Arsenal’s link with young homeless gets results on and off the pitch

It’s apparent, very quickly, that I have made a calamitous footwear error. Standing on the edges of an artificial-turf indoor football pitch at Arsenal’s stadium complex in north London, I vainly attempt to kick a ball at the assembled huddle of Centrepoint residents, all wearing sensible kit and studded boots, while I’ve plumped for knee-high suede boots. The ball veers away wildly and one of the 24 young people jogs to retrieve it.

The group are here, a few days before Christmas, for their final session of a scheme that melds employability and confidence training with sport and exercise. Once a week, for two months, the young women and men come to Arsenal in the kit provided, spending half the session in a small room, discussing interview techniques, tactics for searching for work, application skills, and building confidence. Craig, one of three trainers working with the group, says: “You can look at a benchpress and say I’m going to lift 200kg, but you’ve got to start somewhere.” Confidence is particularly important: many Centrepoint residents have been through traumatic periods, often repeatedly, and treated with disdain and even violence. Even if their personal circumstances weren’t already confidence destroying, the stigma around homelessness is endemic and can become self-defeating.

Mixing jobs talk with football helps with this: as well the health benefits, even the most shy members of the group open up and shout suggestions in the complex team games on the pitch. Without teamwork and talking together their action plans to win can never be realised: being confident enough to talk to strangers is difficult for lots of young homeless people – and a job interview is precisely that, with particularly high stakes.

Talisha became homeless after a breakdown in the relationship with her mother. After six months of sleeping on friends’ sofas, she found Centrepoint, the youth homeless charity and a beneficiary of the 2017 Guardian and Observer charity appeal. After completing the Arsenal training course earlier in the year, she represented England at the Homeless World Cup in Oslo. “Last year I was sheepish, but it brought me out of my shell. Now I talk to anyone,” she says, taking a break from training. “I learn new things off them, they learn new things off me.” All participants point out one of the main things is how much people share about their experiences, and how this bolsters their confidence when speaking to new people. Craig explains that for those who go on to compete in the international competitions, there’s often a lot of press attention, which can be overwhelming – they use the opportunity to do workshops on resilience, to help them consider what they can learn from such situations, and how they can use new skills to overcome problems in later life.

While the course may only be eight weeks, the work between Centrepoint and Arsenal continues. All of those attending are looking for work, and Arsenal’s links with the local economy are huge: if people want to work in retailing, catering, event planning or anything around the stadium, the trainers know where to point them. But they’re realistic: when someone inevitably suggests they’d like to coach a Premier League team, the coaches point out there are very few coaching jobs in the country at all, and those that do exist are both unbelievably competitive, and take years of work to attain. Several want to look for jobs in security, and the football club and Centrepoint have the contacts and resources to ensure they can get the accredited badge for such work.

But, as Craig tells the group, “if you try something and don’t like it, we won’t force you to continue down that route. That’s not going to help you.” One of the women tells me she secured a few paid trial shifts in a shop, then realised she was completely unsuited to retailing. She is now looking into youth work as a possible career path, something she hadn’t considered before coming to Arsenal and observing how the trainers helped people, but also clearly enjoyed their jobs deeply.

Aidan became homeless at 20, fleeing a forced marriage. She came to Centrepoint after sofa-surfing for five months. “All the workshops have a theme: teamwork, responsibility, communication. But meeting new people is a big thing, becoming more confident. I want to go into film now,” she tells me. She is currently at college completing an animation and film-making course.

Savannah says: “My big fear at the beginning was that there were loads of boys. But I just got on with it, and worked to overcome my shyness. I usually avoid big groups, but it’s made me more confident.”

Charlie was reluctant to join the scheme at first: “The first fear for me was that I was told it was mandatory to wear an Arsenal top.” As an ardent Spurs fan, he’s overcome that barrier by wearing the rival team’s socks for the training session. “We work on team-work, communication skills, and I was pretty confident before but it definitely does improve your confidence, and it’s different. I’m talking about coaching and other work with youth groups now. I know the ins and outs of gangs, so I can use that knowledge for good.” Charlie clearly admires the coaches working with Centrepoint and Arsenal and wants to return the favour: throughout the team games, he encourages and chats to a woman who doesn’t seem keen to participate, but is fully involved by the end, with his gentle prodding.

On completion of the course, each member is individually applauded as they collect their certificate, and an A4-size portrait of themselves taken by the official Arsenal team photographer. The photos are transformative, atmospheric and really make the men and women look fantastic. Most people pretend not to be bowled over, but furtively gaze at them in awe when they think eyes are elsewhere.

But there’s one more perk: a tour of the stadium. Through the directors’ box, the changing rooms, the players’ entrance and the stands, they ask questions and take selfies and videos of themselves next to statues and team shirts. The laughter and enthusiasm is infectious: the scheme may have ended now, but they seem far happier, and have enjoyed being welcomed into places that would normally be closed to them.

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Slave trader’s home, slum, des res: the stories of one house raise restless ghosts

All old houses are haunted. Not by ghosts but by the lives of others. Because to live in an old house is to share your most intimate space with the dead. Houses live longer than people and the harsh fact is that we are just passing through. Our homes, the most acutely personal places in our lives, come to us secondhand, and invisibly link us to people we have never met, people to whom we have no association other than a single shared connection to place.

I have been thinking about this recently because I spent last autumn engaged in a unique television experiment. We set out to discover if it was possible to take a single house and, through old newspapers, documents in the archives and whatever other clues or scraps of evidence we could find, tell the story of all the people who live there; from the day the first resident turned the key in the front door, all the way up to today.

