The Nightsafe story began in Blackburn 30 years ago in 1987 when the plight of young people who were sleeping on the streets, sofa surfing was identified by a group of committed youth workers and local politicians.
In the early spring of 1987, a meeting of the District Youth Committee was held at Fuse Box, Jubilee St. As Edna Arnold, John Mason and Julian Dunn parked and walked down George St, three young people were in the skip beneath the loading bay of the carpet shop on Darwen St. It was clear they were sleeping there.
The group raised the issue at the meeting and, realising that unless this basic need for secure housing was met, the young people would struggle to reach their potential. A working group was formed, led by John Mason in his professional capacity as a local youth work manager. Julian Dunn from Action Factory Arts Association was a key member and Edna Arnold, a local councillor, provided the political clout to get things moving.
The working party moved into action and in September 1988 Kathy Murray (Ashworth) came on a long student placement from St Martin’s College to provide additional impetus. She continued to work for the project as a Development Worker during the next 2 years, employed by Lancashire County Council. Her tutor, John Patten, was also recruited to the working group.
Paula Kaniuk worked for the Youth and Community Service and joined the working group in 1989. Funding for developing the project was sourced direct from the Youth and Community Service.
However, there was an urgency to the applications for Company and Charitable status to enable funding applications. Once all the pieces of the jigsaw were falling into place Nightsafe was incorporated as a company in July 1990 with Paula Kanuick appointed as full time Manger of the project. Nightsafe became a Charity in February 1991. Edna Arnold, who already played the key role with the Borough and County Council was appointed the Chair.
Kathy’s first major success was a large grant of £36,000 from Comic Relief which funded the purchase, refurbishment and furnishing of the house on Bridge Street, which became our first Night Shelter.
The trustees and staff have changed over the 30 years, but their dedication and commitment have never altered.
The shelter opened its first night shelter in December 1990 in a small terrace house on Bridge Street, Blackburn.
This was refurbished by Richard Ashworth and provided emergency accommodation for four young people and two staff per night, initially for four nights at a time. This time frame grew over the years to nine nights to provide time to assist the young people to move on to more permanent accommodation and support.
This facility started our long-standing relationship with Community Service Volunteers from all over the world who staffed the shelter 365 days a year and provided support to the young people they were absolutely key to the early success of Nightsafe and have remained so to this day.
Many strong partnership links were formed in the early days of Nightsafe – many of which are still active today.
Over the years, our young people have benefited from the work we have done with local authorities, housing providers, careers and guidance services, a range of statutory and voluntary youth services, received input from health services including counselling and sexual health services, and worked with local artists from across a full range of creative disciplines.
The Fusebox, in the former town electricity works where Blackburn Youth Zone is, was established in 1996 providing a space where young people could wash, shower, access food, learn life skills, have fun doing arts craft and music and progress into settled accommodation.
The shelter provided short term overnight accommodation where young people supported by Nightsafe staff and volunteers from overseas would have the space to assess their situation and plan their future.
From the early beginnings, Nightsafe has met the needs of young people in Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley.
Alongside the day centre and night shelter we moved into supporting moves into independent living working with the then Twin Valleys Housing Association (now called Together housing) providing supported accommodation in Woodvale Flats in Darwen.
Here we worked with Action Factory Community Arts to build a peace garden, Connexions service provided support advice and guidance and we helped residents such as Amy move into permanent settled accommodation.
In October 2011 we moved from the Fusebox to the Boulevard Buildings – our current office and Night Shelter provision – within the local Community CVS property.
Staff and trustees took the opportunity to move forward and this move gave us updated provision, better shelter facilities and enabled us to sell the original shelter and use the funds to improve and expand our services.
The shelter was named Platform 5 by the young people because it is next to the train station.
Nightsafe’s emergency night shelter offers young homeless people aged 16 to 24 years old nine nights of emergency accommodation, and is open 365 days of the year.
The Shelter can accommodate 5 young people each night and provides bed, breakfast, evening meal plus washing facilities and support from 2 staff who help create a warm welcoming atmosphere. All young people receive resettlement advice to help find more permanent accommodation.
Nightsafe’s activity-based day centre, Platform 5, is open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm. The Centre is open each weekday to all young people who are homeless or living in unsettled accommodation and need support to regain a stake in the community.
The Day Centre offers basic facilities laundry, shower, storage, lunch and delivers a range of life skills and health workshops. These include cook & eat, drug and alcohol awareness, healthy life styles etc.
We still retain elements of the original offices and the creative work that characterised the Fusebox and above all we carried with us the drive and ethos of Nightsafe to keep an open door, offer the support needed practically and emotionally to assist our young people.
Following the retirement of Paula Kanuik in 2012, Jan Larkin was appointed CEO working closely with Linda Sharrat. Linda joined Nightsafe and her extensive knowledge and expertise in youth housing helped the organisation develop robust and secure accommodation and laid the foundations for the high-quality service we have to day. She and Paula were an amazing duo. Linda retired in xxxx and Jan has led the organisation ever since, developing the organisation and expanding both the reach and range of services we provide.
