Last Thursday, Russell Brand brought the public’s attention to the Focus E15 occupation in Newham. A group of women and their babies were living illegally in flats earmarked for demolition after spending cuts meant their hostel was forced to close leaving the women to be rehoused outside of London, away from families and friends.
Coincidentally, that day I was heading to Birmingham to Trentham House, a mother and baby centre run by LandAid charity partner St Basils. The 17 women who are housed here are aged 16-25 the same age as the mothers in Newham - and were homeless or at risk of being homeless before moving to the centre.
St Basils have run Trentham House as a homeless young mother and baby centre for over thirty years and have well-established links with health care and other services in the local area. St Basils spent six long years applying for funding to refurbish the dated property. Last year, they were successfully awarded a grant of £150,000 from LandAid to make these essential improvements.
The staff at St Basils showed myself and five employees from LandAid Foundation Partner Network Rail around the finished premises.
Each flat, housing two mothers, now has its own fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom and throughout the building, ceilings have been lowered and new lighting installed to keep in the warmth and create a more intimate atmosphere in the rooms. In addition, a new computer room provides space for the young women to study for their college courses and attend OCR accredited life skills classes.The young mothers then receive a certificate presented at St Basils’ graduation ceremony at the end of the year.
The aim of the centre is to create a safe space for the mothers and babies and one they can feel proud of. One of the young mothers we met told us she felt ‘comfortable and happy having friends come to visit’. St Basils believe that providing good quality accommodation is the first step in building self-esteem and self-worth in their residents. I just hope the mothers and babies in Newham start receiving similar support.
As a recent graduate of University in Birmingham, I had no idea that youth unemployment in England’s second biggest city is twice the national average. Nor was I aware that the number of young people classed as homeless has risen almost 40% in the last two years.
The staff at St Basils told us that the majority of young women who live there found themselves homeless due to family breakdown. Nearby Solihull, an affluent area, recently revealed that it has the same level of youth homelessness as the whole of London. This too was attributed to family breakdown. The sad fact is that local young women have arrived at St Basils not because of their own drink or drug-related problems, but because of their parents.
I think that’s what’s special about Trentham House. Not only has the LandAid grant improved the living conditions of young mothers and provided them with a safe space on which to build their lives, it has also transformed a first home for the next generation and hopefully helped create the first step to breaking the cycle of disadvantage.