‘We take strangers into our home – they are young people who need someone who believes in them’
Helen Hobbs and husband Chris (pictured above) help young people in their time of need through St Basils Supported Lodgings Scheme, Home 2 Home.
Helen Hobbs and husband Chris help young people in their time of need.
When Helen Hobbs receives a letter, photograph, telephone call or message from a young person telling her about their achievements, she feels a warm glow of pride and contentment.
Helen has four children of her own but these updates are from some of the young people she and husband Chris have hosted in their home over the past few years.
Helen and Chris, who is a vicar at the local church, are a host couple for St Basils supported lodgings scheme in Birmingham.
Helen, who has retired from teaching, tells us that their own children had left home and were at university and having a vicarage meant they had the space available to help others.
“I just felt that both my husband and I had had the benefit of stable, happy families ourselves and we have hopefully given that to our own children,” she explains.
“I thought we had the time and space to provide for someone else and we felt we wanted to help young people.”
The couple contacted St Basils in Birmingham, which works with young people to help them find and keep a home.
Helen says the thought of welcoming a stranger into their home was initially daunting, but St Basils allayed their fears with a thorough vetting procedure, risk assessment and support.
“They totally put our mind at rest,” she says. “We soon realised they are just young people at a difficult stage in their life.”
Helen and Chris have now hosted six young people in their home, ranging from those stopping for just one night to those staying for many months.
The longest they have hosted a young person is 15 months, when they hosted a young man who arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied minor from Sudan and moved in with them.
Khalid, whose name we have changed to protect his identity, had left his family and his home in Sudan at the age of 15 and arrived in Birmingham at the age of 17, where he walked into the nearest police station for help.
He was put in touch with St Basils and moved in with Helen and Chris the following day. “Khalid was very thin, quiet and solemn at first. Back then, he spoke almost no English,” recalls Helen.
“He was very shy, nervous and frightened and we had very little sense of who he was. It brings out your desire to care for them and I felt he looked like a scared young adult.”
Slowly, Helen and Chris started building trust and a relationship with Khalid. Helen would encourage him to come down for a cup of tea every day and chat to them and practice a bit of English and she also spent time reading with him.
St Basils kept in constant touch and provided Khalid with life skills training including cooking and budgeting and he began going to college. Helen says: “Even though Khalid had had no education in his home country, he was clearly keen to learn. He was starting from scratch but college were pleased with his progress and we could tell from early on that he was academically capable.”
In time, Khalid’s English improved and he built a great relationship with Helen and Chris. Realising he enjoyed football, they supported him to play with a local team.
“Khalid was so good at football, there was a possibility he could have gone for a football trial,” says Helen. “But in the end, he decided he didn’t want to do it because he wanted to focus on studying and that was his priority.”
Khalid turned 18 while staying with Helen and Chris and for his birthday, they took him to see Aston Villa. “We had a little party for him at home with birthday cake and he seemed very bemused by it all as he told us they didn’t celebrate birthdays back home so he couldn’t understand why we were making a fuss,” laughs Helen.
Khalid moved into a nearby flat of his own at 18 and Helen and Chris helped him move in and buy carpet and curtains for his new home, while people from their church gave him household items such as crockery and cooking utensils.
“Once he was settled in, he invited us round for tea and bought cake for us. It was really sweet of him! He was so proud of what he had as he had decorated it himself and bought some more furniture.”
Khalid got a job in a warehouse but made sure he still went to college during the day. “A lot of his friends had given up on studying as they just wanted to work and earn more money,” explains Helen. “But Khalid was determined to keep going to college, even though it was hard. It is more difficult doing education when you’re out of the school system, but he never gave up.
“We tried to encourage him, but he was the one who did all the hard work.”
Khalid got his GCSEs and a place on an access course and he is now hoping to apply to university to study engineering – and Helen says she and Chris couldn’t be prouder.
“It is so heartwarming and satisfying to see Khalid building his life,” says Helen. “He’s not someone who shares much about how he feels but I think he’s certainly shown he is fond of us.
“We still keep in touch with him regularly and see him a few times a year. He once described us as his ‘British family’, which was really lovely.”
Khalid recognises the effect Helen and Chris have had on his life. “Living with Helen and Chris was a very good experience,” he says. “My English was not good when I first came here and they really helped me with words and pronunciation and reading. They encouraged me to study every day.
“Staying with Helen was definitely better than being in a hostel. I was a bit afraid about living in someone else’s house at first, but once I met her, I realised she was very nice. It was helpful being with her and her family and hearing English every day.
“I have been in my flat for about a year now. It is tough living on your own, juggling study and work and all the other responsibilities, but Helen and Chris have helped me with lots of things for my new home.
“I am hoping in the future to go to university to study engineering. If Helen and Chris hadn’t helped me, I couldn’t have made it on my own.
“Helen feels like family and I’m not sure how to say it, but I love her a lot. Hopefully, I can give back in the future.”
Touched by Khalid’s words, Helen highlights the importance of supporting St Basils’ Supported Lodgings scheme Home 2 Home.
“It makes me sad when I think of kids who don’t have opportunities or people who believe in them, or maybe their own family is distracted by other problems,” she says.
“These young people can be at a low point in their life and their lives can feel in disarray and they are frightened. It can be easy to think they are not going to achieve anything – but all they need is a stable patch and someone who believes in them and supports them.
“They have got it all within them to make a success of their life and all you are doing is providing a safe environment to allow them to achieve what they’re capable of achieving.”