by Meyrem Hussein
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Every year, hundreds of teenagers turn up homeless on the streets of King’s Cross. And every year, dozens of young British drama graduates are left to fend for themselves in a tough economic climate.
So when Cllr Heather Johnson was elected Mayor of Camden last year, she was determined to do something do help the borough’s young people.
She chose as her mayoral charities the New Horizon Youth Centre, a day centre for 16-21-year-olds who have found themselves homeless, and the New Diorama Theatre, which supports emerging theatre companies and also provides theatre space for local schools and community groups.
Now to raise money she has enlisted the help of former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion – with whom she agrees on the need to tackle inequality.
Cllr Johnson has so far helped raise £7,770 for each of the two charities and she hopes that Sir Andrew’s poetry evening on Tuesday will generate more.
Cllr Johnson, who herself grew up in Camden, attending Beckford Primary and Parliament Hill secondary schools, said: “I particularly wanted to do something that helps children and young people. And I also wanted to highlight the creative side of Camden.”
As poet laureate from 1999 until 2009, Sir Andrew wrote about issues such as liberty, bullying and homelessness – and his poem What Is Given, about how 43-year-old barrister William Legge ended up on the streets, highlighted how anybody can end up homeless.
Sir Andrew said: “I live in Kentish Town so it feels right and proper to support local things. Both these causes are obviously pretty close to my heart. I spend my life thinking about things to do with the imagination. They are part of my existence. And helping homelessness is obviously a good cause.”
To the New Horizon Youth Centre and the New Diorama Theatre, Cllr Johnson’s support has been a godsend. Stella Hamada, project development co-ordinator at New Horizon, in Chalton Street, Somers Town, which needs to raise £1.5million a year, said: “There are a number of reasons why young people end up homeless. They can have left care, they can be leaving unhappy homes, they can have just left prison or they could be asylum seekers.
“We support 2,500 young people a year. Some are in hostels, some are sofa surfing – which can mean women are in relationships they don’t want to be in – and some are street homeless. The situation in London is dire at the moment. I can’t overestimate how much it’s helped, being the mayor’s charity.”
Sophie Wallis, theatre manager at the New Diorama, in Triton Street, Regent’s Park, which needs to raise around £80,000 a year, added: “No other companies offer the mentoring and support we do. A lot of people come out of drama school and university and start theatre companies but there is no pathway for them. They are left to fend for themselves. We are trying to offer a nurturing family environment.
“It is absolutely fantastic to have someone of the calibre of Andrew Motion supporting us.”
* An evening of poetry with Andrew Motion is taking place from 7.30pm at Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park, Highgate. For tickets call 020 7974 5130.