The Cardinal Hume Centre in Westminster gives homeless and vulnerable people a helping hand in reintegrating back into society. This has extended to include refugees, asylum seekers and migrants break out of the cycle of poverty and break back into reemployability.

The Cardinal Hume Centre in the heart of London reaches out to some of the most marginalised people in our society.  Young homeless people, families living in overcrowded accommodation, asylum seekers, recovering addicts, and the unemployed.  The Centre in Westminster was set up in 1986 by Cardinal Basil Hume to help the many homeless young people he saw living rough on the streets.  At its heart is the Benedictine ethos that all are welcome and no one will be judged.

Today the Centre still upholds this ethos and provides a holistic service, not just to young people, but to local people in need. On arrival at the Centre their needs are assessed and they either become clients of the Centre or are directed to other organisations that can provide the support they need.

On site the Centre provides job skills training and advice; IT training; adult literacy classes; English classes; parenting and life skills lessons; and immigration and debt counselling.  It also provides a comprehensive mentoring service – staffed largely by volunteers – who help some of its 1000 plus clients on their road to independence.

Despite this development the Centre still keeps its commitment to young people and has a 32 bedroom hostel for 16 to 21 year olds and an eight bed hostel for people in recovery from substance misuse. There is a one year limit on staying in the hostels, as the emphasis is very much on supporting young people to build an independent, fulfilling future for themselves.  While in the hostel – which is similar to university halls of residence – the young people attend college or work in preparation for living independent lives.

Kerry Norridge is just one young man who arrived at the Centre seeking support and hope for the future and left to build a completely new life. Brought up in Oxford, Kerry started taking drugs as a teenager.  By the age of 20 he was addicted to heroin. “I found I couldn’t hold down a job or sustain relationships,” said Kerry. “I became parasitic with girlfriends. They provided somewhere to live, food and a mother figure. I did driving jobs, worked on building sites, they never held my attention for long.”

In the end in his late 20s he left his partner and broke his family ties so he would no longer cause them hurt.  He then did various jobs, like selling the Big Issue, just to pay for drugs. “I was running away, never dealing with the issue. It got dark and lonely and I felt very isolated,” said Kerry, who admits to reaching an all time low when he thought he was about to die in “a sad lonely way.”

Finally, he was put in touch with Narcotics Anonymous and after going through a drug detox programme came to the Centre to complete his rehabilitation. “This was a fantastic move for me, they are positively focused at getting people into a meaningful life,” said Kerry, who while living in the hostel learned basic things like washing his clothes, housekeeping and budgeting. He is now living independently in a rented flat and in the final year of a drama course he started while living at the Centre. “At Easter my parents came down. I made food, we went sightseeing, it was beautiful,” said Kerry.

Overcrowding among young families is another major problem in the area and affects many of the women who are supported in the family services area of the Centre. Iraqi, Nian Baban, who lives in a one bedroom flat with her husband and three children attends the family centre most days with her three year old. The family have been living in the flat for 11 years and Nian says that her and the three children all sleep in a 10 x 6 foot room while her husband sleeps on the sofa. “We are nearly divorced, our relationship has suffered due to these conditions. I have depression,” said Nian, who is one of 2.3 million people living in overcrowded conditions in the UK, according to the National Housing Federation.  Three thousand households in Westminster are living in temporary accommodation.  The Centre provides Nian with a vital lifeline – advice on how to seek help and practical support for her family.

The Centre has a focus on getting clients into work so they can support themselves and their families and create a sustainable future.  But Yusuf Patel, its adult learning development officer, is concerned about the short term approach others take to supporting people back into work.

He believes there needs to be a more long term approach to providing people with skills so that they get jobs that then lead onto better things. “Private companies are employed to get people back into work, but they place people in a cleaning job, for example, this may last six months but the person is then unemployed again without any increase in skills to move on,” said Yusuf. “We need to ask more for the young people, stuck in a rut without qualifications. There needs to be a route into sustainable employment – this will involve adult learning. If done properly it will help take families out of poverty, reduce crime and means people will be in jobs not on benefits – society gains,” said Yusuf.

At the Centre clients learn IT skills, get access to the internet and help on how to apply for jobs, given training on how to write CVs and often work experience placements, which really helps to increase their skills.

This is all backed up by one-to-one mentoring an area which the Centre hopes to expand in the coming years.  At present there are 49 mentors but it is hoped this number will grow to 150 next year. “We are looking for everyone who comes here to be able to have a mentor,” said Flora Swartland, Volunteers Co-ordinator. “We look for people with work and life experience to be mentors. People able to motivate another person, with good listening skills and able to build a clients’ confidence.”

There is a growing demand for the services of the Cardinal Hume Centre. Next year it celebrates its 25th anniversary and looking forward to the next 25 years, it wants to reach out to more people in need, and to remain a Centre where people are never turned away.  Centre where all are welcome and no one is judged.

Paul Donovan and Martha Clark/


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