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Housing scheme for young asylum seekers achieves national recognition

The team behind Hightown’s care and supported housing service for unaccompanied asylum seeking children has achieved national recognition for its outstanding work.

One of only eight ‘Support and Care Team’ category finalists in the 2020 Housing Heroes Awards – a celebration of the unsung heroes of the housing sector – the team was singled for the ‘added value’ it has provided since the service began in 2017, including the introduction of a programme of workshops designed to prepare young people both practically and emotionally for adult life in the UK.

The service, based in Hertfordshire, provides accommodation and support for 28 ‘unaccompanied’ 16-17 year olds – 21 boys and seven girls – who have become separated from their close family and are alone in the UK with no parent or guardian.  The young people supported by the scheme have fled civil war or humanitarian crime in their native countries or have been trafficked from overseas for modern slavery and exploitation.

Hightown’s team works closely with Hertfordshire County Council and the Refugee Council charity to support the young people as they assimilate to life in a new country and culture, teaching them basic life skills and helping them recover from the psychological impact of their traumatic pasts.

Over the past year, the team has co-ordinated a programme of workshops at the scheme covering all manner of subjects, from relationships to social media.

Support worker Kia Nolan says:

“It’s really rewarding working with young people, especially unaccompanied minors, as you get to teach them the things they wouldn’t learn otherwise if we weren’t here to help them.  When the young people first arrive at the scheme, we help set them up with local services such as the doctors, dentists and immunisations.  In-house, we support them with workshops on subjects such as sexual health, a subject I’m particularly about passionate about.  We’ve got a really strong team here and we work together really well.”

Hightown Operations Manager Philippa Gardner, who oversees the service, says that for her staff, going beyond the call of duty has ‘become the norm’.  She comments:

“It’s easy to forget the basic life skills that most children naturally acquire over time, like looking both ways when you cross the road, locking the door behind you when you go out, reading a bus timetable or using a cooker safely.  Our team helps our young residents learn those practical things that we take for granted.  Everything is a milestone for them and it’s wonderful to see how proud they are of themselves with every new landmark they reach, such as going to college for the first time.  The traumatic experiences they have endured can mean they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.  Our team works hard to gain their trust and encourages them to tell their story, which plays a vital role in helping them to recover.”

Philippa concludes:

“Their background and life experiences mean our young residents are much more vulnerable than other teenagers and the workshops have proved really effective in developing their understanding of the many threats and challenges they may encounter as they become young adults.  We’re so proud that they leave us as confident, independent individuals ready to face the world.”