Brandon Richards, 24, spent last winter at the Pilion Trust night shelter for young people. One of the first to join the Engage London project, here Brandon talks about why he got involved. Interview by Catriona Beck
Q: What was it like growing up in Islington?
“It was fun here. There were a lot of things to aspire to, lots of positive influences but also challenging ones too. My challenges growing up were being misunderstood and not being heard, it was nothing to do with the area I was living in. “
Q: What have you got from the Engage London project?
A: “I’ve learnt how to use the media around me. I’ve also learnt that, I personally, don’t always have to be on stage. I am quite happy to be behind the scenes rather than be a radio presenter – so I’ve learnt something about myself too.”
Q: How did you first become homeless?
“I was expelled from school in Year 11 for selling drugs so I could go to the Prom, then I was coming home high all the time. I was the youngest, my family didn’t understand me, my mum didn’t understand me, she told me to make my own way. I did seven months on the street, it was really difficult. I was with my crew and lived with them for a bit. They were all in their twenties – there was probably around seven or eight of us that were 15-16 years old.”
“I decided to go back home, and it was still the same. I just learnt to bite my tongue but it got worse, and they started to realise that I had stopped resisting their bullshit. One day, I exploded, they didn’t understand what happened. I got thrown out again.”
Q: How did you find the Pilion Trust?
“I became homeless again for the third time in November 2016. A company I was working with referred me to Pilion, because they knew I was nearly exceeding the age limit, but Pilion was flexible and I’ve never met a more down to earth organisation. They’re reliable, they give great advice and give me great information.”
Q: What are you doing in Islington?
“It’s currently where I live. I grew up here – also half the people I know live here too. I spend a lot of time here and I have a little girl who is 15 months.”
“I’m trying to get work, in my departments that I know (Brandon is ace at design, has a clothing brand and expert at new media). Life is good. I’m finding myself again – I first found myself when I was 17. I felt too young for this and I think that is why my family misunderstood me. I tried to breakthrough as an artist, it didn’t quite work, and I started to crumble mentally. Now, I’m learning to speak about things and ask for help when it’s needed.”
- Watch the TV show Brandon produced thanks to the Engage London project here.
Brandon is one of the three members of Engage London team who are due to go to Romania to meet Engage Europe. Safe travels, or as they say in Romania, cālātorii sigure.
Five places Brandon likes in Islington
- Clerkenwell – I lived there for three months, slept rough in a tower block. The majority of tower blocks in London have massive doors on them and once you do get past them, a resident would almost certainly insult you, rat you out or kick you out of the building, you think you’re safe but not. It happened in Camden – I was there sleeping, felt a door bang and the council kicked me out.
- Market Road– just off Caledonian Road, I’ve spent a lot of time there, it’s stained in my memory, and I’ve had lots of good experiences in Market Road park waiting for a night shelter to open. I’ll chill out with people, look at the view, then 6 o’clock would come and you wouldn’t realise!
- Finsbury Park– I grew up here, it’s where my journey into life started. I found my first crew in Finsbury Park.
- Archway– I’ve a strange attraction to Archway, maybe because it’s in between downtown and uptown. It’s really high up, and I love scenery. It’s a nice place to go and look at the view. It’s a power thing as well – when you’re looking down at the city, you feel really powerful. I feel like a hero, like I’ve got some responsibilities. I want to be a fireman someday.
- Angel– it’s the epi-centre. You can get anywhere from Angel. It sounds nice, it’s just the place. When I’m in Angel, I know I’m near somewhere. I’m close to home.
The majority of tower blocks in London have massive doors on them and once you do get past them, a resident would almost certainly insult you, rat you out or kick you out of the building, you think you’re safe but not.