Helping the homeless in Birmingham

By Shaheen Lindo and Muhammad Ahmed

Envision is kind of like a stepping stone to the outside world. It helps you understand what’s going on out there - not just what’s going on in your head.   

Shaheen, Muhammed & team after winning the 2014 Community-Apprentice competition


When our team found that there are thousands of homeless people in Birmingham, it hit us really hard. You only ever see one or two people at a time so we were really shocked to find out that there were so many.

We were all really keen to support SIFA Fireside, a homelessness charity in Birmingham. They work with homeless people to help them rebuild their lives. We liked that they helped them to live, rather than just helping them survive.  

We wanted to raise funds, but we also wanted to help raise SIFA Fireside’s profile. Our programme was a short one, so we only had ten weeks to make a difference.

The first thing we decided to do was organise a football tournament in our school. We knew our peers would want to go, so we could raise money, and we could also tell everyone about SIFA Fireside, and why their work matters.

That tournament raised way more than we expected, and we were all like, 'woah, we’ve actually done something as this team.' I think that really motivated us. If we could make that amount in a day, we could achieve loads over ten weeks.  

We decided to run a really jam-packed fundraising programme at our school. At the start, we were all really excited - we were having ideas left, right and centre! Achieving all of them wasn’t very realistic, but the passion was definitely there.

I remember our Envision Co-ordinator being like 'you just need to put down what you think you will get done in this space of time and put your all into that.' I think that's when we started to plan things more sensibly.

We learnt to work well together as a team. Working as a big group isn’t really like working towards an individual goal - you don’t know every little thing that’s going on. It was more like ‘you’re in charge of this, get this done then come back to show us where you are.' We all were responsible for our own bits, which we decided based on what our different strengths and weaknesses were.  

The next fundraisers we did were a film screening, cake sale and non-uniform day. We promoted SIFA Fireside's work at each of them. There was lots to plan so we got really good at being organised! 

For me, the point when I was like ‘this is actually working’ was when we got people in the community to donate clothes for a second-hand clothes sale we were doing. People didn’t just donate stuff they didn’t want anymore, but good quality stuff – some clothes even still had labels in! The community really wanted to contribute – we’d actually got through to them. We then asked twenty local companies to donate things for a raffle.

We learnt to communicate with lots of different people, and it was great that our message was really getting out there.

We raised over £1,000 in total, which felt amazing. I like that we’ve made that physical contribution. It’s inspiring to know that what we’ve done has helped people get off the streets.

The whole experience definitely opened our minds – it’s stopped us just thinking about ourselves.

I have walked past so many homeless people before, and I didn’t think I could help. I thought, I’m just a teenager, in college, just studying, I don’t have a job. What can I offer to you that would make you feel like the world isn’t such a bad place? I never thought I had the ability to change things for someone.  

I feel a sense of responsibility now that wasn’t really there before. I know that SIFA Fireside will always a part of my life – I’ll always be looking for ways to help out. When I get a job, I want to give a certain percentage of what I earn to them. That’s new – that’s definitely not something I’d have wanted to do before.

I thought this was just going to be a ten week thing. But I think it had a really big impact on all of us. We all felt so proud of what we’d done, and so it was amazing when we won the interschool Birmingham Community-Apprentice competition. We had to pitch our achievements to Sir Albert Bore, the Leader of the Birmingham Council, and he picked us as the winners!

I think it all comes down to effort and passion. If you put the time in and are passionate about what you’re standing for, you can really make a change.