New Horizon is a day centre open to any young people from anywhere in the world up to the age of 25. With money from Comic Relief they deliver a project called Be Safe. This means that any number of young women can come to a safe space and be offered many different types of support.
I spoke to one bright and articulate young woman in her late teens. She seemed to me to be incredibly sorted, confident and happy. She left home at 16, her mum was an alcoholic and she herself suffers with mental health problems that have frequently landed her in hospital. She sofa-surfed and eventually became homeless. She’d just never been shown any of the skills she might possibly need to live a safe, independent life as an adult. Until now. Now, like all the women I spoke to, she’s being supported to live independently. From help sorting out her bills right through to group leader Amanda coming around like a surrogate mum to make her clean her room.
“No one chooses to be outside the doors of New Horizon. But the things they do make a world of difference.”[/vc_blockquote]
I asked her what New Horizon means to her: “There’s so much support here. It’s been unbelievable. I don’t know what I would do without this place. It’s made a difference in lots of ways. The practical support means I’m functioning on a basic level. Sometimes I struggle to live by myself. There’s always someone I can come to if I’m in a crisis. They know and understand my history.
“Although I can explain my past to a professional, that doesn’t mean they understand what it’s like to be in that position, to be around addiction and what impact that can have on every aspect of your life. The people here make a world of difference when you’re trying to face those issues. No one chooses to be in the position that we all face. No one chooses to be outside the doors of New Horizon. But the things they do make a world of difference – like the text they send if they haven’t seen you for a few days. All the little things make such a difference in the long run.”
Then she cried.
If I’m honest, I find it impossible to really imagine what she’s been through. Let alone where she’d be if New Horizon wasn’t there. All the women had similarly bleak stories, yet all spoke with such surety and optimism. What stood out, above and beyond even the practical help they’d been given, was the emotional support.
The young women and girls at New Horizon come from a plethora of miserable backgrounds: homeless, vulnerable, from abusive homes, involved in sex work or other types of exploitation – you name it. Yet it doesn’t matter how they got there, it’s just amazing that they did. Ultimately what they have in common is that from the start, at home, almost all of them – how did they put it? – “Didn’t have what they needed.” That doesn’t mean what they wanted, it means the very basics they needed. There are women who had drug-dependent parents, unacknowledged mental health issues, financially, mentally, physically and/or sexually abusive parents or partners or both. For whatever reason they ended up isolated, ostracised and often with nowhere left to go.
“The centre is funded entirely by charities and donors such as Comic Relief, which in turn is funded by you.”[/vc_blockquote]
These women find out about New Horizon mostly through word-of-mouth or, in some cases, an outreach worker came and found them on the street and persuaded them to come in. It seems from that point, for all of them, there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel.
The centre offers practical, hands-on advice and guidance with housing and benefits. There’s counselling, one-to-one and group sessions, often with specialists in, for example, drug use or abuse. There’s a hot meal on offer once a day. There are showers, space to store belongings. There’s a gym and a music studio. There are sports groups and life-skill sessions. The centre helps run a weekly crepe stall as part of a local food market. And all of this is absolutely free. The centre is funded entirely by charities and donors such as Comic Relief, which in turn is funded by you.
I joined in the weekly women’s group, an open group therapy session just for women; this week they were talking about healthy relationships. Amanda was running the group and I was absolutely in awe of her. She works for Foundation 66, whose work is also funded by Comic Relief. She’s a specialist in drug and alcohol dependency, that being her own background. She’s got as many stories to share as some of these women and so much wisdom, too. She clearly knew her stuff and there was so much warmth and understanding in that space. The fact that she delivers a satellite service means she can continue supporting these women outside of the centre and onto adulthood, eventually, hopefully, into independence.
Wonderful Hazz, who works permanently at the centre, explains that women who came there, desperate in their youth, often come back to check in years later, all sorted, with their kids or to say when they’d got a new job.
I couldn’t have come away more impressed by how the centre was run and more kicked in the chest by how vital its work is. Without Comic Relief and other benefactors it wouldn’t exist: that would be unthinkable, for this safe space takes young vulnerable women who have absolutely nothing and absolutely no one, and it changes that.