A PROJECT aimed at easing the “serious housing problem” among teenagers in Blackburn celebrated its first anniversary last month, despite limiting its activities because of the coronavirus.
The project, managed and staffed by Nightsafe, a charity based in Blackburn and Darwen, was set up in the parish rooms of St Silas’s, Blackburn, in September 2019. It provides accommodation and support for vulnerable young people aged 16 to 18.
The project received funding from the charity Children in Need as part of its DIY SOS Big Build TV show, which was broadcast when it opened officially last November.
The Priest-in-Charge of St Silas’s, the Revd Sheelagh Aston, said on Monday of last week that the parish rooms had been built in 1834 by cotton-mill owners as a day school, before becoming a Sunday school. Their latest conversion was an example of “Christian witness in a practical manner”, since there was “no real council housing” in the town.
“We were looking at converting the parish hall into a community space prior to the offer we got from BBC Children in Need, who had put out a call in January 2019 to charities in the north-west in need of support. The involvement of Children in Need meant that St Silas’s could form a partnership with Nightsafe, who have been working with young, single, and homeless individuals for 30 years,” she said.
“We wanted something specific for the 16-to-18 age group, and we’ve been able to house six people as part of a two-year tenancy agreement.
“Covid-19 has made mentoring and support harder, as we aren’t able to do things face to face, but it has still been possible. Facilities are there for the kids to do craft projects, and they have access to IT facilities, as well as garden materials to use in the converted patio area out at the back of the building.”
The chief executive officer of Nightsafe, Jan Larkin, said on Tuesday: “We have six young people, three of whom are care-leavers, and three of whom are with us for all sorts of reasons, such as family breakdown or bereavement. It’s been difficult, but we have tried to continue life as normal even with the pandemic. We still offer general ‘life-skill’ courses, as well as educational support, and sport and art activities, even while things are socially distanced.
“What’s really important is our relationship with St Silas: it means a lot to the staff and volunteers. The outside didn’t change with the restoration; so it doesn’t look like a housing project: it looks like a vibrant, bright and creative space.
“The young people are grateful and respectful, but we also want them to know they have a natural right to have a roof over their head.”