News: Doreen Lawrence unveils teenage couples housing scheme

Doreen Lawrence, the prominent human rights campaigner and mother of Stephen Lawrence, the 18-year-old murdered in a racially motivated attack nearly 20 years ago, opened a new housing scheme today.

The Teenage Couples housing scheme, conceived by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) housing association Ekaya, where Mrs Lawrence is now patron, was officially launched in Tulse Hill, Lambeth, after a year-long trial period.

The project is designed to support and facilitate vulnerable couples at risk of homelessness and prepare them for independent living.

The Tulse Hill supported scheme consists of seven one-bedroom self-contained flats for young couples and their child. Staffed by a full-time manager and a part-time support worker, the service is accessible five days a week and includes a 24-hour on-call service.

“We’re very enthusiastic about this scheme,” said Jackie Adusei, Ekaya’s chief executive. “Although it’s been running a year, we held back the official launch to see how it would progress. It’s been very positive; the young people are doing very well and there have been no problems.

Ekaya's Teenage Couples housing scheme officially launched

“We’re trying to foster family unity and give teenage parents an opportunity to be with their child, together.”

Residents will work closely with a dedicated support worker who will assist with budgeting, cooking classes, raising issues around sexual awareness and help develop parents’ social skills.

They will also ensure the child’s well-being is maintained and that the young parents able to develop healthy and positive lifestyles.

Camila Dias, 18, is a current resident at Tulse Hill and lives with her partner and eight-month-old son Jason. “When I found out I was pregnant, my mum was out of the country at the time, so I didn’t have anywhere to stay,” Camila said. “I went through Lambeth council to try and get accommodation, but there was only a hostel I could stay in. It was small and I had to share everything, so when the baby came it was very inconvenient.”

Camila found Ekaya’s mother and baby unit and, after attending interviews, was accepted. However, her partner wasn’t allowed to stay and she was concerned at being alone when the baby arrived.

Ekaya told me that there was a new place in Tulse Hill: family units where couples can move in with a baby,” she said. “There was only one flat left. I had an interview and a week later I got a call saying I had been accepted. I was really relieved. I could have my own space.”

Doreen with Camila and Jason.

Ekaya organises a meeting once a week for fathers, enabling them to meet and socialise, while the young mothers – all of whom had similar due dates – have bonded during outings organised by London-based charity St. Michael’s Fellowship. Ekaya also prepares residents for independence with advice on how to find private accommodation and one-to-one meetings on their progress and plans for further education.

“I was doing my A-levels but had to drop out because I was pregnant,” Camila said. “It’s difficult but next year, hopefully, I’m going to university to do a foundation course to get me somewhere. I don’t want to just not do anything.

“I have to stay with Jason until he’s a bit older. By next September he’ll walking around, so I’m getting everything organised to apply for a space in a nursery. I’m hoping to study forensic psychology, something which, when I was pregnant, I thought I could never do – especially with the cost of studying.”

Adusei hopes the project will empower its residents and prepare them for adult life, but warns it faces an uncertain future. “The aim of the scheme is to support the families, help them progress towards independence and make sure they have a meaningful opportunity going forward,” she said.

“But if it wasn’t for Supporting People (SP) this scheme would not have started last year. We hope that, should the SP fund dry up, it may be possible to attract external funding because of the uniqueness and the need for such a scheme.”

The chair of umbrella body BMENational, Lara Oyedele, welcomed the patronage of Doreen Lawrence and praised Ekaya’s innovative scheme. “With her knowledge and experience, what Doreen brings to Ekaya is beyond measure,” she said. “This very distinctive and desperately needed project is typical of the great work BME housing association are regularly involved in.”

This article is reproduced courtesy of 24dash.com.

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