nightsafe homeless shelter blackburn

The number of young homeless people in the UK has risen significantly in recent years. Centrepoint’s Youth Homelessness Databank found that, in 91 local authorities alone, more than 23,000 people aged 16-24 approached their local councils for help over the past year. This is an increase of 10% on 2014-15, and these are just the ‘official’ figures. Researchers at Cambridge University have suggested that the true number of young homeless people could be as high as three times the official figures.

Several social pressures have made life more challenging for young people: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that they are the most likely demographic to be living in poverty. Whilst youth unemployment is at its lowest level since the recession, this is still three times the rate of the older adult working age population. Young people have also been adversely affected by changes to the welfare system, and youth services have faced significant cuts in recent years.

Volunteering Matters works with Nightsafe, a local youth homeless shelter based in Blackburn, to place volunteers at the shelter overnight, to ensure that the beneficiaries can access the care and support they need.

Communications Manager Kate Bermingham spoke to Volunteer Co-ordinator Jay Ratcliffe to find out more about this project:

Kate: Tell me about the background to Nightsafe – when was it set up, and why?

Jay:  Nightsafe is a youth homelessness charity that aims to support homeless and vulnerably housed young people within the borough of Blackburn and surrounding areas.

Nightsafe has a number of projects including an emergency nine night stay night shelter, an activity-based day centre, two supported housing projects and four flats with floating support. All of these projects support young people age 16-24 years who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. This includes people who are sofa surfing, at risk of eviction or living in poor housing conditions, and those with poor family support networks.

Nightsafe first opened its doors to homeless young people in December 1990. In fact, volunteers opened the door to the first residents!

Kate: What role do the volunteers play in the project?

Jay: Nightsafe has always welcomed the dedication and commitment of our volunteers to provide a quality service for young people at a time when they most need our help.

Our volunteers help in many different ways, volunteering directly with the young people offering practical help and guidance, fundraising, admin and social media support and serving on our board of trustees. Our volunteers have enabled Nightsafe to help more than 12,500 young people to get off the streets and make a fresh start.

Volunteering Matters full-time volunteers help in our emergency night shelter and one of our housing projects. The volunteers can also join a mentor programme that enables them to guide and support a vulnerable young person on a 1:1 basis and help them to achieve their personal goals.

Kate: What kind of skills or personal qualities do the volunteers need?

Jay: As we are a young person’s service, it is really important to be friendly, welcoming and approachable. A good sense of humour goes a long way! We have a very diverse team of volunteers at Nightsafe and we positively embrace this diversity as we recognise the wealth of knowledge and skills that come with it. Ultimately our volunteers act as positive role models, so we look for enthusiasm and a genuine interest in helping vulnerable young people, as well as a desire to develop new skills and accept new challenges!

Kate: Is the project entirely volunteer-led?

Jay: No, we have a small staff team who work across the projects with the volunteers. However, volunteers support the staff team and there are no hierarchies or unnecessary politics. Nightsafe recognises that volunteers require a satisfying role and personal development. We support our volunteers and provide them with the training they need to carry out their volunteering effectively.

Kate: What are the main challenges you face in making Nightsafe a success?

Jay: We expect the forthcoming years to present us with a number of challenges and opportunities in equal measure.  Future changes to housing benefit will present us with a number of challenges, and in these times of welfare reform and cuts to services, we will do all we can to support young people.

Kate: What kind of feedback have you had from the young people you support?

Jay:  Here are a few quotes from young people who have used our services:

“Being around other young people really helped me; knowing they are in the same situation and have been through what I have makes me feel like I’m not the only one. I don’t feel alone when I’m here.”

“The volunteers are nice and friendly and listen to what you have to say. I truly felt like I was listened to, and I was able to say what was on my mind without being judged. (Nightsafe is Awesome!)”

“The staff that work here and the volunteers are fantastic. They are positive and respectful of your individual needs and beliefs…It would be nice to see more volunteers like the fantastic ones you have at the moment!”

Kate: How have volunteers made a difference to Nightsafe and the young people this project supports?

Jay: As you can see from the quotes, our young people really value the time and support our volunteers provide. Having full time volunteers means more consistency for the young people. We have a team of six full time volunteers who stay for up to 12 months. Each volunteer brings their own set of skills and knowledge. Many of our young people tell us they would like to go on to volunteer themselves in the future, and aspire to be like our volunteers – helping others in their time of need.