Come join me and 'To The Moon And Back Fostering' at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge 29th June

To all foster parents, social workers and those working with children, young people and families.
I'm pleased to tell you that I'll be attending a conference with 'To The Moon And Back Fostering' on 29th June at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

For those that don't already know, I started running away from home around ten years old and would walk from town to town across Staffordshire.
After going into care at eleven years old, whilst in my third foster placement I boarded a train and ran away to London when I was twelve, where I ended up living amongst other runaways, the homeless, those with addictions and prostitutes around the Whitechapel and Brick Lane area.

By the age of thirteen, I was living in cardboard boxes around Victoria station in London until making myself a semi-permanent resident of Central London's Piccadilly by sleeping in shop doorways and begging.

Of course, there's much more to my story. But you get the jist of it.

The event will take place 29th June from 5pm - 6:30pm.

Lord Ashcroft Building
Anglia Ruskin University Young Street Site Cambridge CB1 1PT
Cambridge
CB1 1PT


Hopefully I'll see some of you there.
Until then.
Cheerio ;)


My story as part of the Missing People Radio 4 appeal with Jason Watkins

A few weeks back I had a chat with Jason Watkins as part of the Radio 4 appeal to help raise funds for Missing People.

Sorry it's taken me a little while to help promote this one. Due to the nature of stuff I opened up about, simply because some of the people involved may see or hear this, it's been something I was a little iffy about putting on to my blog.

Sorry to those in the family that feel I'm exposing too much to the world, but really I've still got nothing to lose by raising awareness of the sorts of things children are going through.

Jason mentions in the appeal that I was missing for five years, just to clarify (and those that have read my book or my blog will know) It was on and off for five years, but in total around forty times or something apparently.
As for standing with my nose leaning against the wall, in all fairness to my old dear, she did tell him to stop a few times after I'd been there forty-five minutes or so.
I'd usually have to do the wall-nose thing after telling him to 'eff-off' , but I felt I had my reasons.

I even avoided writing it in my book simply to try and keep the peace, I simply fobbed it off in poetry as 'a punishment that came from the army', but for those that wanted to know I meant, I guess now you know.

If anyone from the family does see this, I'm sorry you've had to see it.
I really don't hold it against anyone, people can be forgiven, but I just also want to know they care.
There's a time for keeping silent, and that time comes when decent-hearted people get what they deserve.

Anyway, this isn't about me, but about supporting Missing People, whom continue to help young people and families similar to mine.
I'm especially touched by the story of Alice whom was groomed and both her and her family were helped by Missing People, as mentioned in the appeal video below.

You can view the appeal from it's original source on the Radio 4 Website at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b3b4lz

You can donate to Missing People via FREEPHONE 0800 4048144
Or by post by simply writing as the address 'Freepost BBC Radio 4 Appeal'. Please mark the back of the envelope 'Missing People'/
You can also donate by cheque by writing them out to 'Missing People'.




I See You - A poem about street homelessness and drug addiction.

Just written a poem, inspired from a tough time a few years ago.

I SEE YOU

I've spoken to many people just like you, throughout my life.
Day in, day out, as I pass through the city centers, or the long empty roads at the ends of small towns.

And you know what? You seen more about me than I did about you.
And despite thinking I'm lucky to have not been a fool, only now do I see it's never that simple at all.
Because despite all the appearances, and how people will judge you. Neither of us could for every moment keep our cool.

I've seen you at night, slumped on the ground and asking for change, or whilst you've been walking around. 
And it's obvious you're on the gear, I see that, but still remains that smile when we share a human laugh.
But despite all that, did I really see you and did I really think about the things you might be going through, and how we were just the same.


But it's taken this for me to see, that I am not alone in this reality, I scream and shout on my own whilst walking up to New Street.
I've kicked my bags, I've punched my head, I've cried a thousand tears, just wondering why my life has been like this for years, and any human being can one day just break down.
And so I'm there with head in hands, now sitting on a wall, I'm inside my head, my heart feels broken, I can't see much at all.
And then I lift my head up, and take a look around, and see three homeless drug addicts, chilling on the ground.


These tears I've cried, have opened my eyes to what I didn't see before, that there are other people close around that know just what I'm going through, and likely more than me.
I know they're off to score soon, but as I'm sitting there, I think I've finally just realised that we share the same despair. 


