By Goranka Gudelj, Support Assistant at Beacon House.
Living independently requires more skills than we realise. From how to clean to paying the right bills, it takes years to learn, and there’s lots of trial and error on the way.
It’s no different for customers staying at Beacon House: bright, passionate young people aged 16 to 25, who for many reasons have found themselves with nowhere to live.
Imagine you are 18 years old, and after growing up in a chaotic home you were forced to leave because relations broke down with your parents. You never learned how to cook or do grocery shopping, and suddenly you live on your own. Naturally, you will need some help.
We can help with that. We are a place to stay, but also to learn, and to develop the life skills necessary to be happy and successful. Sometimes it can be difficult getting young people to engage, but on the positive side lots of life skills are connected to each other, meaning that even working on one thing can have unexpected, positive consequences.
Take someone who doesn’t know how to cook. They will buy more takeaways and junk food, which is less healthy and requires no effort or organisation. It also costs more and makes budgeting difficult; if you have no money, it is hard to plan for the future. We work in Kensington and Chelsea, one of London’s wealthiest boroughs, and it is very easy for a young person to overspend and get into debt here. Some local shops don’t even require young people to pay. They just make a note and keep a tab, which encourages debt.
Now, what if we teach that person how to cook a few basic recipes? First, they will now know what ingredients they need which encourages trips to the supermarket. This saves money and it gets them up and outside. They will have to plan ahead, manage their time, and what they make will be healthier. Furthermore, cooking brings up conversations about food hygiene, and then hygiene and cleanliness more generally. In this way, developing certain skills naturally leads on to others.
Of course, you don’t need all of these things to happen at once. Success looks different for everybody, depending on their current circumstances. If a young person asks us to go through a recipe with them a second time, that is a success. If another decides to do a spring clean for the first time in months, that is too. Over time, small steps can build into much more.
It can be tough, encouraging people how to change their habits, but despite the challenges there are victories all the time. Last year one young lady got a job, and for six months paid 80% of her salary in rent in order to get points towards a council flat, which she has now secured. She planned ahead, made sacrifices, and it has paid off. Another has taken an acting course and is planning to go to university, and there is a third one who still calls me from his new home asking for cleaning tips – considering where he started, that is amazing!
Change can come in many forms, and however it looks, we should celebrate it. We badly want our young people to succeed, and will keep trying our very best to give them the tools to do so.