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Jane: A flat-share volunteer

It’s an odd sort of volunteering, signing up to spend midweek nights in a Rock Trust shared flat. Friends and family think I have gone daft. At an age and stage in life when my own 3 children are now young adults in their late 20s and early 30s, why on earth would I choose to share living space with 3 teenagers I don’t even know?

I have been a “relief supportive flatmate” sporadically, on and off, for about seven years now. The Rock Trust has a small number of shared flats where 3 young people and a volunteer “supportive flatmate” live together much along the same model of flat-share which so many of us do for a while (The Rock Share project), between leaving home and getting a place of our own. The supportive flat-mate is there to help facilitate this kind of life-style, but not to run things. The idea is that the young people themselves get practiced at running the flat, keeping the place safe and reasonably tidy and well organised. I can’t offer to volunteer full time, but as a part-timer I sometimes fill in gaps for the Rock Trust, usually between one supportive flatmate leaving and another one starting.

So here I am again, living midweek in a flat near the Meadows, after a gap of a few years, filling in while a full time volunteer is recruited, and I am pleased to be back.

Yet again I am struck how “normal” these young people are, but how “abnormal” are the problems they face. It’s their similarity to my children and my children’s friends, back when they were in their late teens, not their differences, that draw me to this work and to them. Occasionally I come up against one I would happily never see again, but by and large they are good people that I have really enjoyed getting to know.

Life can be incredibly tough for people in their teens who do not live in the family home, and have to make their own way in the world. The contrast with my own kids at that age is really stark. I shudder to think how mine would have coped with surviving the same challenges. Life in homeless hostels, bed-and-breakfasts or “sofa-surfing” is not conducive to good performance at school, college or job training, or even to maintaining a normal social life. I can see how homelessness compounds other problems such as low educational achievement and difficulties in finding work. I have heard first-hand about the constant feelings of fear and insecurity that go with life on the homeless scene.

But we don’t talk much about such things in our flat near the Meadows – or only if someone else brings the subject up, because I wouldn’t. We talk about movies, and hair extensions, or Benedict Cumberbatch being back as Sherlock. Or why there always has to be an argument about whose turn it is to take the rubbish out. It’s all pretty normal stuff – just how it should be.

But without The Rock Trust there providing this normality…..?