Centrepoint through the decades
2019 marks Centrepoint’s 50th anniversary. Meet some of our former residents who share their experiences.
Since starting out in a church basement in Central London in 1969, Centrepoint has grown into the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity.
Thanks to our supporters, in the last 50 years we've been there for thousands of young people when they had nowhere else to turn.
A lot has changed in those five decades. Initially just providing a safe place to sleep, we now offer support in physical, emotional and mental health, education, training and skills so young people can build a better future for themselves.
With our support, residents have been able to transform their lives by coming to Centrepoint. Here they explain how we helped them to change their story.
"Without organisations like Centrepoint, I really don't know what might have happened."
Martin and two of his friends came down to London from the Midlands in the summer of 1979.
With the steelworks in Corby beginning to close down, employment opportunities were scarce. After arriving in the capital with no job, nowhere to stay and very little money, Martin and his friends sought help from Centrepoint's night shelter in Soho.
“At the time we could only stay three nights before having to move on to somewhere else," he says. "The experience was very positive with mostly young committed people clearly trying to help."
"It was not a solution but certainly took the pressure off finding somewhere to spend the next night while we looked for work and something to eat. We were given friendly advice about other places we could try and where to find work.”
London in the 1970s could be a tough place if you were out on the streets.
“It was pretty rough and could be scary," Martin recalls. "There were skinheads, punk rockers and a lot of other angry looking local youths hanging about. I would say that it was probably a very similar situation to now except that we had much more limited information and no mobile phones.”
Today Martin is married with two grown-up children and lives back in Corby. He works in local government as a buildings control officer, and now sponsors a room at Centrepoint to help young people in the same situation he found himself in.
"The main reason that I sponsor a room at Centrepoint is to pay back for the help we received and to allow similar assistance to people in the same situation that we were," he says.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Centrepoint – it kept me safe.”
Lucia became homeless in 1982 after the relationship with her mum broke down. She was just 16 years old.
“My mum and dad split up when I was 14 and my dad moved to the States. My mum went off the rails at that point really,” she says.
“I went off the rails too. I just didn’t know how to deal with all the emotions I was experiencing. My mental health suffered really badly. There was no support back then for that kind of thing – most people didn’t even know what it was.”
The week after her 16th birthday, Lucia had a serious argument with her mum.
“After that argument I left for London. We lived in Essex so it wasn’t really that far but it felt far at the time.”
She joined a group who were squatting and part of the punk scene at the time.
“There were lots of people like me – runaways. We didn’t want to be responsible for anyone anymore, only ourselves. We wanted all the bad things that were going on in our lives to stop.”
With just a few clothes in her backpack, Lucia would beg for money and stay at Charing Cross station in cardboard boxes.
Lucia still remembers the dangers of living on the streets in the eighties and how vulnerable homeless young people were. Some had drug problems and took desperate measures to feed their habit.
“It was rough, really rough. I was scared but I suppose being in a group of people made me feel safer,” she says.
After hearing about Centrepoint from other people on the streets, Lucia sought help from the night shelter on Shaftesbury Avenue.
“The staff were lovely. You could get a hot shower, some food and a good night’s sleep. You could use the washing machine, get some toiletries and some clean underwear. I felt safe for a night.”
“More than anything it was people being kind to you and treating you like a human being.”
“There was a lady there who I used to spend a lot of time with,” she says. “She didn’t judge me; she would listen and make suggestions. At that time in your life, you need a stable adult – you’ve got no chance without that.”
Eventually, Lucia found a flat of her own. She worked hard to get a degree and then continued her education until she had enough qualifications to find a good job. She trained and worked as a teacher for 20 years and now works in investment banking.
"The staff were amazing. They knew if something was wrong and would ask you about it and help you."
Jennifer moved around a lot as a child and after being passed from an aunt to friends to strangers, she was put into care.
After a bad experience, she felt like she had no choice but to run away and found herself homeless on the streets of London.
“When I was sleeping rough I met other homeless people who looked after me and kept me safe because I was a child, they taught me how to survive. Although they helped in some ways, they also introduced me to drugs and alcohol," says Jennifer.
“There were times when I had no food, I couldn’t even afford to go into McDonald’s and buy something.”
