Let’s be totally honest. Fundraising can be a bit of a funny thing. You do something to raise money for charity, and you get a bit of a glow as you see the donations stack up on a webpage, but then what happens next? Your personal challenge is over and you might get an email from the donations site you’ve used telling you how much you raised. And that might be followed up by an email from the charity itself saying thank you, and giving you some examples of how money is spent in general. I guess it can leave you at times feeling a bit flat.
But the truth is that behind all that money you have raised there are real people who are seeing real benefits from your fundraising. People whose lives are genuinely being changed for the better thanks to your actions and the generosity of those who sponsored you. One of the most amazing things about being part of Team Honk is being able to go and visit some of those projects and actually being able to see firsthand how the money I have helped to raise is changing lives.
Last week I travelled down to London to meet up with four other Team Honk members at the New Horizons Youth Centre. Just a stone’s throw from the busy London train stations of Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston, the centre provides a safe place for young people aged 16 to 21 to come and receive support, assistance, guidance, practical help and so much more. They open their doors seven days a week to young people who may be living on the streets, escaping difficult home situations or coming out of a young offenders institute or prison.
I’ve lived in and around London for years, but I’ve honestly never felt as welcome anywhere as I did when I walked through the doors of New Horizon. From the smiley guy on the front desk, through to all the staff I met and the young people making use of the centre, absolutely everyone had a smile on their face and just a welcoming air to them. When you think about why many of the young people are there that really makes you realise what a special place New Horizons must be. Seeing a group gathered amazed around a young man who was performing a magic trick, that seemed to involve a playing card suddenly appearing inside an orange (how???), I saw an amazing level of camaradarie that only comes when people are comfortable and feel safe in their surroundings.
The reason we were there was because Comic Relief fund a full time Women’s Worker at the centre, and we had been invited to go along and meet her, observe their weekly Women’s Group in action and talk to some of the young women who attend the group. We also got to have a tour of the centre and see for ourselves the facilities they provide. With laundry facilities, washing, baggage storage and free hot meals available you can see why the centre is so valuable to young people living on the streets or sofa surfing with friends. This is in addition to services like a nurse, counselling rooms, informal workshops and housing advice, as well as a number of projects that the centre runs, of which the Women’s Group is one.
Whilst there we saw nine young women sat around the table with New Horizons’ Women’s Worker, Hazz. Two of the women, Polly and Lucy, led the session which saw the women talking very openly about subjects from confidence and insecurities, through to body image and alcohol. As they talked many of the women in the group sat painting their nails. An activity that may seem a tad strange at first, but actually relaxed them all and gave them something to do with their hands whilst they talked, which then subconsciously encouraged them to talk more. What struck me more than anything though was the trust and understanding between everyone in that group. Not all of them knew each other, but they all connected in a way that you don’t always see people do.
After the session we got to speak to Polly and Lucy and they told us about how they had come to the centre. For Polly it was a break down in family relationships, a brush with the police and falling in with the wrong crowd which meant that she found her way to New Horizons. At first she admits she was wary, but working with Hazz and other staff there meant that she now credits them with keeping her away from drink and drugs. She even went as far as saying that she has more to thank the workers there for than she does her own mum. Lucy found the centre after a spell living on the streets and an alcohol problem. Yet together, the centre and Hazz and her Women’s Group had given both of these women the skills and confidence to run a session to help other vulnerable young women. They have found a safe space where they can be confident young women, proud of themselves and their achievements, and not feeling like they were being judged in anyway by their peers there, or the staff at the centre.
Another group member was Farah. A stunningly beautiful young woman with incredibly poise, who is currently on a scheme to help her get into working in the beauty industry. But a young woman who grew up in a strict Muslim family, with a father who responded with anger and violence to his daughter’s binge drinking. This family background combined with a sexual assault, where the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence, left Farah deeply traumatised, with zero confidence and a tendency to keep going back to alcohol as her way of coping with what was going on in her life. With the work of Hazz and New Horizons she has been able to access all the practical help and support she needs to deal with what life has thrown at her. From one to one therapy sessions and counselling, through to taking part in the Women’s Group, the young woman who sat in front of us shared her story so eloquently, and it was so clear the difference that New Horizons had made to her life.
Team Honk meet Comic Relief funded Women’s Worker Hazz
Hazz herself is so proud of what women who have come to the Women’s Group have gone on to achieve, and she should also be proud of the role she has taken in their journeys. Without her unflinching support and the passionate belief that she has in every single women that walks through the centre’s doors, the outcome for these women would have been very different. They all spoke about they way in which they could talk to Hazz about absolutely anything and knew that there would be no judgement from her. This is so valuable to these women, as is the safe space that the Women’s Group gives them all.
What became very clear to me during my visit was how vital services like the New Horizons Women’s Project are. This is just one Youth Centre, in one city, here in the UK. Yet the stories that these women told could be happening anywhere. Comic Relief funding has been utterly life changing for the women we spoke to. Without it they would all be in far worse places now, and so it’s people like you that have sponsored me that are to thank for the difference you have made to these women’s lives.
It’s not too late to sponsor me and the rest of Team Honk for The Honk Line walk that we did in London last week. Just head over here to do so.