I know that I'll be one of the few that can see how hard you've tried, and all the things you've battled through just so you survive. A life without no guidance just learning as you go, it's too easy for us to look down on the lives that we don't know. 

With so many of us feeling so disconnected, and puzzled at why we're so rejected by those closest, the truth is is takes so many mistakes to get anywhere at all.
But as I'm sat still on that wall, my face still salty-wet from the tears, I think respect when I see you smiling, despite your life throughout these years.

And you don't even know that you've saved my life do you? Just this mere moment, knowing that despite your mistakes and feeling completely alone, that you didn't choose to end it, like I was doing just. 

A dark road I know, and a slow death for many, but a temporary relief from finally feeling those feelings is what many had been looking for.
Some just young and made mistakes, and some of those had no-one there to help them through dark times. 

I know what it's like, to hear people claim they made it out just by themselves but no-one really did. Everyone needs good forms of guidance, and that's just how it goes.

"There's plenty of hostels" people say, and when you reply they're full of smack they tell you beggars can't be choosers.
"Something is better than nothing at all" they'll reply, so where is the hope for the seventeen year old young man with zero family support that absorbs the world around him.


Because if you still haven't thought about the truth that's there, just think about how that at most Christmas times this kid is going nowhere. 
And I along with many others can tell you right now, it's not because he's on the gear, it's just because his world his broken, and it was the same before.

Perhaps he weren't a perfect kid, or his folks had troubled mental health, but throughout this persons life, few were there to tell him that it really weren't his fault.
I don't even smoke the gear and can tell you how hard a fight it is, to have to break your own way in, 
to a life that just doesn't quite understand you, apart from the caring few.

It's no one faults, and people do care, it's just that many never thought or knew
That all these years, all your problems, you've been through on your own.
So I can think 'oh I aren't I clever' for never having fallen prey, but those estranged from their own families always seek another way, I guess I was lucky to be taught anything, as playing guitar is my release. 

So when people judge and say you're weak, please my friend remember that,
There's others out there just like me, that kinda know just where you're at.
It's bloomin hard and hurts like heck, and even though you're on the gear,
I hope you beat this massive fight, cuz after all you're standing here.


Copyright Ben Westwood 2018







Part 53 of 60 - Busted




BUSTED


It’s late at night and I’m on Piccadilly, and not many folk are around.
I lay down and rest my head, on my bag that’s on the ground.

Two lads step out of a black cab, look drunk like most this late.
I thought that it’s worth asking, “Spare any change please, mate?”

“We’ve got no money”, one lad said “But come join us for a drink.”
Their vibe seemed sound, and so I said “Okay, I will I think.”

As we walked down towards Hyde Park, I’d took with me my bag.
They said that they’re band was gonna be famous, I thought it was a blag.

Just drunken talk, was my first thought, because people do talk shit.
But when I got to their hotel, it seemed to click a bit.


Their guitars were in the room, in the Intercontinental,
At least I know they’re speaking truth, and not just simply mental.

We had a jam and drank some beer, and I slept on the bed,
Of one band member who was not there, but somewhere else instead.

In the morning they said to me, “Well you’ve tuned a guitar up before,
Here’s our number, give us a call, and come and join us on a tour.”

You’ll be our roadie, we’ll make sure you’re sorted, for now we have to go skoot.”
So I left the hotel, feeling all good and well, and they went for their video shoot.


A few days later I went to call, to speak with them again,
The piece of paper had gone soggy, because of the wet rain.

I tried to guess the numbers, was it a five or an eight or a three?
But didn’t get through to a number at all, perhaps it’s just not meant to be.

I’d almost forgotten about James and Matt, until one day I then see,
Two years later when visiting dad’s, in the room watching TV.

I laughed and I pointed right at the screen, as they then played out their show.
I said “I’ve met those lads, when I was down London, and they’re proper sound lads ya know.”