“Someone had told me there was a place in St Martin's Square where you could go to get food and a shower. When I went there, the staff saw how young I was and referred me to Centrepoint.”
“I was scared when I first arrived because I’d heard stories of other homeless shelters which weren’t good. But one thing I vividly remember feeling was that I was safe, that I had my own space and I was comforted by that.”
One of Jennifer’s fondest memories of her time at Centrepoint was meeting our former patron Princess Diana.
“She came in one morning and looked around the hostel. I was just in my room and she actually came in and sat on my bed to talk to me. I remember her to be quite mothering. She really cared.”
And it was the staff at Centrepoint that inspired Jennifer to become an outreach worker.
“When I was younger I used to look at the people who worked in Centrepoint and at other outreach services and think ‘I wish I could do that’.," she says.
"I just didn’t think it’d be possible. So I told myself to just live each day as the best person you can be.
“When I became a mum I let go of my past and focussed on building a positive future for my family. And that’s what my life is about today, their happiness.”
"Essentially, Centrepoint saved me."
In 2001, at just 21 years old, Stuart had already been rough sleeping for a number of years. Eventually, Stuart visited an emergency night shelter who referred him to Centrepoint.
“Centrepoint did a good job on me; they cleaned me up," he says. "I used to find it really difficult to talk about stuff – I kept so many things bottled up. I was literally like a boiling kettle ready to go off. Eventually I started opening up and it felt good so I opened up a bit more and gradually I fixed up and started to repair myself."
“I tried to engage with everything I could there to keep my mind off things. I did a lot of public speaking. I had the opportunity to meet Prince William and was even in a documentary with him. I also got involved with lots of different events. These opportunities allowed me to develop my confidence and skill set.”
After leaving our services, Anthony Lawton, Centrepoint's CEO at the time, put Stuart in touch with a Centrepoint donor who owned a company in East London. He went to work for his company, but sadly a couple of years later the company went into administration.
"I remember panicking," Stuart recalls. "I thought I only really know the Centrepoint part of my life and so I got back in touch and asked for help. They told me there was some admin work at head office. Then Sadie, the team manager of the Learning team, was developing a programme so ex-service users could find a way in on a traineeship. It was really good, I really enjoyed it."
Stuart now lives in Manchester with his family and runs his own business.
“Now I’m using some of the skills I developed through Centrepoint and run my own business helping people who have fallen into debt through the Council Tax and Business Rates system.”
“Centrepoint was the closest thing to a family that I had. It gave me something that nobody else did – hope, purpose and a sense of being. I stand by that even now.
“Today, I have my own little family. I do the best I can to ensure my daughter doesn't ever have to experience what I had to. As I am to my daughter, Centrepoint was and still is to me; a family, a guardian, a nudge keeping me on the right path."
"It was a positive experience. At the time you don’t see it, but now I do."
Jonathan found himself homeless after making the decision to leave Sixth Form College. WITH NOWHERE ELSE TO GO, JONATHAN Was referReD to Centrepoint.
After moving in Jonathan started training to become a tennis coach, and Centrepoint were able to support him through our Bursary programme.
“I couldn’t afford to travel into my tennis coaching and there was a bursary to help people. I might not have been able to complete the course otherwise," he says. "Now I’m self-employed it’s actually taught me some skills on how to manage your expenses and keep receipts.”
In 2012, Jonathan decided he wanted to run the London Marathon and chose Centrepoint as his charity.
“I wanted to do it anyway and it was great for Centrepoint – one of their own people doing it. Centrepoint residents didn’t always have a great reputation in our area. There were a lot of troubled young people using the service. This was a positive story and it was important because it showed a different viewpoint.”
Jonathan believes homeless young people should know there’s help out there, but they need to make the most of it.
“ Centrepoint will help you at a time of need, but they also want you to help yourself. They don’t want you to become reliant and dependent. I think they enabled me to do that little bit more.”
Today, Jonathan is still working as a tennis coach and has a baby daughter.
“It was a positive experience. At the time you don’t see it, but now I do. Things are going really well for me now. If I didn’t have those things in place before, would I be in the same place now? Probably not.”
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© Centrepoint 2019. Centrepoint Soho, operating as Centrepoint, is a charity registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales under number 292411 whose registered office is at Central House, 25 Camperdown Street, London, E1 8DZ and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales under number 01929421.