Every year scores of teenagers in South Bucks end up living in a hostel for the homeless because of problems at home. Polly Manser talked to four currently living at a Padstones hostel in Burnham.
Billy Meazza used to live with his mother but when she got a boyfriend that he didn't get on with, he ended up moving out.
Talking in the sitting room of the Padstones hostel in Burnham, the 17 year old said he had stayed with relatives for a few weeks before he was offered a place at Padstones in December.
Billie-Jo Rosbottom, 16, told a similar story. She left home in November after a series of rows with her mother's new boyfriend, and wound up at Padstones after two months' sleeping at friends houses.
Joe Davies, 16, said he had to leave home two years ago after a series of fights and arguments with his mother which culminated in him smashing up her car. He was put with a foster family but they were unable to cope with his increasingly heavy drinking. He moved into the Padstones hostel two months ago.
And Jamie Webb, 16, moved out of home after repeated clashes with his mother's partner.
Billy, Billie-Jo, Joe and Jamie agreed to talk to me in order to give Advertiser readers – many of whom contribute to the running of the Padstones hostels in Burnham and High Wycombe through charity events – an insight into the life of a homeless teenager.
I was given a tour of the house, which at any one time is home to nine young people aged 16 to 25, and is divided into three flats. Each resident has his or her own bedroom and is responsible for his or her own shopping, cooking and cleaning. Each lives on a budget of £50 to £80 per week – of which £13 must be handed over for bills - depending on their age and circumstances.
The teenagers I met are all studying; one of the rules laid down by Padstones is that they must be in training, study or work to qualify for a place.
Billie-Jo, Jamie and Joe are currently sitting their GCSEs; Billie-Jo hopes to become a surgeon. Currently at Beechwood School, she hopes to gain a place at Burnham Grammar to study science A levels from September. Jamie, currently at Burnham Upper School, hopes to join the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers as a vehicle mechanic, while Joe, currently at Haymill School, has set his sights on studying for a catering diploma at Thames Valley University and eventually becoming a chef and running his own restaurant.
Billy, the eldest, already has his GCSEs and left school last summer. He is currently improving his maths and English in order to get a place at Berkshire College of Agriculture for September where he hopes to study landscape gardening.
After school or college, they cook either together or separately, do their homework, and chat or watch TV.
The hostel is staffed by three project workers and a manager, with at least one on duty at any one time, 24 hours per day. Each resident is assigned a key worker, with whom they have a weekly hour long meeting to discuss any challenges or problems that have arisen. The key workers act as parents to some extent; attending parents' evenings, helping with homework, preventing arguments from escalating, and checking that rooms are relatively tidy and that the week night 11.30pm curfew is obeyed.
When they are deemed ready, residents are encouraged to move out into a "move-on flat" where they are independent, but still have a weekly meeting with a key worker.
Altogether, Padstones can house 24 young people at any one time in homes in Burnham and High Wycombe, and move-on flats in Burnham.
While most of the money comes in the form of government grants, around 20 per cent is from fund-raising and donations. Some of this is used for "extras" such as a week long holiday for residents – last year they went to the Isle of Wight – and Christmas presents.
John Stanley, from Chalfont St Giles, got involved with Padstones through St James' Church in Gerrards Cross, which has adopted the charity and regularly raises money for it.
A retired former senior manager with Marks and Spencer, he volunteered when he heard that Padstones was looking for trustees.
He said: "I believe it's important that people with business experience get involved with the voluntary sector. Seeing the young people who come here grow in confidence and ultimately being able to leave, knowing that they are fully independent, is a great thing. We are currently trying to develop relationships with businesses to build up corporate donations." The Burnham home alone costs £460,000 per year to run.
After Billy and Jamie have kindly showed me their rooms, and I've had a guided tour of the rest of the house from project manager Jane Wakefield, I leave the residents, who are starting to cook dinner and prepare for the exams they are taking the next day.
I hope they all succeed in their endeavours; that Billy gets his landscape gardening business, Jamie is successful in the army, Joe has his own restaurant, and Billy-Jo makes it into medicine.
Despite the problems at home, the teenagers have told me they hope to have their own families one day, but one of them adds: "I won't be inviting my mum to my wedding."