To embark on a project such as Stay was a challenge of its own, one that seemed impossible. It was the people of Telford and Wrekin who stepped forward and responded to the challenge that was before us.
Stay became known following the 1990 Challenge Anneka project that served to create Wesley House – the first Stay Project. But the name “Stay” came into being before that. It was launched as S.T.A.Y – Short Term Accommodation for Young people as a partnership between Telford Christian Council and the Wellington and District YMCA. As things developed the work became STAY – Service That Accommodates Young people. Then finally in 1997, “Stay” became the operating name for the developing work of Telford Christian Council Supported Housing.
Stay is more than a name and as you celebrate your 25th anniversary can l congratulate you on achieving this milestone. This is a testament to dedication and commitment of all who have played a part in the history to date.
I would like to acknowledge the brave decisions, steps of faith, risk taking, hard work and dedication that preceded Challenge Anneka. Whilst l was part of those initial steps l want to acknowledge others playing crucial roles – Rev Dorothy (Ward) Morson – Projects Officer for Telford Christian Council, Betty Wells – Treasurer, David Marshallsay (County Youth Service) and Captain Paul McNally (The Salvation Army).
It all began in the mid seventies when Telford Christian Council raised concerns about the numbers of young men and women becoming homeless. Those leaving Care, Detention Centres and Borstal and young people simply being rejected by parents and young people rejecting home and family.
By the eighties a two bedded flat was opened, then replaced by a row of houses in Malinslee for “Boys”, and a provision for “Girls” at London House in Madeley.
However despite these services there remained an ongoing need for emergency direct access accommodation. A lodging system was trialled but It became difficult to find suitable lodgings and there was a realisation that many needed greater support as much as a roof over their heads.
The Stay Project at Wesley House
What was needed was a building that could be used as a ‘walk in’ resource centre offering information and emergency accommodation. I met several times with David Sears, the Director of Wrekin Housing and the Director of Housing for the Telford Development Corporation (TDC) to try to identify a property.
I remember the day the Director of TDC telephoned to say that he had identified a possible property. It was a chapel on Station Hill, Oakengates. I could hardly believe it when l went looking for the it to discover it was technically a three storey building. Wow! My heart sank for a moment. We only wanted an empty house, a shop, or small industrial unit. This was far too big surely! Nevertheless, I collected the keys and went to explore. Almost immediately, my worries about the size disappeared, as l started to knock down walls and construct bedrooms in my mind.
Anne Perkins, Chairperson from the YMCA met me later the same week at what became known as Wesley House, “The Stay Project”. The excitement was oozing, my heart beating at a rapid rate at the thought of what this could become. Anne and l spent time discussing from the balcony how the building could be used and the potential for us to work together.
My next port of call was back to Wrekin Housing, were l must have overwhelmed David Sears with sheer excitement of the possibilities, and in time he confirmed the council would underwrite the project. As we discussed how it would happen, it was clear that we could make it a Community Project and get volunteers / Trades people involved in transforming the premises. As l left David’s office, his parting words were “we could do with a mini Challenge Anneka”.
The seed had been sown. “Why have a ‘mini’ Challenge Anneka when you could have the real thing?” Unbeknown to anyone else, a letter was put together to the Production Company and sent.
I remember the jubilation when Hazel Norgove, a volunteer administrator who worked for me, put through the phone call from the Production Company saying they were considering the possibility of doing the Challenge and wanted to come up and view the premises and discuss further the project. At this point, l had to bring others into the confidence, like The Rev’d Colin Hill my line manager, David Sears, Ian Gallier, Captain Paul McNally and of course Catherine my wife.
This started 9 month of secret meetings with Mentorn Films, as a criterion for the challenge was that it must be kept secret. Had it become public knowledge, the challenge would not have taken place. No pressure then!! There was the need to bring on board contactors, mainly a building firm (Frank Galliers), plumbers (A.J. Plumbing) and tell them that we would be looking for initial work being done and that volunteers and voluntary trades people would be brought in to finish off, erect studded walls and do second fittings etc;
Jack Davis a Volunteer at the Christian Council and l spent many an hour doing proprietary work, including pulling out the stairs. There was the need to sort out every aspect of the project development, planning permission, future staffing, volunteer training and recruiting a Project Co-ordinator, all under a cloak of secrecy.
The rest as they say, is history and despite the Challenge Anneka almost not happening on a few occasions, eventually it did and the first “Stay Project” came into being. I thank God for the ongoing commitment of the Stay Board, Chief Executive and staff team for sustaining the opportunity and taking up the challenge that prevents young people becoming homeless and rough sleeping.
I could never have foreseen that 25 years on Stay would still be responding to youth homelessness. The numbers of young people that have accessed the service is staggering. Not only being given accommodation but also many have been given timely support, through the investment of the Local Authority’s Supporting People Funding that has enabled individuals through effective support planning of dedicated Stay staff, to realise their potential and attain suitable housing.
As l stand beside Stay in their response to Homelessness today, l see some of the New Challenges in front of them, but believe that not forgetting their core values, they have a significant role in the years to come, in Changing Lives.
Watch the video of how it all began: