A group of young people who have become “beacons of hope” after overcoming homelessness were honoured by Prince William.
Homeless charity Centrepoint held its first-ever awards ceremony where the prince recognised the achievements of seven young adults who have dramatically changed their lives.
William, who has been involved with Centrepoint for 10 years, said: “We can all draw inspiration from the courage they have shown in turning their lives around and going on to excel in a variety of aspects of life.”
Among last night’s winners was Sophia Kichou, 24, who won the media award and was introduced on stage at the ceremony in St James’s by Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev.
Miss Kichou sought help from Centrepoint after she moved to London at the age of 18 to stay with her father but it was not the safe home she had been promised and she found herself “sofa surfing”.
She ended up in a hostel surrounded by adults with aggression and addiction problems. Centrepoint found her a place in its own hostel where she stayed for more than two years while she studied for A-levels and a BTEC at college.
She said: “When I first got to Centrepoint I was so excited. The other place was literally a box and I had to share a bathroom. It was uncomfortable and people assumed I was on drugs. When I got to Centrepoint I was given my own room and it was amazing. I was given so many things to do, I felt like I was important and that was such a nice feeling.”
Centrepoint supported her with her dream of becoming a journalist. She is currently studying journalism at City University and won an ITV “Breaking Into News” competition. She is now living independently and is going to embark on an internship at the Independent and London Live, the Evening Standard’s sister media organisations.
Mr Lebedev said: “Centrepoint is a fantastic organisation and I am proud to be helping to support it. Sophia is just the sort of talent that deserves to have a chance and we are looking forward to her working with us.”
Seyi Obakin, chief executive of Centrepoint, said the awards were launched to give young people hope. He said the award-winners were “beacons of hope” for other young people going through hard times and added: “Young people who come to Centrepoint have had difficult times.
“It is very challenging to overcome these things and turn your life around, particularly in a society where the narrative about young people is generally negative.
“Young people haven’t had a more difficult time for generations. They now face the most difficult economic prospects for several generations. That is why we have these beacons of hope.”
Prince William handed out the awards for achievements in art, enterprise, sport, career development, education, and personal development, as well as media. The other winners included Monique Newton, 23, who was helped by Centrepoint after coming out of hospital where she was treated for depression. The charity found her somewhere to live, and supported her as she took up powerlifting to improve her mental and physical health, and she has now won four world championships.
The Centrepoint Awards will be an annual event to highlight the charity’s wider work, which includes helping young people tackle physical and mental health problems and find a job or get back into education.