This summer over 30 young people from the National Citizen Service raised money and awareness for Transform. Izzy Smith is one of the young people and she shares her experiences below:
Offering free cake to passers-by on the streets of Redhill whilst donning spray-painted t-shirts and rainbow-adorned stickers is perhaps not how I would customarily spend my Saturdays – but that is exactly how I found myself last weekend, as part of my NCS group’s campaign to raise awareness about homelessness and the work of homeless charities, such as Transform Housing & Support.
NCS, standing for National Citizen Service, is a programme for young people, taking place over three weeks during the summer holidays and a few days in September. The later parts of the programme involved us being introduced to a charity and a business, and running a campaign day for an issue we felt passionate about. After visiting Transform, a charity offering housing and support for homeless and vulnerable people, we decided to centre our campaign around the issue of homelessness.
Our visit to Transform taught us about the prevalence of the issue; many of us had not realised that homelessness was such a widespread problem even in privileged areas like Surrey. We also learnt about the wide variety of causes of homelessness, such as having experienced an unsafe family environment or struggled with drug-related issues. Transform also helped broaden many of our perceptions of the forms that homelessness can take, with, for example, many people who, even if not living on the street, face an unstable or even dangerous family life, and therefore do not have a solid and assured home.
One of the key points which we took from Transform, and which featured heavily in our campaign, was the importance of donating to charities, rather than simply giving individual hand-outs to homeless people on the street. This is, yes, partly due to the risk of that money being used to support a drug habit. However, there are also far more fundamental reasons why it is preferable to donate to charities. As Transform explained, charities such as themselves aim to make real, long-term changes, giving people the support they need to achieve stable and fulfilling lives, as opposed to simply helping them survive day-to-day. They offer security and opportunities to develop new skills, aiming to help people build their confidence, and potentially re-enter the workplace or education as appropriate. Our group was struck by the value of this, and we decided to centre our campaign around the issue of homelessness and the importance of striving for long-term solutions, naming our campaign ‘Homeless, Not Hopeless,’ to emphasise the importance of providing homeless and vulnerable people with opportunities and hope for the future.
Our campaign strategy was to dedicate half of a stall to our message, with information about homelessness and Transform, and the other half to free cake decoration. Children would decorate cakes, giving us the chance to talk to their parents about our campaign. We predicted that the offer of free cake would prove difficult to resist, and it seems that we were right, with almost 50 people signing up for our mailing list to receive updates about Transform, and many more taking leaflets or wearing our customised stickers. I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which some of the people we spoke to engaged with the issue, and we even spoke to one man who had been homeless himself, which powerfully reinforced to us the importance of work done by charities like Transform.
Although it was in some ways frustrating to run such a short campaign, as it is unlikely that we can have a truly significant impact, or really work to tackle the issue, it was certainly a positive day. We can only hope that the people whom we spoke to, and who signed up to the mailing list, may begin to discuss the issue with their friends and family.
I felt that it was very interesting and valuable to learn about Transform, and the issue of homelessness in general, and I think that we all enjoyed our campaign day – because of the cake, yes, but also because of the opportunity to engage people with such an important issue.