are interested in volunteering, donating or supporting the project in other ways, please visit www.children1stwestberkshire.co.uk, call 01635-500849 or email email@example.com.