A former teacher who grew up in South Norfolk has spent her entire career so far working with young people who face difficulties or barriers.
After leaving teaching, her jobs have included working with young homeless people in London, helping prisoners to resettle after their sentence and supporting refugees to find homes.
Following the death of schoolboy Damilola Taylor in Peckham, her first management role was looking after a project in London which tackled youth reoffending. Now back in Norfolk, she’s determined to make a difference here too.
This is the story of Rebecca White.
Our aim is to give youngsters a hand up, not a hand out.
What is ‘Your Own Place?’
Your Own Place CIC is a social enterprise, set up in 2013. Our motto is that everyone should have a safe and secure home and this is a basic human right. We want to prevent homelessness, principally among young people, but we work with anyone. We are committed to finding new solutions to old problems.
Why did you start ‘Your Own Place?’
I’m passionate about young people and those who are vulnerable getting the best support they deserve. I have worked with young people on the margins for many years and my teaching background has enabled me to be talk to young people and find ways to help them.
What are the values of ‘Your Own Place’
We value every person as an individual. All people have aspirations. Our job is to restoratively remove the barriers, liberate them and allow their aspirations to be achieved. We will never judge them or treat people in any way other than as our equals.
You managed a project called ‘Kickstart’ back in London which tackled youth reoffending with a view to preventing involvement in knife crime and gang culture, what was that like?
Part of my job was to be visible to people and reassuring to my team. I would cycle around the neighbourhood and talk to people, I wasn’t in any uniform, they knew they could trust me and I was a reassuring presence.
From London to Norwich, that’s quite a change…
It’s unbelievably different, but many of the problems are still the same. Norwich is a tale of two cities and a lot of people don’t see it. Most people see flint churches and beautiful areas, but there are huge levels of poverty and difficulty here. In Norfolk, the average life expectancy is falling and unemployment is rising. The changes in the benefits system and the rise in the cost of housing affects everyone no matter where you live.
What are some of the difficulties for young people in Norfolk compared to London?
We are a large rural county, one of the big barriers people face is that not everyone can get to Norwich. We’re working with a young person who is in social housing in a village near Swaffham. He’s incredibly isolated and has learning difficulties. He doesn’t have the money for a bus and can’t get to the job centre. He has no support network, so where’s his life happening? We need to look at where people are being put in social housing, in the middle of nowhere, with no chance of getting what they need.
What is your aim with ‘Your Own Place?’
Working with young people is about equality. We need to ditch the labels, ditch the negatives and speak to people at the same level. I’m not interested in their past, we focus on their skills, what are their positives? For example, they’ve got on the bus to see me, that’s great, they have spoken to people and arranged to meet here, that’s amazing. It’s hard to undo 17 years of being told you’re rubbish, we believe the relationship comes first and we value each individual.
How do you help young people?
We have a training flat in Norwich and we teach young people about independent living. We also offer training courses, mentoring, employment support, tenancy support, all from a creative environment. A lot of people may not have done so well at school, so they don’t want to sit down with books and pens and write things down, they want to learn using their skills and this is what we do in the training flat.
How many people do you work with?
We work with about 200 people a year, we have 1 flat and 1 hub so we’re at capacity with this current level. I would love to replicate the training flats in more areas, and that’s definitely something we’d like to work on.
What kind of feedback have you had?
We’re really keen on measuring what we do, by the very nature of being in transition, a lot of people disappear. In some ways that’s a success. People have told us that we’ve helped them with their money skills, confidence, digital skills, jobs and they say what a difference we’ve made to their lives.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your career?
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in 20 years is the number of people struggling. People who were just on the edge and managing to survive are now falling off, because the support isn’t there. Things can spiral, if you lose one thing, like a job, you may not have money in the bank to pay next months rent. The gig economy and zero hours contracts are leaving people at the bottom of the pile, we’ve got huge challenges ahead. The people we’re working with don’t have support networks, they don’t have parents, or a safety net. If one thing goes wrong, the whole lot goes wrong.
What are the main current issues?
Housing costs are not going to get better. We believe in aspirations and we talk about all aspects of housing, social, sharing, renting or buying but the reality is, more and more young people will struggle to get on the housing ladder.
How has ‘Your Own Place’ had an impact in 6 years?
As a team, we have worked hard to improve the skills and prospects of the young people we work with. Our customers can access and sustain safe and secure homes, which reduces homelessness and improves their life outcomes. Our mission is to prevent homelessness and this will always be our ultimate impact.
Get involved! become a volunteer mentor: https://www.yourownplace.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/