Getting Back On Track

As a young teenager in the East Sussex town of Hastings, Jenny Cross’s life had taken a turn for the worse – she was homeless and having problems with alcohol and drugs. Now at the age of 18, she has turned her life around with the help of the Xtrax young people’s centre.

Jenny’s volunteer work at Xtrax recently led to her and two other young contributors winning a £45,000 government award to be spent on more improvements and new services. She has told her story to the BBC in the hope of helping other troubled youngsters in a town which often gets a bad name for youth disorder and anti-social behaviour.

She had experienced several years of problems herself before finding Xtrax when she was 16. “I was made homeless due to quite severe family problems and then I was sofa-surfing or staying out all night with nowhere really to go,” Jenny said. “Somehow by a miracle I found Xtrax and I started speaking to staff there about my problems.”

The 13-year-old drop-in centre – open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays in the afternoon and evening – offers a whole raft of free services for young people aged between 16 and 25. Jenny said: “They can help you with any issues – drugs, alcohol, homelessness, being a young parent. You can get a nice cheap meal, there are laundry facilities, showers, the internet and Sky TV. This place is amazing because it helps every kind of person with every kind of problem.”

Jenny began volunteering at the centre after its staff supported her, and she has continued to dedicate her time in-between studying at college and trying to find regular paid work. “Xtrax has always been a priority to me,” she said. “It’s just changed my life around, and now I want to give so much back.”

Jenny’s commitment to Xtrax has seen her and two other people – Gareth James and Dan Trunchion – co-ordinating a project which won an Actions Speak Louder award from the Department for Education and Skills. “We raised money for new carpets, getting the girls’ toilets done up and making the laundry room looking presentable. And we made a sexual health room so there was more privacy for that.”

The project won a £45,000 grant which will now go towards a summer games kit, and a breakfast club at the centre so that “people will not be getting out of bed in the afternoon… and can plan positive things for their day”.
Jenny is confident Xtrax can brighten the outlook for troubled youngsters in Hastings, because of what it did for her. “Every day we see more people like me, but it makes me feel happy because I know they’ll be on the right track soon,” she said.

And Jenny hopes her turnaround in fortunes can help change the perception among some people that Hastings is a town of young troublemakers. “I want the adults to just stop and see that we’re not all out to cause trouble and vandalism. They need to know that young people are the bank staff, the doctors and the police force of tomorrow. Young people in this town have so much to offer, they just need the right place to get their voices heard.”