Good evening, ladies and gentleman,
Last time I was on this stage I performed a duet with Bon Jovi and Taylor Swift – Craig [David] and Ellie [Goulding] will be spared that horror tonight. And I'm delighted that Jonathan Ross has decided to rap later!
It’s a pleasure to be here tonight, among so many old and new friends at Centrepoint. This evening is a celebration of everything that young people are capable of when they are given the support that they need.
All of those nominated for this year’s Centrepoint Awards, now an annual event, deserve to be commended. They are Centrepoint’s legacy, the proof of the positive impact this extraordinary organisation has made for nearly 50 years now and I know will go on making.
My thanks go out to tonight’s organising committee and its remarkable Chair, Debra Reuben, for staging an event worthy of the many individual achievements made and raising awareness of this hugely important cause – the ending of youth homelessness.
I’m grateful too for the tireless work of Seyi and his team across the country: the support workers, the counsellors, the learning specialists. They are integral to all of the success stories you are about to hear.
Whether fleeing war overseas, battling mental illness, enduring the dangers of sleeping on the streets, the young people of Centrepoint have come through experiences that could have broken the resolve of any one of us.
About this time a few years ago, for one night, I gave up the warmth and comfort of my bed, and tried sleeping on the streets of London. Of course, this was just one night: I was cold but safe, and I knew I had a home waiting for me.
This Christmas as many as 25,000 young people will be at risk of homelessness. And remember this, behind that appalling statistic is a human being not much older than many of our children and grandchildren, who is alone, frightened and confronted with impossible choices.
Each year in the UK 150,000 young people turn to their local council for help. The scale of youth homelessness in this country is now shameful – it must not be ignored. As a society we have a clear duty to redouble our efforts, to do more to help.
I am really pleased, therefore, that Centrepoint will be launching the Centrepoint Helpline early next year, part of its Turnaround programme to end youth homelessness. The Helpline is an ambitious but much needed service to give information to young people who find themselves on the cusp of homelessness.
If we are serious about ending youth homelessness, the most effective solution is to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. That means, giving young people practical guidance and support, putting them in touch with services, pointing them to organisations who can get them through the trouble they find themselves in. All this sounds obvious, but there is nothing out there right now that exists for young people in this predicament – so the Helpline will make a big difference.
The Helpline will be launched later this month with the support of various partners, and in particular I pay thanks on behalf of Centrepoint to Evgeny Lebedev for backing Centrepoint's vision. And more of this to come later this month.
Many of you here tonight are supporting Centrepoint individually or through your companies. To all of you, thank you – very much.
And I leave you all with one thought. No-one who Centrepoint helps has chosen the label 'homeless'. First and foremost, these young people are ordinary people – like our sons and daughters and friends; nothing different about them. The same hopes, the same anxieties, sense of adventure, and wanting to find their way in life – but life has dealt them a cruel hand: family breakdown, addiction, the wrong crowd, bullying, poor mental health.
So, my real thanks tonight goes to Centrepoint for consistently seeing beyond the label 'homeless' and seeing each young man and woman for who he or she is. That in itself is life-changing, and we need more of that in our society.
Thank you, Centrepoint – and I hope everyone has a good evening.