London ‘Recovery College’ aims to open doors for homeless people

A new initiative is offering homeless people the chance to learn vital skills for free

A pioneering educational project to help homeless people in London is attracting students by the hundreds.

The fledgling Recovery College in Southwark, set up by the St Mungo’s charity, provides free courses ranging from literacy and confidence-building to overdose awareness and singing lessons – all for those living rough on the streets.

There are no entry requirements and students help to design and deliver the courses themselves.

First launched as an experiment in autumn 2012, the college was taken aback by the demand, finding prospective students knocking on the door. Now, at the start of the second term, there are 395 people enrolled on 60 courses.

“The most popular courses have proved to be about raising self-confidence and developing self-esteem,” said Andy Williams, who helps to organise the college.

“The vast majority didn’t have a good time at school, so this is showing it can be enjoyable,” he added.

There are other courses on offer aimed at developing skills to help people get jobs.

The college has links with Ruskin College in Oxford and City Lit in London. Once a student has taken six of these free-form courses, they can be considered for something more formal with one of these institutions.

“The college provides a structured environment for people, but without some of the demands of mainstream education. It seems to be filling a gap,” said Stuart Bakewell, St Mungo’s area manager.

Founded in 1969 as a humble soup kitchen in Battersea, St Mungo’s now has projects in Bath, Bristol, Reading, Hertfordshire and Oxford, and looks after around 1,700 people in London and the south-east of England each night alone.

Amid a growing homeless population – up by more than 40% in a year, according to St Mungo’s – staff at the Recovery College have a positive outlook: “We want to be more ambitious for them,” said Williams.