The Benjamin Foundation: supporting young people through life – and Covid

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Among many projects still being successfully delivered during the pandemic, the Benjamin Foundation tackles youth homelessness by providing home and support to more than a hundred vulnerable young adults every night. Over 40,000 safe nights a year in fact. 

The aim is to provide a safe, stable environment, and the skills they need to forge an independent life and home. Much of this happens in dedicated accommodation centres and ‘host homes’ as well as dedicated accommodation centres.  In recognition of this vital work in protecting vulnerable people in the 16-25 age group, their ‘Heart and Home’ service scooped the prestigious Guardian Public Service Award in 2018. 

The impact of Covid-19 

Rachel Hogg, Communications Coordinator, says: “It’s no surprise that Covid has presented the biggest challenge to our service delivery – but it’s been really positive how people have responded through this dark time. Our housing and homelessness work keeps running; though self-isolation requirements have impacted upon our teams and the shift patterns, colleagues have stepped up to support. Some of our services have moved online of course and others have been able to adapt during Covid. Our Youth West youth group in Hunstanton, for example, was able to resume activities when guidelines permitted, in small groups and with social distancing measures in place. They enjoyed outdoor activities, including paddleboarding. 

The Meet Up centre, based at the Youth and Family Centre on Thetford’s Redcastle Furze estate, temporarily closed during the first lockdown and eventually resumed by carrying out some outreach work, including a scheme called ‘Bags of Love’, which provided packs of treats and craft activities for young members to enjoy creatively at home during lockdown.  Nor have senior citizens been left out – their bags contain puzzle books, biscuits and tea or coffee, to make up for not being able to visit the centre for their weekly lunch group. 

Like most charities, the effect of COVID-19 has been hard-hitting in other ways.  

Fundraising – all is not lost 

“The latest restrictions and lockdown announced for November 2020 have once again forced the temporary closure of our Norfolk Furniture Stores and Suffolk Re-use Shops, resulting in an immediate loss of money for our charity” says Rachel. “In addition, many fundraising events to support our charity continue to be cancelled or deferred. 

It’s not all negative however” explains Rachel. “Whilst our ‘Sleep Out’ event has had to be cancelled this year, we organised a virtual ‘Stay Up’ instead. We challenged supporters to stay awake for one night and get sponsorship for their one night without sleep. We provided a night of online activities, such as a quiz, marble racing, fitness and stargazing to keep people awake and motivated!” 

And the Big Winter Walk is still happening. The message is: Can you step out to help end youth homelessness this Winter? By taking part in the Big Winter Walk, people can help vulnerable young people take their next steps towards independence. There’s a Steps Challenge and a Miles Challenge – so something achievable for almost everyone, and it can done safely. Visit Big Winter Walk to find out how to get involved. 

Read more about The Benjamin Foundation’s work here.   

Living with the Corona-coaster 

As with many VCSE organisations, many staff at the Benjamin Foundation have had to work form home, and technology has made that possible. Staff are kept in touch with each other by means of the regular newsletter – ‘News at Ben’ – which Rachel is now working hard to compile and issue every two weeks. 

Rachel says: “It’s a kind of ‘Corona-coaster’ with the ups and downs of having to adapt to changing work scenarios week by week. But colleagues have been unreservedly fantastic in the way they’ve responded to and supported each other.” 

This is part of a series of short examples of the huge contribution made by local VCSE organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To understand more about the pivotal role played by Voluntary and Social Enterprise organisations in Norfolk’s Covid-19 response effort please read our Norfolk VCSE Covid-19 Story page.