It’s that time of year when Christmas shrieks out of every corner.
There are huge tall Christmas trees towering high in department stores, in shopping centres and in train stations; glistening with shimmering baubles and twinkling lights. Festive songs play out from the speakers wishing everyone a time of Yuletide merriment and family fun.
Parents share tales of how excited their children are at the prospect of ‘Father Christmas coming down the chimney’ and of their young people receiving the latest hi-tech on-trend gift.
But for some people, Christmas is hard. Really, really hard.
Every five minutes in the UK, one child will run away from home. That’s quite a sombre statistic isn’t it? They run from poverty, neglect, violence and abuse. Sometimes, even without these things, a stress over school or an argument with mum or dad’s new partner is enough to make a child decide to run away. What could happen to a child while they’re out there alone on the streets is a frightening thought.
The dangers of the streets are often far worse than those many children and young people are running from. Without shelter, wandering the streets from one place to another, vulnerable, cold, hungry and lonely, children are easy targets for those looking to take advantage of young people.
When you are living in fear, without a source of support or protection, sometimes the only ‘friends’ available are drugs and alcohol and sexual exploitation is the only means of survival.
If it was your child out there tonight, missing with no where to sleep, you’d be frantic with worry, conscious of the risks. But young people are often oblivious to those risks until it is too late.
Imagine if you were that child or young person.
Imagine for a moment wondering where to go…London! It’s a long way from home, you’ve heard of it, you know it’s a big place. No one will find you there and it’s exciting. Everyone’s always talking about how amazing it is. It’ll be an adventure.
You board a train, with a small bag of clothes in tow, that’s if you had planned to leave. You have only a few quid in your pocket. You spend the journey dodging the ticket inspector until you arrive at King’s Cross. It’s dark outside although the lights of the station are bright. Suddenly, you realise you have absolutely no idea where you are, or which way to go. Or even where to go.
The place is buzzing; there are people everywhere. You feel like an ant amongst giants. And suddenly you’re scared.
Cold, and realising you’ve had no food yet today you buy a hot drink. That leaves enough money for a sandwich, everything else seems so expensive. You find a bench, sit down and contemplate what to do next. You really have no idea what your next move will be and the surge of fear and anxiety rises.
You can’t go home. You’d be in ‘real’ trouble and you really don’t want to go back to that. No, you’ve made your decision and you must stick with it.
Hours pass and you’re still sat in the same place not sure what you’re going to do. If only you’d planned this better. But then you really couldn’t have taken any more. That last argument was enough, you had to get out, you had to go. You had to save yourself from having to go through that again.
The hustle and bustle in the station starts to calm but your stomach is churning tied in knots, relieved you’re away from home but not really sure if you’ve done the right thing.
You lie down on the bench, curl up, rest your head on your bag to keep what few random belongings you threw in it safe and you wrap your jacket around you. You wish you’d grabbed a warmer coat, a hat, some gloves even. Anything; it’s getting cold. And dark. It’s gets dark so early now. You curl up even tighter and try and drift off to sleep.
You’re suddenly woken by someone tapping on your shoulder…
That first contact with a young vulnerable person is crucial. It needs a light touch presented in a friendly and informal manner.
And that’s where projects like New Horizon Youth Centre are a gift to a child on the street of London and to their families.
During a street walk this week, I saw first hand the dedication, passion, soul and empathy the staff at New Horizon have towards working with vulnerable young people.
New Horizon is a youth centre based in London close to King’s Cross, Euston and St Pancras stations, an area rife with crack cocaine abuse and street sex work. The staff from this centre know how to approach a young person and significantly, they know how to support them. If my child was to ever run away from home, I’d want people like those I met at New Horizon looking out for her.
New Horizon works in partnership with children’s charity Railway Children to provide outreach and ‘a world of protection and opportunity for children at risk and living on the streets’.
New Horizon and Railway Children ‘race to reach children at risk on the streets before an abuser can.’ Having seen their centre, what they do there and the services they provide, it’s critical work and undoubtedly life changing for so many young people.
The work of the Railway Children and its partners, including New Horizon, is supported by Aviva. Mumsnet is also offering valuable support by collaborating with Aviva and Railway Children to offer advice and guidance to parents and to crucially raise awareness about the issue of children running away from home.
For every comment you leave on this post and on Mumsnet on a sponsored discussion or Q&A, Aviva will donate £2 to Railway Children helping to allow services like New Horizon to continue with the amazing outreach and support work they do with young people.
With one child running away every five minutes, that young person could be yours. I can’t promise you it won’t. I can promise you it will take you far less than five minutes to leave a comment and to help raise vital funds for Railway Children and its partners.