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To mark its first successful year, Crisis Skylight Birmingham arranged a celebration of the hard work and dedication of its staff, and members were awarded certificates in recognition of their achievements.
Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy, OBE, told The Pavement: “Crisis was founded in 1967 in London by a group of volunteers scandalised by the existence of homelessness in one of the richest societies in the world, but it has gradually developed into an organisation which transforms the lives of people who are homeless. Our services are designed to engage people, giving them motivation, self-esteem and confidence, and then move them through learning and activity into formal education and employment. In Birmingham, we have gained 400 active members; 300 are engaged in activities; and we have helped 17 members gain access to employment in the last few months. Fifty people have gained recognised qualifications and a further 31 have gone on to further education. We are ambitious. We aim to get better at what we do all the time."
Crisis Skylight specialises in arts, education, training and employment skills, and popular courses include cookery, creative writing and photography, sculpture, painting and T-shirt design. William West, who took part in the catwalk show showcasing members’ T-shirt designs, said: “Crisis is not like school. Staff give one-to-one support, and their approach is kind and caring - they go out of their way to support you. The education programmes are steady and you are not rushed.”
Crisis Skylight’s partner organisation Trident Reach offers its premises as a base and meeting place for members. Earl Lawrence, a member of Crisis and a caterer by trade, became homeless after the death of his wife and son. “Trident helped me get a flat and recommended Crisis to me. I have undertaken several courses with Crisis and I am now computer literate. Crisis is like a lighthouse. The tutors help you believe in yourself.”
Crisis looks at where people are in their lives and what they want to achieve, assisted by funds such as the Changing Lives grant, which helps buy books to complement training for members.
Ricky, originally from Poland, has been in England for 10 years. He was made redundant from his full-time job, his relationship broke down and he became homeless. After he got a room at St Anne’s Hostel, his main aim was to get a job. Working and learning coach Sharon Johnson helped him with his CV and applying for a job with West Midlands Travel as a bus driver. Ricky says: “I couldn’t afford the training manuals for my course, and Crisis bought them for me. I completed my training with West Midlands Travel, who offered me a job as a bus driver. If there is anything Crisis can do for you, they will.”
Sharon Johnson said: “Our services, places and facilities are free. There needs to be more of us so we can offer more support to more people in Birmingham. We only have resources to work in Erdington, Sparkbrook and Central Birmingham.”
Crisis also works in partnership with the Anawim Centre, a charity providing services for women with poor mental health. Arts volunteer Vicki Shevlin said: “We help an all-female group who are mostly single parents, and offer courses in drama, photography and painting. We help members to build their self-esteem and confidence through art. They begin to engage with us and each other, which can help them talk through problems and deal with stressful situations better. Some people underestimate how important the arts and art courses are, especially for vulnerable people who need to experience these positive opportunities.”
Joyce Ogbonoko, smart skills tutor at Skylight, is passionate about cooking and runs classes for members. She said: “We initially offer one-to-one support to members and aim to build trust with each individual. We hold weekly cookery classes at the YMCA’s and Trident’s kitchens, which are great places for members to attend, learn and share in the passion for food and cooking. So far, we have experimented with English, Nigerian, Thai, Chinese, Indian and Jamaican cuisine. Members enjoy this time and their confidence grows, which allows them to go on to other courses.”
Matthew Green, head of Skylight Crisis Birmingham, added: “We will continue to consult with our partners and members exactly on what services Crisis needs to deliver in order to meet the development needs of single homeless people in Birmingham.”