On Saturday 20 September, 120 Oundle School pupils and staff
headed to Birmingham to experience a night under cardboard in a car park at St
Basils, one of the largest and most successful agencies in the United Kingdom
working with young homeless people.
For one night, pupils had a taste of the reality experienced by
the thousands of people in this country, who sleep rough night after night. It
is hoped that as well as raising awareness of the plight of homeless people,
the SleepOut will raise in excess of £8500 for this very worthy charity.
Various talks on the work of St Basils were given throughout the evening by
organisers and residents.
Liz Dillarstone, Head of Community Action at Oundle School
commented “We hope that our pupils will gain a deeper understanding of
homeless issues as a result of this exercise and that they will be inspired by
the work of St Basils, which relies heavily on fundraising to support its
programme. St Basils provides this bespoke event for our bi-annual Community Action
Gordon Montgomery commented, “Hearing from two of the beneficiaries of St
Basils’ services was a special part of the evening. They spoke of their life experience,
including how they had ended up becoming homeless, the life skills training
they had received through St Basils and the pride they now felt in having their
own home - and the responsibility of looking after it. The cardboard jungle
raised some interest from late evening passers-by, one of whom even stopped to
make a donation. The evening proved to be a life experience for all on the hard
ground of a concrete car park with the regular beat of a nearby rave party in
Pupil Jemima Gurney (15) commented, “I arrived at the car park not feeling
especially optimistic about the night ahead, however it was after we had
struggled to make our dwellings out of cardboard boxes and listened to two
people who had been helped by St Basils that the real challenge began. The
temperature began to drop and we started to realise how cold and uncomfortable
sleeping outside was. In spite of this, and my initial apprehensions about
sleeping in a cardboard box for a night, I found that it was a really rewarding
and strangely enjoyable experience. It made me appreciate how essential
the work of charities such as St Basils is to help young adults to find a home.”
Lucy Baker-Cresswell added, “Despite having
an extremely uncomfortable ‘bed’, I did manage to get a couple of hours sleep.
The two people who spoke to us who had benefited from St Basils were very
interesting and inspirational, and we were very grateful for them giving up
their time to tell us their stories.”
The story of St Basils began on 1 October
1972 when the doors of the hall at the disused Anglican Church in Heath Mill
Lane, Deritend, Birmingham, were opened and the first night shelter
specifically for young men opened for business.
It was the brainchild of Rev. Les
Milner, an Anglican priest who was to dedicate the next 28 years of his life to
working with young homeless men and women. It was a decision that was to affect
the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people in and around Birmingham.
That first night shelter became known
as ‘The Boot’ (probably because the young men had been ‘booted’ out of
their previous homes) and became the foundation on which the rest of the
organisation was built.
Oundle School’s connection with St Basils dates back to the
opening of the The Boot. The then Head of Community Service and English
teacher at Oundle School, Jeremy Firth, approached Les Milner offering the help
of a group of pupils from Oundle School with the renovation of St Basils, then
a derelict church in Deritend. This forged a link between St Basils and Oundle
School which was formalised in 1995 when pupils first attended the annual St
Basils SleepOut. Pupils and staff have participated in the SleepOuts ever
Fundraising Organiser at St Basils, Steve Rainbow commented, "Oundle
School has been involved with the St Basils SleepOut for many years and has
helped develop it into the event it is today. This latest branch of SleepOut
has been tailor made to suit the requirements of the School in fulfilling its
community work programme and it is something that could be rolled out to other
large schools who wish to raise awareness of homelessness to their pupils.
Oundle hopes to raise over £8000 from this venture and in doing so continue the
support it has given St Basils in their fight against youth homelessness."
After “The Boot”, St Basils soon realised the needs of young women
and Yardley House was opened to serve that group of society and it was followed
by more projects to bring young people off the streets and into safety.
Les realised that this, though good,
was not enough. The standards of accommodation had to be raised and the
ambitions of the residents met.
The next breakthrough came in 1984 when
“The Boot” was closed. By then it was realised that the dormitory
accommodation was no way to help a young person back into independence. The
replacement project “The New Boot” had separate bedrooms for everyone, a
door that they could close behind them and a place, though temporary, that they
could call their own. It was the start of the change that now sees every person
having a room of their own and some space in which to develop.
Today St Basils is the largest regional
organisation in the UK working with young people
who are homeless or in danger of homelessness. Every year St Basils supports
up to 5000 16-25 year olds, accommodates over 1,000 helping them with advice,
education and support.’ In 2000 Rev Les Milner retired and, unfortunately,
passed away two years later.
The new Chief Executive, Jean
Templeton, came with a housing background and a zeal for growing on the
foundations that Les had laid. The new St Basils continues to see young people
as its absolute priority and has grown into a ground-breaking innovative
organisation that works with partners across Local Government, Industry and
Commerce, Housing Associations and many others.
St Basils has been
recognised as’ the national Registered
Social Landlord 'RSL' Centre of Excellence in the prevention of youth
homelessness and one of the largest agencies in the United Kingdom working with
young people who may be at risk of homelessness or actually homeless. For
further information visit http://www.stbasils.org.uk