Foxton Centre: a glim of hope for the vulnerable

Foxton Centre is a very unassuming youth and community centre, which dates all the way back to 1969. This NGO (non-governmental organisation)’s work has been nothing short of extraordinary!

Jeff Marsh, Chief Executive for Foxton Centre, says he first realised he wanted to help the most vulnerable after volunteering at a night shelter in Leeds: “It opened up my eyes to a world I don’t think I’d ever seen before. I always had food on the table and a stable home to live in so I suppose I was quite rich from that point of view and volunteering there opened up a different view of the world to me. From there, I did some social work, some community development work, youth work, went back to university and that’s roughly why and how I ended up where I am today.”

Foxton Centre first started off as a youth centre, but it has now expanded and is helping a variety of different people, such as homeless people, youths and street sex workers.

In terms of youth work, Foxton works with children from 7 to 17, doing activities, which are appropriate to their age. One of the activities they hold are open access to youth clubs, where they get social education on issues such as drug and alcohol use, risk taking behaviour and early sexual activity. Talking more specifically about how they work with homeless people, Jeff says: “For homeless people, we have an outreach team that wanders around the city centre every so often, picks people up from the street, encourages them to come back to the centre where we do a rough sleepers café each morning — here they have access to basic needs stuff like food and showers with clean clothes. We also run a project called Housing First, which provides long-term housing for people.” And finally, they have a Street’s Sex Workers project where they drive around hoping to encourage sex workers to go into Foxton Centre and give up working on the streets.

In terms of numbers, Foxton Centre gets an average of 25 people attending their Rough Sleeper’s breakfast each morning, another 20 attend their afternoon educational sessions and around the same number for both their youth clubs and Street Sex Workers project.

Even though Jeff’s ultimate goal would be to see a reduction in the number of homeless people, he feels like the problem is ever-growing: “Rough sleeping has grown massively since 2010 nationally as well as locally here in Preston. Last year I think the England figures went up 15% and that was a similar figure in Preston. The previous 2 years it went up 30% each year.” He believes the reason why Preston is alarmingly worse off than neighbouring cities like Manchester and Liverpool is simply because it doesn’t get enough support and attention.

Jeff says one of the most pleasing aspects of working with these vulnerable people is seeing how much personal growth they get over time. One example of a heart warming story is when a lady stepped up to cover kitchen duties while they had an inspection by Environmental Health: “Myself and a colleague were here and Laura, who normally does the kitchen, wasn’t here when the Environmental Health inspector came. We thought: ‘oh hell what are we going to do?’ And this lady took over — she threw all our cleaning routines, rotation of food, all sorts of things and we got a 5 star rating at the end of it. That’s a small thing in itself but it’s an enormous thing in terms of progress for an individual, and those sorts of stories are repeated through the organization. People starting to do things they never thought they were capable of, or other people didn’t think they were capable of and start to get their lives back on track.”

Taking a look 5/10 years into the future, Jeff sees Foxton Centre at the frontline, fighting for people at the receiving end of draconian policies: “I’d love to see our services be redundant in a sense and do myself out of a job but I cannot see that happening. I see poverty and deprivation getting worse over the coming years… So yes, I am very fearful for the future…”