The team behind a care and supported housing service has achieved national recognition for its outstanding work with young asylum seekers.

The service, run by Hightown Housing Association, is one of only eight category finalists in the 2020 Housing Heroes Awards, a national celebration of the unsung heroes of the housing sector.

Staff at the service, which includes supported housing in Shenley and Hemel Hempstead, were singled out for the "added value" they have introduced since it began in 2017, including the introduction of a programme of workshops designed to prepare young people both practically and emotionally for adult life in the UK.

The service provides accommodation and support for 28 unaccompanied 16 to 17-year-olds who have become separated from their close family and are alone in the UK with no parent or guardian.

The young people supported by the scheme have fled civil war or humanitarian crime in their native countries or have been trafficked from overseas for modern slavery and exploitation.

Hightown's team works closely with Hertfordshire County Council and the Refugee Council charity to support the young people as they assimilate to life in a new country and culture, teaching them basic life skills and helping them recover from the psychological impact of their traumatic pasts.

Over the past year, the team has co-ordinated a programme of workshops at the scheme covering all manner of subjects, from relationships to social media.

Borehamwood Times:

Resident Emuka with support worker Kia Nolan. Emma Fletcher Photography

Support worker Kia Nolan, who works with the girls housed by the service, says: "It's really rewarding working with young people, especially unaccompanied minors, as you get to teach them the things they wouldn't learn otherwise if we weren't here to help them.

"When the young people first arrive at the scheme, we help set them up with local services such as the doctors, dentists and immunisations. In-house, we support them with workshops on subjects such as sexual health, a subject I'm particularly about passionate about.

"We've got a really strong team here and we work together really well."

Hightown operations manager, Philippa Gardner, added: "It’s easy to forget the basic life skills that most children naturally acquire over time, like looking both ways when you cross the road, locking the door behind you when you go out, reading a bus timetable or using a cooker safely.

"Our team helps our young residents learn those practical things that we take for granted.

"The traumatic experiences they have endured can mean they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

"We’re so proud that they leave us as confident, independent individuals ready to face the world."

Having reached the final shortlist, the team is now looking forward to the Housing Heroes Awards ceremony in September, when the winners will be announced as part of the Virtual Housing Festival.