"I wanted to give young people a chance."

Forming part of our Housing and Homelessness service and in addition to our accommodation centres is our network of Hosts, who are trained and supported by us to look after young people in the Hosts’ own homes. We call this service Heart and Home.

Hosts offer a bedroom, support, tolerance and understanding to young people, who are usually aged between 16 and 18, to provide them with stability and a safe place to live. Many young people benefit far more from a home-like environment and the support of a family or individual than from a more formal hostel environment. We work closely with Hosts, other agencies and local authorities to provide the young people with the support they need to become independent. This includes providing them with important life skills, such as cooking, shopping and budgeting money, as well as supporting their education, training and career. Frances* has been a Host with us since July 2020 and has kindly shared her experience to inspire others to do something amazing to give a young person the help they need.

“I’m a further education teacher and I work with a lot of vulnerable young people. Sadly, I’ve seen the effects an unstable or difficult home life can have on their self-esteem, confidence and ability to engage with work, education, friendships – everything really. I would have loved to have had children but it just didn’t happen for me and I knew I had a lot of love and care to give someone! So becoming a Host with The Benjamin Foundation seemed a natural choice. I wanted to give young people a chance.

I receive great ongoing support from my case worker, Sam. She’s lovely and friendly and reassuring and calls me every week. I think if it hadn’t been for the pandemic we would have been meeting up for a coffee and a chat every week, but hopefully we can do that soon! It’s great to be able to talk through any minor worries with someone to see if you’re being too strict or unfair and to help you develop your own personal boundaries. I had been living on my own for a few years before my young person, who is an Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child, joined me and I hadn’t had to consider such things, so it’s been very useful to have someone else to bounce ideas off and help me set my own parameters for the way I’d like things to work, while being mindful that I’m now sharing my life with another person.

Before I joined I received comprehensive training about safeguarding, boundaries, all sort of issues that might come up. I remember filling in a comprehensive questionnaire which asked me what skills I could demonstrate to the young person and being a bit alarmed that there were all sorts of practical things I couldn’t do (or won’t do, in the case of ironing!). I panicked a bit, while my friends laughed, but Sam was very reassuring and reminded me they’re not looking for domestic goddesses but people who have big hearts and are willing and able to open their lives up and show care and concern for another human being. Which was a doddle to me!

It’s been fantastic! I am so enthusiastic about the experience. Jihan* is a young Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child and there are challenges, mostly revolving around language barriers (but also a little about trust at the beginning). She is at college and I am teaching so we see each other some days and most evenings. It works because we’re not in each other’s’ faces but we enjoy each other’s company. As a Host you’re not expected to supply meals. I consider myself a fairly decent cook but haven’t persuaded her to try my risottos and stir-fries yet – I’m not sure if it’s because Jihan enjoys the comfort of her home cooking or whether she’s a typical teenager and doesn’t like vegetables! She has cooked for me on quite a few occasions. She makes an incredibly tasty but super fiery tomato sauce. It’s an education to watch her chop garlic and onions like a pro.

I think we both respect each other and have developed a great deal of affection for each other. Early on we had a couple of issues with coming home late but that was quickly sorted and there’s been give and take on both sides due to the pandemic, for example, I haven’t been able to be as creative and adventurous as I’d have liked in showing my guest around and finding interesting things to do – and also, cos life can be tough generally!

For me, the most rewarding part of being a Host is seeing another human being flourish and gain in confidence, self-esteem and happiness and knowing that you’ve played a tiny part in helping them to see their potential and be happy. Also winning (occasionally) in our furiously contested games of Dobble.

In my opinion, the qualities needed to make a great Host are kindness, fairness, being straightforward and honest. Above all a genuine interest in young people and a desire to help them succeed. I’ve learned I’m a lot more patient than I thought and a lot less worried about making a fool of myself. As Jihan hasn’t been able to study English for very long due to the pandemic I have had to improvise quite a bit, which mostly involves me doing terrible impressions or dancing while she laughs herself silly!

Becoming a Host with The Benjamin Foundation is a wonderful, life-changing experience. It’s great fun and has really opened my mind to the pressures facing young people. It’s a privilege to be able to be involved in helping someone who’s not had the easiest of starts in life and helping them to be the best expression of themselves possible. I totally LOVE doing it. You’ll get wonderful support from the fabulous, kind, caring team at The Benjamin Foundation. I was a bit apprehensive initially and worried about all sorts of things that have never materialised. Hosting a young person has enriched my life with love, fun, laughter, knowledge of different food, music, dances, games, culture etc and I would not swap this for the world!”

Can you help a young person to finally feel at home?

Our award-winning Heart and Home service is appealing for local people to open their heart and their home to give young people stability and a safe place to live to help them on their way to successful independent living. Could this be you? Contact us today on 01603 886930 or email [email protected]

*Names and image have been changed.

Thank you to Frances for sharing her story.

Quote Marks Left The Benjamin Foundation have helped me gain independence, confidence, self-esteem and I have discovered more about myself. They have given me great opportunities and I am ever so grateful to be a part of it. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I’d be today. Thank you for shaping my life and giving me hope for a future.

Young person supported by our Housing and Homelessness service

Quote Marks Right