I can’t believe I’ve come this far because I literally wanted to go within the first two weeks!

It was 2:00am on the streets of Doncaster, dark and cold. Sixteen-year-old Cat pulled her coat closer around her.

“Here again?” A voice came from behind her. Cat turned around and saw a face she’d become too familiar with over the past few months. The policeman.

“Why do I keep finding you out here like this?”

She shrugged. It was the same question her mum kept asking her. She didn’t have an answer. She just knew where she didn’t want to be: at home.

Lockdown had made her home environment too difficult. There was too much arguing, too many painful feelings. Her older siblings had come home, rocking the dynamics within the family and leaving her feeling alone and left out, as if she didn’t belong. Things began to spiral. She started running away from home, going out every day and coming back at “stupid o’clock”. “I’m quite an emotional person,” Cat said. “And it was just so hard to live in a family home where I had to keep everything to myself.”

Finally, after meeting the police one too many times on the streets at night, Cat’s details were passed to social services. Deep down, she knew that if her life was going to improve, she couldn’t stay at home. So she made the big step of leaving.

To begin with, she was placed with two families. But that turned out to be the worst place she could be – families triggered the feelings she was trying to get away from. So she came to the YMCA on the 24th of July. She felt nervous: was she going to find a home that she’d always craved? At first, she didn’t think so. “I wanted to leave within the first two weeks. I stayed in my room every single day, didn’t speak to anyone, I didn’t want to make friends. I had my room packed up, ready to go.”

But she was told that before she could leave, she had to pay one month’s worth of rent.

“I was fuming,” she laughs as she explains, looking back. She decided to stay, but remained closed off to all the help on offer. “I would sit with my Keyworker in silence. She’d try to get me to talk about my feelings, but I’d just stare at her. I was a nightmare.” Cat confessed that she went “a bit wild”, missing her first year of college, going out all the time, never spending time in the building.

So what changed? How is Cat now a vibrant resident, so grateful for her time at the YMCA? Well, it all started with one conversation.

One day, another of the residents pulled her aside and simply asked her, “why?”. Why was she never in the building? From forming a connection with this resident, Cat went on to become friends with lots of other people. “It took me out of my shell a bit,” Cat said. “If it wasn’t for them, I would probably still be in and out of the building like a ghost.”

A key moment in this transformation was realising that these new friends actually cared for her. She had a bit of relational trouble off site, but the girls at the YMCA stuck up for her straight away, without knowing anything about her past. She was so struck by their kindness and care. She finally felt like she belonged. Like she had a home. Realising who her mates were, she began to “calm down.” She refused to go out, grounded her head and started college. She even began to be more open with the staff and make the most of what the YMCA had to offer.

“Your experience at the YMCA is what you make of it,” Cat said. “People can have the opinion that the YMCA is dangerous and anti-social, but it’s nothing like that. It’s not dangerous. It’s actually a home filled with children and staff who treat us like people, not clients. They’re lovely.”

She’s now flourishing and growing in new skills. Seeing other residents take responsibility for their washing, cleaning and cooking, helped her grow initiative. “I noticed I was quite spoilt and comfortable compared to others. You get lots of mental training here,” she said. “Thinking about where your next meal is coming from can be quite stressful for a stress-pot like me,” she laughed. “But you’re just training yourself up for what you’ll be doing in the future. (At first, I’d blitz all my money and end up starving for a month – I didn’t realise you could go downstairs and get a food parcel!)”

These are not the only positive changes Cat’s experienced. She’s gained an amazing new perspective on her family troubles: “After a year and a half, I’m at the point where I can sit down and speak to my family. I’ve realised my wrongdoing and their wrongdoing and how everything affected me growing up. Living here has shown me that I sometimes made my mum’s life a living hell, but she did so many things for me. Things aren’t perfect, but moving out has made me more grateful that she’s actually in my life.

“I used to feel like I could never speak to them about my emotions, so I’d get angry instead. So if I hadn’t come here, my behaviour would have gotten worse and we would have grown more distant. I’m just glad I’ve wrapped my head around it all as I turn 18. Living at the YMCA has helped me and taught me so much.”

She even makes a point of reaching out to the new residents in the YMCA because she knows exactly what it’s like to be new!

We’re so proud of the progress Cat has made and so glad that we could help provide the home she needed to be able to stabilise her life. For the future, Cat wants to carry on with her education, go university and train to become a nurse. And as a strong, mature, and kind person, we have no doubts she’ll get there.

Looking back now, Cat laughs. “I can’t believe I’ve come this far because I literally wanted to go within the first two weeks!”


There are many ways you can support our work with young people like Cat. Please click here for information on how you might be able to help.