“Does it matter if your family loves you?”

I’d asked a stupid question, and Ben knew it was a stupid question.

Sitting in the kitchen at Lydney Gateway, with Ben, Zack, Josh, Josh, Terri, Sarah, Pam and Nina, I’d asked a stupid question.

We were there because the recent Harvest Festival had produced some remarkable veg, that veg had been donated to the young people who live at the Gateway. They’d cooked, they’d enjoyed and now they were meeting the people who gave them the traditional Harvest gift of butternut.

Rev Sarah Fenby 2Sarah Fenby, Priest in Charge of Lydney Parish, sat and ate some very good mince pies “We’re building a community where everyone matters” she said, “I guess that’s what shapes everything we try to do in the community.”

It’s that sense of community that leads me into my stupid question…

“There’s lots of different sections of the community in a town like Lydney…” Sarah continued, “we have a regular summer fair where we like to share part of the profit with local organisations and we gave a gift [to Lydney Gateway] and that started our relationship.”

Lydney Gateway is one of the Rooftop facilities where young people, who have become homeless, can get help and support and move on to the rest of their lives.

So here it is, the stupid question… I turn to Ben and Zack who are both perched on the kitchen work surface in the way only young men can perch, that lazy confidence of owning a space, and I ask “Does it matter that you get support from these groups?”

I know.

Stupid question.

“Does it matter if your family loves you?” Ben just about manages to keep the slight edge of scorn out of his voice. “Of course it’s important!”

“It’s nice to know someone cares” Zack adds.

All of us in the room know the main problem though; people are happy to support young children, people are happy to support families of any age, but when it comes to young adults there’s a thought that they’ve brought it on themselves, that they are somehow less deserving.

They are forgotten.

Ben And ZackBen has a view “I think it’s something that’s become more apparent in the current generation, it’s not something that was common… but it’s getting more and more common, these units for this age range… My dad’s age and that, there was none of this, absolutely none of this.”

Ben slips himself off the kitchen counter and stands leaning as we all listen to him. He’s young, articulate, intelligent, and if you met him under any other circumstance you wouldn’t know he was living in Lydney Gateway.

But then again, you wouldn’t know that any of them were.

I’m in my 40’s and everyone under the age of 25 looks the same to me. Young… just, young.

“It’s definitely a new issue” Ben continues, “It’s like homelessness, the longer it goes on the more methods there are to treat it.”

We chat about homelessness for a while, the way life can suddenly overtake you, the way that even though you think that you’re stable the worst could happen.

PamPam, who’s a member of the congregation at Saint Mary’s in Lydney makes a good point “When I was younger you were in the family unit, that was the way that you were brought up; you looked after your own… but things have evolved since… people have moved away, you used to stay in the same community usually, but people move away and it’s the breaking up of that”.

Pam’s right, as is Zack when he says, “there’s lots of reasons…” there are, and sometimes it’s hard to work out what those reasons are. We start talking about social media, about echo chambers, about only talking to the people that you have to talk to… And how we need to get out of that rut and start hearing other stories.

“We’re lucky that we have a big building” Sarah points out, “it’s the largest community space in Lydney so we can gather people, so the Harvest is one of those times when people gather, and the Christmas Tree Festival… people can gather and people do meet the rest of the community.” There’s a break when Terri one of the Rooftop Engagement Workers makes plans with the young men and the vicar for the Christmas Tree Festival.

“You break down those barriers and suddenly there is something you can call community”.

Sarah Fenby, Priest in Charge of Lydney Parish is right. It’s what Lydney Gateway try to do, it has to be part of the wider community and in the Church there’s an opportunity to build that community.

One young man suddenly says “Are you here to convert me? ‘cus that’s what they said.”

We laugh as he realises he’s been conned, like young men do, spinning tales… he laughs too.

Terri And BenThere is an element of conversion though. Rooftop and the Lydney Gateway want to convert everyone. Convert the young people they help… from the homeless and the scared, and the troubled, to people who can live their own lives and contribute to a better world. They also want to convert their communities to look at the young people as people not thugs or thieves or trouble makers.

This young man had done what people do, he had assumed what he’d heard was true, he’d assumed that a vicar converts people against their will… he’d seen Sarah and Nina, in their ecclesiastical uniform and had made an assumption. Like we do when we see a young person in a hood, or lads laughing in a group… we assume the worst.

I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with for their Christmas Tree.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it will stand with all the other trees.

Unremarkable.

Just another tree.

Part of the community.

John For Facebook

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John is Head of Communications and Marketing at Rooftop Housing Group.