You can purchase Poems From a Runaway for under £15 on Amazon
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1981314350

You can also get signed colour higher-quality paperbacks from £25 at
http://benwestwooduk.blogspot.com/p/poems-from-runaway.html

Hardbacks available on written request.
benwestwooduk (at) gmail.com

A trip to Brussels to discuss the issue of runaway children (6th June)

So as some of you know, I went to Brussels the other day to take part in a conference about runaway children in Europe at European Parliament.
It was actually my first time ever abroad and I still hadn't got my first passport when I'd been invited to attend the conference by Missing Children Europe, so I'd like to say a massive massive thanks to everyone that's helped me get all this together in time.

(Especially to Vi Wood from Leslie's Care Packages for the homeless, Lee Brickley and Kay Davis, The Cannock Chase Green Party among others that have helped me not only get my passport but have helped with my accommodation and other costs that I had really needed help with.

And what a beautiful day it was on the day of the conference, absolutely gorgeous weather which was great for the publicity stunt in Place Du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Square) where I met up with Federica, Gail, Laurie, Liuska and others from Missing Children Europe  as well as photographer Kris Van De Sande whilst they were setting up the publicity stunt to promote the runaway helpline number - 116000

A lot of people won't know this, but if you are a runaway, a parent or have any concerns about relating issues, then you can call 116000 from anywhere in Europe and you will get through to the runaway helpline local to your country.
It's a really great initiative I reckon, and could have seen myself using it 'back in the day' if it had been around then.
(Continued below photographs)




 
(Photo by Kris Van de Sande)
The number runaways can call throughout Europe 
for help and advice. 116000

Julie Ward MEP was also at the conference
to discuss how we can help runaways.

(Photo by Kris Van de Sande)
Margaret Tuite the European Commission
coordinator for children's rights  was also
at the conference with the Missing Children Europe
team and myself. 


I'm really humbled to have been invited to the conference and read some of my poetry from the book. but also to be around an air of such caring people. 
It's fair to say that the issue of runaway children is often overlooked, despite most of us knowing a story or two about runaway children from people we know. 

Julie Ward welcomed us all to the conference before Liuska Sanna From Missing Children Europe educated us all on the current statistics of runaway children, and the fact that there's been an 11% decrease in the number of children found (compared to the year before) but worryingly also at the same time there's been a 44% increase in children running away three times or more.

I have to give a massive hats-off to Margaret Tuite for the stuff I was hearing her say during the conference. Her message really hit a chord or two with me.
Without me giving a word-by-word transcript of the event, in a nutshell she was making some very valid points of how runaway children can be seen as a problem for others to deal with, instead of us looking at the bigger picture to find out why exactly children are so often running away.
Hopefully my book 'Poems From a Runaway' too sheds a little light on that through the eyes of a child.

'It's the system that needs fixing. Not the children.'

It's quite a statement to be fair, and one that may take a few minutes of reflection to at least think about how decisions, relationships and environments created by adults can have such an impact on the mental wellbeing of a young person.

I also  talked about my childhood and read out my poem 'Great Haywood', which is about the first time I ran away overnight at around 10 years old and slept in a ditch in the village of Great Haywood, Staffordshire. 
(Continues below photographs) 

Julie Ward opens up the conference to explain
why we need to come together to help and 
understand runaway children.

Me reading my poem 'Great Haywood' 
to the attendees of the conference.

You can watch/listen to the poem read at the 
conference by clicking here


Also present was Emilio Puccio from the European Parliamentary Intergroup for Children's Rights Ruth Farrugia, the director general of The President's Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society based in Malta. Carlos Coelho the Portuguese MEP,  and Charlotte Verhofstadt from the office of German MEP Hilde Vautmans .
Other speakers included Maria João and Paula Paco from Instituto de Apoio à Criança in Portugal and Janina Dienaite from The Missing Persons' Families Support Centre in Lithuania.
Also a very hard-hitting and memorable speech by Maryana Lypovetska from Missing Children in Ukraine.


For those unaware or needing a reminder, there has been war in the Ukraine over the last few years which in turn leads to all sorts of manifestations in society. One of them being runaway children.
Since the start of the unrest in Ukraine there has been a rise in missing runaway children, in fact the number of missing children in the Ukraine has risen from at least 4573 in 2015 to at least 9125 in 2017.

It certainly made me think that as an English lad that's never had to live during or flee from war, how lucky indeed I really am, but also at the time realising that perhaps it's a good thing for other people around the world to know what young Ukrainians have been going through. 


