Purposefully breaking boundries with Princess Anne.

The story I'm about to tell you never made it into Poems From a Runaway, but I was reminded of it today whilst going through my emails and reading the monthly newsletter sent to me by The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields, which is a homeless drop in service I used both as a runaway (I was a great blagger) and once I'd turned sixteen and had returned back to London, this time somewhat more permanently.

As some of you know, after using the service for a few years using a fake name whilst sleeping rough out on the streets of London's west end, once I'd turned sixteen after a spell in young offenders and returned back to London I sort of arrived at the desk saying "I'm not whom you thought I was, I was a runaway from the west midlands but I'm sixteen now."
Among the homeless scene we all knew it as 'Connections' and many still do, it caters for people of all ages now within the same building but back in the day there were two separate buildings.
The main building which is still used today would provide food, showers and drop in services for homeless people between 16-25 (or unknowingly 13 in my case!) and there was another building in the crypt underneath the church which was a drop in centre for the older lot.

There were a few drop in centres around London for people back then, but I couldn't get into them all.
Sometimes I'd meet other homeless people that would claim to be able to help me get into them, places such as The Passage in Victoria among other places, but not being able to always prove my age I couldn't always get in, so I'd wait outside and perhaps someone would come out with a cup of tea.

Sometimes I get a little anxious when writing about their support just in the case people think "Well how did a 13 year old get the use the services of an adult homeless service", but thankfully since releasing my book St Martins have been nothing but supportive of it.
My childhood would have taken a completely different path if it wasn't for being able to access the services at St Martins, being able to blag my way in was a blessing indeed as despite London being a busy, vibrant place with many fantastic people within it - it can also be such a lonely place at times where those finding themselves in dire need gain only the attention of the predators and psychopaths.
That's why you'll find a lot of homeless people look out for each other so much, and why some of the sex workers that have been through so much tragedy have massive hearts and a natural energy for protecting teenage runaways and the other girls they walk the streets with.

As mentioned in Poems From a Runaway being there as a young teen in a place full of 16-25's was also a very much needed element for me.
Most of the people I'd meet on the streets were in their late-twenties at the very least and I remember it being a time despite most people there being a couple of years older at least, I felt more connected with my peer group there than I had anywhere else on the streets.
An importance that I think I'm currently struggling to explain.
I didn't knowingly come across a lot of other runaways in my day, I think most remained largely unseen and those I did suspect often seemed connected with the hard-drug scene that would rear it's head around Tottenham Court Road and Soho during the early hours of the morning, but I knew by then to stay well away and do my own thing hence why I never slept rough around those parts.

But when I had finally turned sixteen, I was invited by The Connection at St Martin-in-the-fields to go on a boating holiday along with a small group of volunteers and other service users. Somewhere down Cornwall I think it was.
I great trip and despite me thinking I was invincible after being the only one not spewwing over the deck from the seasickness, my time indeed came!
Still a fantastic trip on a former fishing-boat learning how to sail it and tie all the knots and stuff, most of which I've forgotten eighteen years on but that's life.

The crew were fantastic and we had all had a great week, I think it was also the first time in a few years that I'd been on a group holiday and none of us had got into trouble!
Well on one of the last days of our trip, we found out that Princess Anne was coming to visit to find out a little bit more about what work the boating charity does to help people, i think as they were going to receive a donation or something.
We were educated prior to her coming that we should address her properly and call her 'Maam' etc.

Unknown to Princess Anne, the plan was that we'd all be sat around the table on the boat when she arrived, and we'd have the map of the sea out and little plastic models of the things you have in the sea to direct the boats and stuff.
We'd actually already cover all of that but it looked good and educational for when she arrived.

We knew when she was coming because her security team came and had a look around first before she then stepped down onto the boat and we made a circle whilst she stood and spoke.
She asked about the work that the boating charity did as well as the work of the Connection at St Martin's in which volunteers replied back and explained.

She then proceeded to ask each of us in the homeless group one by one about why we were homeless and where we were from. It was obvious from where I was sat that I'd be one of the last people she would ask, but by halfway through I couldn't wait because everyone had seemed so timid and a little bit starstruck or something with her as they quietly ended their answers with 'Maam' etc.

But I wanted to make a little moment that I thought might be a little bit special or something. It was obvious that a lot of her public meetings must have been like this. In my head I thought 'Her name isn't Maam, it's Anne!'
I couldn't help but feel a little bit sorry for how it must be to live so much of your life meeting people and there being this automatic unnatural power balance. Surely she'd love someone to just get on a level with her, and even maybe ask her something about herself.
'I can't wait for my turn' I thought.

She then got round to me and and asked me about myself in which I replied I used to be a runaway but now I'm 16 and waiting for a place to come up in a hostel.
Now it was my chance to break the ice and give her chance to be in a normal average day-to-day situation.
I put my hands together and looked in her eyes.
"So where you from then Ann? Hows life for you at the minute?"

It could have been perceived as a dig if taken the wrong way due to her coming from an extremely privileged background, but she knew that it was completely from the heart.
People in the room gasped as I said it, personally I don't know why because it seemed quite a human thing to do.
In fact I think her eyes lit up a bit which felt like mission accomplished as she began pondering and struggling to think of where in the country she was actually from whilst laughing about it a little.
"I guess I'm sort of from no-mans-land I suppose" she replied.

It was nice to witness the dynamics change from everyone acting all 'proper' to just being in a genuine conversation.
My little mission was complete I think.
I think she was surprised about me calling her just 'Ann' but I hope it triggered some humble memories. She never had a go at me

I just thought I'd share that little story for the virtual scrapbook like. :)

Through The Connection at St Martins-in-the-Fields I was then a week or so later refereed to a homeless hostel down in Vauxhall.
Around a year later I met a bunch of squatters and stuff but what I didn't know was that someone from the day centre that had been working with me had put me on a waiting list for a flat, and so when I was around 20 years old I had a flat in Dalston, Hackney.
Huge thanks again to The Connection at St Martins for that, just a small example of some of the great work you've done for many of us.

Thanks for reading.

Check out The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Field's EMERGENCY HOT WEATHER APPEAL at the link below.

They are also hosting special 'breakfasts in the square' at St Martin's which is a great way to support a fantastic charity.
Find out more at https://www.connection-at-stmartins.org.uk/get-involved/communal-breakfast/

Also if you don't know about my crowdfunder to help relocate to my new role working with young people in care, I've extended it for a few more days so there's still plenty of chance to get signed paperbacks, hardbacks and raffle tickets to win books.

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