An unforgettable day

30 Sep

Monday morning. I found myself on a miserable two hour
journey across London, hit at every turn in my trip by an obstacle;
5 full buses drove straight past me, I took a bus going in the
wrong direction after missing the tube that would get me to my
destination on time.

I turned up at the house of one of my donors
feeling stressed out and frankly a bit fed up. We got in the car
and headed to Birmingham, where my donor was to lead a workshop
with some disadvantaged young people with the aim of raising their
aspirations and challenging perceptions about what women can
achieve – particularly those who have had a tougher than average
start in life.

These young people were part of a programme that I
talk about all the time to individuals when I’m trying to encourage
them to give their money, time and expertise to support our work.
They are ‘the most marginalised in the UK’, ‘facing three or more
serious barriers such as homeless, mental health or drug abuse
issues’.
I talk about how 75% of them go on to do something
positive after the programme; return to education, get a job or
embark on training. I talk about young people all day every day.
I’ve met many of them in the 18 months I’ve worked for our charity,
but those I met today I won’t forget in a very long time.

As Tracey, my donor, started talking about her life, she gained an
immediate respect from young people who otherwise (for sadly very
valid reasons) have a great deal of mistrust of many adults. Tracey
couldn’t read or write aged 14, having grown up in one room with a
mother who dealt drugs and used her to shoplift – just so they
could survive.

She taught herself how to read and write as a
teenager using books most five year olds would find
straightforward, and she went to her first job interview in a pair
of shoes she’s borrowed from her mum that were two sizes two small.
She started on a clinique counter as a sales assistant, and has
worked her way up to now become one of the the most successful
people in the UK beauty industry. All the while trying desperately
to help her brother rehabilitate from a lifelong drug addiction.

As she continued through her incredible story, she pulled out lessons
along the way for the young people who sat and listened
attentively. ‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t,
you’re right.’ Perseverance. Always striving to learn more.
Engaging with people and what they have to say in a meaningful way,
listening to people, building relationships, and working hard to
create opportunities for yourself to build the life you want and
deserve.

There were tears. One young girl broke down as she heard
Tracey talk about her brother. She asked ‘how did you cope with
it?’ as mascara ran down her face. She later told us her own
brother had been addicted to heroin and had taken his own life at
just 19. ‘He would have been 27 now’. She herself had gotten into a
habit of shoplifting and was working through a number of issues on
the programme, taking huge strides towards reclaiming her own life
and trying hard to stay away from negative influences.

One big lesson Tracey spoke about was respecting other people and treating
them as you would want to be treated; speaking to them how you
would want to be spoken to. One young man told us he had lost all
respect for other people and his manners when he went through the
care system. He was now trying to change for the sake of his one
year old daughter. Knowing what I do about the care system, I’m not
even remotely surprised that he felt angry, hurt and let down. A
system that’s supposed to nurture and look after those who have
been horribly let down by those who are supposed to love and care
for them is one which does precisely the opposite. And no one seems
to be in any hurry to change it.

One young woman in particular I won’t forget in a long time – let’s call her Jane. She was clearly
bright, articulate, and had ambitions to be a nurse and to start
her own business. We talked about taking small steps to reach your
long term goals; ‘that’s my problem, I always start big and then
feel like I fail when I have to do something smaller’, she said. We
took a break and I went to make a cup of tea, chatting to another
young woman in the kitchen who told me about the first meal she’d
cooked when her mum came to visit her in her hostel; ‘spag bol; I
was dead nervous but she munched it all and I felt really chuffed’.

When I went back into the room, Jane was wiping away tears as she
talked about how she’d come to the programme. No older than 19,
she’d been forced to leave home and move cities after her own
mother had tried to stab her. She later asked me what I did for The
Trust and I told her I raised money for programmes like this one.

She turned to me and said with a searing honesty I will never
forget ‘The Prince’s Trust has literally saved my life’.

She was completely alone; had moved here without a single friend,
unemployed, frightened, and not knowing where to turn. We had
reached out a hand, offered to listen to her and help her work
towards goals. I have no doubt that, despite an incredibly rocky
journey, she will succeed. And if, at points, she strays from the
path or reaches a block in the road, she knows that our door is
always open.

Today, for me, was truly humbling. I’ve worked for this amazing organisation for 18 months
and have met dozens of young people who have told me of the impact
it has had on their lives in any number of ways. But I rarely have
the chance to see such raw emotion; to witness the sharp end of
youth disadvantage; to be part of the journey. And to bring
together those who support our work with those who need our support
in such a meaningful and impactful way.

I thought about each of them a lot on my journey home. About how devastating it is that
young people – essentially children – grow up in a developed
society dealing with issues that would break most of us as adults.
About how fortunate I have been in my own life, and about what a
privilege it is to be able to reach out to those who can help them
and open their eyes to the impact they can have on individual
lives. I often talk about The Prince’s Trust – as many fundraisers
talk about many charities – as being ‘life-changing’. And that it
is.

But in future, I think I will change tact. I will talk about
the work we do – as it is in many cases – as life-saving. We’re not
a hospital; we’re not a medical research charity. We don’t work in
war zones or feed the starving and poor. But we do save lives. We
re-capture potential. We give hope to those who have lost the last
of theirs after a lifetime of being let down or abused. We breathe
new life into the next generation and we break a cycle of poverty
and helplessness.

I occasionally feel intimidated, or embarrassed -
un-British, if you will – at the prospect of asking people to give
us their own money – and large sums of it – to help us do our work.
Today made me remember that there is absolutely no shame in
inviting people to do something incredible. Something life-saving.

It was an unforgettable day. To the young people who listened,
shared and moved us, it was just another day on a turbulent path
towards the future they deserve.

On Sunday, I’m running the Royal
Parks Half Marathon in aid of The Prince’s Trust. As I run it, I
will think of each and every one of them with every step I take.
Particularly when my lousy knee starts to give me trouble.

If you’d like to sponsor me – and help more young people like those I met
today – you can do so at http://www.justgiving.com/blakeysgonebonkers

Or through the wonders of modern technology, you can text BLAK88
followed by your donation amount (e.g. £2) to 70070.

Believe me when I say that whatever you can give will
make a real and lasting difference.

One Response to “An unforgettable day”

  1. Gemma Martin September 30, 2013 at 21:03 #

    This is completely inspiring, not only their stories but the work you put in to help all of the young individuals. x

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