Marina Lypovetska explaining the rise of 
Ukrainian missing children.


Carlos Coelho addressing some shocking facts
and explaining how we need to do our best
to help locate and help runaway children.


Overall, a fantastic experience meeting some really wonderful people and I'm honoured to have been invited there to share my story. 
A massive thanks to Julie Ward for giving me the tour of of the European Parliament and letting me sit in on one of her talks to a class of students. 

It's safe to say I've come back to the UK very inspired by everyone that I met that day.
I thought I'd be burnt out after it all but now I want to do my part to help runaways more than ever.
An absolutely cracking day and thanks to everyone for helping me along during my times of struggle, it's been a really positive experience.


I may sound a little ditzy here but I hadn'r realised when the press conference was being filmed, even when I was doing my poem. 
I'll keep my mouth shut next time when a European member of parliament reads our the meetings closing statement intead of blurting out "respect" at the end. Sorry about that everyone, please forgive my inexperience!

Anyway thanks for reading and thanks to everyone involved in all ways.

Big Love.










Reflections #48

I've probably already mentioned before about how I'd been costing too much money for social services when it came to all the secure escorts they'd send from the midlands.

In my poem 'Voluntary Returns' I was 15 by this point, and I think everyone knew that I'd been waiting for the day to be released from the care of social services, or anyone for that matter.
Much different these days at the age of 32, where I'm often been in need of just a little support in life or with my mental health, but it's often been a massive struggle to find any.

Any help I have received in life has often been by people I've never met or don't know that well, thank goodness for souls like that in the world, there is a ray of hope after all.

I wish I'd understood myself more in those days, and more so I wish I'd stayed in foster care at Ann and Ted's instead of being in the habit of running away all the time.
But you don't see those things as a kid. Often discipline makes no sense to you at the time, I myself was offered wise words of advice from those who had fell behind in society a little themselves, but I never really listened.

Saying that I tried quite hard in my twenties. But it's much more difficult without that help, I really wish I'd had more support nationally as a care leaver. It would be great to see a national service for any care leaver in the country to receive help through their adult years, but it seemed once I'd made that decision that I was better off without the help of social services, I never knew how difficult I'd find things without support.

As for being back in London, with it being so fast paced everything was ever-changing and people seemed to move on from time to time.
Not everyone though, there's still people from back in the day sleeping rough and begging in west end still to this day. Again many of them care leavers that most likely made some of the choices and mistakes that I've made. I'm not sure how many of these characters that come to mind will ever truly reintegrate into society for a fresh start.

I've not even had a drug problem and I'm finding it quite difficult still to this day.
I know what it's like to feel like you have to fight your way into it all. And I know what it's like to fail at it.
I bet there are a lot of people out on the street that went through the phases of trying so hard to change their lives, only for it to feel so difficult and everything going against them that they gave up.
I've been there, and have only just recently come out of the other end again myself. Despite writing a book.
I could probably write another book about whats been happening in my life whilst writing this book. It certainly hasn't been easy, but it could have also been a lot worse.

Despite it being a battle at times, and despite me thinking I'll probably get dementia early or one day turn into a real proper down and out looking through dustbins, I'm just glad to still be here whilst not quite giving up yet.
It's not always that easy for everyone though.






Reflections #47

As for what happened in my poem 'The Welsh brothers', I guess I'd already had it pretty lucky living on the streets compared to some others, and it all could have been a lot worse.

This bloke was a nasty piece of work though, piercing eyes and a really abusive side to him. Obviously that changed when someone his own size came along, my friend Martin, the card-boy.
I doubt their both even alive anymore their heroin addiction was so bad. I did see them around twelve years ago whilst I was passing through London and they both looked like they were on their last legs.

I always gathered that their actions against me were spur of the moment, but I've never thought until now that they were most probably in the subway pre-planning in after spotting a young lad like me had been pitching up regularly on Piccadilly.

I'm glad how it all turned out though, I can only imagine how different it would have turned out if I had a weapon on me to use in self-defense, I would have been facing a manslaughter or murder charge because I too was once one of those young kids that didn't think before many of their actions, or genuinely saw someone as a threat to their life.

So things didn't turn out too bad in the end, once Martin had chased him off with the glass bottle they didn't stop to bother me again.