5 Minutes With Helena Blackburn - Working to keep Doncaster's young people safe

Helena Blackburn at work in Doncaster
Helena Blackburn at work in Doncaster

For 15 years Helena Blackburn has done her best to support Doncaster’s young people who, for one reason or another, find themselves without a place to call home.

As a ‘floating support worker’ for Doncaster Housing for Young People, her role, along with that of her colleagues is changeable: but to most of her clients she represents a lifeline.

Helena Blackburn

Helena Blackburn

“I work in a holistic way,” she explained. “We are a registered charity and receive a lot of referrals.

“These can come from Social Services, the Probation Service, and other agencies.

“We aim to give 16 to 25 years olds a secure base, and empower them to find their way forward, in education, work, or whatever direction they choose.

“We work together on identified goals.

“They might be homeless because relationships with family have broken down, for example.

“We do get instances of abusive situations and work closely with Social Services. They have a duty to provide accommodation up to 18 years but it was a grey area when I first started.

“We have a supported lodging scheme, and house providers who offer their spare rooms and become a supportive host to a young person. They will receive housing benefit for this, and once a young person has income, they will then pay £17.50 a week towards their food and £7.50 towards utilities.

“We are a stepping stone really, filling a gap for up to two years, by which time the young people generally have other plans, and they might go back to their family, on to university, in to their own accommodation....it varies greatly.”

Her job can be challenging, admits Helena, who is married with two children of her own. But she looks forward to getting up and starting her day every morning.

“I might feel tired but I always enjoy my working day. I wanted to work with people. I spent time in sales and my strengths are largely in communication.”

That wasn’t always the case, and was why Helena sought employment that she would find more fulfilling.

“I actually started off in hairdressing, then retail. It was when I was studying for counselling qualifications at Doncaster College in my late twenties that I realised I wanted to be in something more pro-active.

“I ended up working in Leeds, with adults who had learning disabilities. That included 24 hour hostel work.

“Then, as I wanted to start a family at some point and cut out the travelling,

“I looked for work in Doncaster, and spotted this opportunity for an outreach worker, funded then through Comic Relief.

“Currently we are supported financially by Doncaster Council but funding is always difficult in terms of posts. Funding streams will always be under review,” she added.

“Ours is a unique service....the only one of its kind in Yorkshire, and we celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary this year. It’s the dedicated work of staff that have made the service successful and well respected. It’s not easy work. Many are trained as counsellors and we do give counselling sessions as part of our provision.

“My role is to support young people to maintain their tenancies, in essence, but we involve our young people in all we do....such as organisation of our summer fair at the end of July.”

Last week Helena’s contribution to the welfare and safe keeping of young people in the Doncaster area was recognised within the borough with an award, presented to her by Mayor Ros Jones in a ceremony at the Mansion House.

“I felt humbled to be nominated for and to receive an award. When my name was called out I felt quite emotional and was welling up,” said Helena. “It was the first time I’d met the Mayor and she seemed a very warm and genuine person.

“There were quite a few schoolchildren there and anti-bullying groups, and that work is so important. They were inspiring to say the least.”

Helena is also a member of the Keeping Safe Forum, that allows people from the community to join and contribute.

“It’s a way of letting people get their voices heard and issues addressed, along with training and other activities, within multi-agency working,” Helena added.

When not working from the charity’s base in Chequer Road, Helena likes to get out walking, is an avid reader, and relaxes doing pilates, and socialising with family and friends.

“I’m 50 this year and I have to say I do enjoy my life at the moment.

“I’ve no plans to change anything right now which is not a bad situation to be in.”

The Doncaster Housing for Young People charity welcomes applications from people willing to be hosts to the young people they help and can be contacted on 01302 738198.