Just around the corner from Whitehall is a building that has been helping homeless people since the early 1900s when it was opened by King George V. Today, the power of music is helping to turn their lives around.
Musical notes can often be heard in King George’s Hostel, a homeless centre for men in the heart of Westminster, run by Riverside Care and Support.
And music is just one of the ways to engage with residents to help them back on their feet and rebuild their lives. Open mic nights, weekly music groups and a recently opened recording studio called Changes are available for residents to come and play.
Michael Higgins started learning to play the guitar while staying at King George’s and says it helps him focus. The 41-year-old from Portsmouth moved to London 16 years ago for work. This is his second stay at the scheme, arriving two years ago.
“I moved to London 16 years ago for work and eventually ended up at King George’s Hostel and stayed for over a year before getting my own flat and working. Then I was living with my grandmother, looking after her, but she died and I lost my home. I was living on the streets for six months before coming back here,” recalls Michael.
He added: “Being able to play music at King George’s is really good and does make a lot of difference. It helps people to focus which is needed. People come here off the streets with drug and alcohol problems, music gives them a new direction to take.
“I can practise and make my own music in the studio with recording equipment, it’s great! I’m hoping to give guitar lessons to other residents.”
The 68-bed hostel on Great Peter Street supports men who have a history of sleeping rough. Its sister scheme nearby, Queen Mary Pathway, supports homeless women.
A plethora of activities take place at King George’s to inspire residents to take up an interest – art, creative writing and fitness classes, film club, gardening, and a breakfast club along with a recently opened digital café are just some of the activities available.
Danny Murray, 35, came to King George’s in January. He said: “Cooking is a passion of mine and helps keep me grounded, it gives me a chance to express myself. I like cooking and I enjoy taking part in the breakfast club, you would never be able to do this at another hostel.”
Helping residents make sweet melodies is Riverside Support Worker Cleo Sava, who has a degree in music. She takes residents to gigs and does ‘soundwalks’ which is about recording sound in the area.
Cleo said: “The music studio is a valuable resource for residents as a safe space for them to come and express their thoughts and emotions in a positive and productive way. They use the instruments and equipment to record. Everyone is welcome to pop in, have a chat and listen to music. I play a multitude of instruments and teach people to play.”
One of the key elements of King George’s success is Riverside’s Psychologically Informed Environments (PIEs), which help customers to increase their self-esteem, belief and hope, so they receive support for longer and achieve their goals.
Karren Ebanks, Riverside’s Area Manager, added: “Residents have said that these classes boosts their confidence, and gives them the opportunity to deal with past traumas that they’ve never spoken to anyone about. Our music studio is at the heart of King George’s, and feeds into all the other activities be it through music, art, or film groups. Music is a powerful tool to engage them in the early stages of pre-contemplation. The studio operates an open door policy and provides a variety of ways for people to get involved.”
Riverside is the third largest provider of homelessness services in the country, and its Care and Support operation works with over 16,000 customers every year.
To find out more about our supported housing services visit: www.riverside.org.uk/care-and-support/supported-living.