Starting in 2014 with BIG Lottery funding our mentor service has been developed in partnership with the Volunteer Centre. This initiative links young people who are rough sleeping, vulnerably housed or sofa surfing with a volunteer mentor who will work with them to access settled accommodation.
Nightsafe’s has received funding from Children in Need since 2014 to deliver LEAP (Life skills, Education and Achievements Project).
LEAP provides additional support for young people aged 16-24 accessing Nightsafe services and experiencing crisis. The project aims to increase life-skills and education work within this age range throughout Nightsafe’s 5 projects (Night Shelter, Platform 5, Safe@Silas, Witton, Cornfield Cliffe and The Gatehouse)
Young people who are referred into our emergency Night Shelter are supported on a 1:1 basis during this highly distressing time. All young people receive a LEAP Assessment and an action plan is drawn up. Close links with education providers have been established and this enables the best support for young people to maintain their education whilst homeless.
Safeguarding is the highest priority and LEAP works closely with Children’s Services to make sure the right support is offered to a young person during this highly traumatic time.
LEAP also offers support around making housing referrals and opening a claim for Universal Credit. Young people are supported with ‘starter packs’ when they move on, typically these consist of essential items to help them sustain their education such as pan sets, cutlery, crockery and basic cleaning products.
The LEAP Project encourages young people to maintain their friendship networks and where appropriate relationships with family members.
A wide range of workshops is delivered to enable young people to develop their confidence, self-esteem and independent living skills. Young people are encouraged to access existing sessions at Nightsafe’s drop-in centre and workshops are delivered in our housing projects.
Young continue to shape the delivery of workshops through participation and feedback. Examples of workshops include cook and eat sessions, budgeting, CV writing, football, gym, and Duke of Edinburgh. Accredited training (Lifewise) is delivered in small groups or 1:1.
All young people referred into the LEAP Project receive a learning plan to help them achieve their goals.
Sadly, in recent years we have lost two of the organisations driving forces Paula Kanuick and in 2019 Edna Arnold.
Paula was a remarkable woman who was involved with Nightsafe from its very beginning. For over 20 years, Paula worked tirelessly to support our young people and championed their right to a secure safe home in order to fulfil their potential. Paula retired in 2012 and sadly passed away in July 2015.
Paula was a wonderful caring woman, passionate about Nightsafe and the young people it serves. She touched the lives of so many people young and old.
John Mason, one of the Nightsafe founders, described her as ‘a gifted manager who was tranquil, calm and had an aptitude for work with young people with chaotic lifestyles, bringing order to their lives. She had an infectious chuckling laugh and quiet charisma that enabled the whole Nightsafe project to flourish and endure.’
Her passion for the arts and the role it can play in supporting and enriching young people’s lives continue to this day as Nightsafe continues under The Paula Kanuik Arts Fund, specifically to enable access to a range of arts-based activities.
Edna Arnold was one of the original founders of Nightsafe, was a driving force in establishing the organisation.
She was a first chairperson and subsequently became our Life President in 2002 Always hands on and fully involved, Edna championed the cause of young people across the political divide.
Edna attended every Boxing Day celebration and remained active in the organisation until her sudden death in 2019.
John Mason, one of the Nightsafe founders, described Edna as a ‘champion and stalwart supporter of young people and the Youth and Community Service.
She regularly supported radical approaches to young people’s issues against the wishes of the local Conservative and Labour Parties. In the longer term she invariably won the arguments against the odds. Feisty and determined she enabled a strong team to flourish.’
Edna is very much missed, but leaves a powerful legacy.
In 2019 we were selected for the DIY SOS Big Build for Children in Need which saw thousands of strangers come together to create our Safe@Silas project.
On 3 September, people flocked to St Silas Church in Blackburn where they were meted by Nick Knowles and the gang from the BBC programme. This group of Nightsafe Heroes were briefed about the charity and got to meet spokespeople from the charity and find out why this centre was so desperately needed.
The original nine-day build schedule had to be extended due to the amount of work required to make the shelter suitable, but the team finished it after a gruelling 14 days.
This new centre transformed an old, disused church hall into a stunning six bedroom shelter for young people each with an ensuite, staff quarters with disabled access, communal kitchen and dining room, larder, utility room, offices and outdoor space.
This project, funded by Children In Need as part of their ‘Big Build’ for Children In Need, enabled us to support a further six young people and build further partnership links with our funders and the local community.
The programme aired on November 13 – and all the volunteers who were involved in the programme were invited to attend a special screening at neighbouring St Silas Church to watch the show together, along with young people the charity supports, Nightsafe staff, supporters and stakeholders and representatives from the show.
The building may be more modern and up-to-date, but what takes place within the walls is the same as that on the first day of our operation – an open door, a listening ear, warmth physical and emotional, a desire to meet the needs of the young people and the provision of a home.
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