The house selected is a Georgian-style terrace in what is now called the Georgian Quarter of Liverpool. I write “Georgian-style” because it was built in 1840, the third year of Victoria’s reign. Although large, elegant and, in the early 21st century, extremely desirable, it is not unique. There are hundreds like it in Liverpool and many thousands more across the country.

But, after months of investigations, what the researchers who began this project discovered was that it was possible, in the case of 62 Falkner Street, to form a chain of human stories stretching from then to now, from the first resident to the current owner. The lives of all of the people whose stories make up the links in that chain run through the house, because, for each of them, walking through that front door meant that they were home.

Across the four episodes of A House Through Time we uncover their stories, and that of the city in which they lived. More than any other British city, Liverpool’s ride on the rollercoaster of national fortune has been a bumpy one. No other city has been more buffeted by the cycles of boom and bust and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the place that once proudly saw itself as the “second city of empire” suffered more than any other when that empire suddenly evaporated.

The extremes of Liverpool’s story are reflected in the lives of the occupants of 62 Falkner Street. They span the social spectrum, from the well-to-do Victorian gentlemen to the families who huddled together in single rooms during the decades after the second world war when the house degenerated into a tenement slum.

Part of the aim of A House is to answer the question that everyone who has ever lived in an old house has – at some time or another – asked themselves. The thought usually comes late at night or early in the morning, when our eye is caught by what estate agents like to call an “original feature”, or a patch of peeling wallpaper or flaking paint reveals what lies beneath. Those triggers remind us that the buildings we confidently call ours once belonged to others; many and multiple others.

History is about people. Historians who don’t get that tend to be the ones who struggle to get anyone to care about their work. Ultimately you have to care about the people you encounter through your research, if you want anyone else to. But it is all too easy to start caring about figures from the past if you find yourself reading the documents that record their lives while sitting in what was once their kitchen. Or having just walked up a staircase, holding the wooden banister that their hands once gripped. To read their letters from within the house in which they were written, or to hold in your hands their death certificates, while standing on their front steps or in their bedroom, is a strangely intimate experience. A close encounter between historian and subject.

Reading the grim details of a Victorian domestic violence case, while walking through the rooms in which those beatings and beratings took place, felt almost voyeuristic. Too close and a little too real for comfort. To talk about the past residents of the house, to make judgments about them, to sum up their achievements or discuss their failings, from the upstairs sitting room in which they showed off their wealth and entertained their guests one and a half centuries earlier, felt a little presumptuous and almost transgressive. Historians love to talk about how we can get closer to the people of the past, but when it happens of its own volition the effects can be unnerving.

There is no official register of historians. No list from which practitioners of the art can be struck off for professional misconduct. I’ve recently found myself grateful for this omission because of all the historical projects I have worked on, none has made it so easy to cross lines, or so tempting to overstep marks. I have found myself marvelling at my capacity to feel genuine dislike for men who died over a century before my birth. To pass judgment on anyone – living or dead – on the basis of a handful of letters and ledger entries is palpably unfair and arguably ridiculous, and yet, in this case, almost impossible to resist.

Gaynor Evans lives at 62 Falkner Street with her two children. The house, built in 1840, has been home to a cross-section of British society, warts and all.



Gaynor Evans has lived at 62 Falkner Street with her two children for nearly eight years. The house, built in 1840, has been home to a cross-section of British society, warts and all. Photograph: Emerald Coulthard/BBC/Twenty Twenty productions Ltd/Emerald Coulthard

The enmity I feel towards the trader in slave-produced cotton who lived in the house, and whose personal life was lived with as much callous disregard for others as his professional life, is real and involuntary. This is a man I know only from a cache of damning official documents and – incredibly – a surviving portrait in oil paint. Only a kangaroo court in a one-party state would pass judgment on the basis of such flimsy evidence. Yet over the months my disdain for this ghost from the archives has grown, despite my attempts at professional detachment.

I have been equally surprised at my capacity to feel sympathy and empathy for the sufferings of people whom I only know from patchy documentary evidence. When I discovered that one late-Victorian resident of the house had died of heart failure, caused by years living under the shadow of a thyroid condition known as Graves’ disease, I was astonished by how emotional – rather than objective and professional – was my response to her story.

By way of an excuse, and by chance, I spent four years living with the same disease. A few days after reading the 1880s death certificate of Esther Lublin I found myself alone in my office, on the top floor of my house, reading old diaries, remembering how painful it had been. I had feared that Graves’ disease would waste years of my life, before modern treatments could bring it under control. For her there were few options. She must have known that, sooner or later, the condition would kill her. Two people with the same disease. I lived, she died – because we were born in different centuries.

Nothing about this can be said to be truly revelatory. We all know that until the 20th century billions died of diseases for which cures now exist. But knowing the historical facts and the bleak statistics is very different to reading of Esther Lublin’s tragic life, our shared diagnosis, her name and age – younger than I am now – scrawled on to her death certificate by a busy doctor.

History, to me, is all about those shiver-down-the-spine moments. When you hold in your hands an object created hundreds of years before your birth and feel the vague presence of the hands that held it in the past. Or when your boot turns over a piece of shrapnel on a first world war battlefield and you have to stop yourself speculating about what that muddy chunk of steel might have done to flesh and bone. Many historians I admire admit to such moments, although those admissions are to be made only in private and to other similarly afflicted historians or students. But they are what draws us to the archives and set us off on early morning trips across overgrown cemeteries. Historians have to be nosy, they have to want to know what others experienced. Part of that is achieved by being open to at least trying to feel something of what they felt.

If walls could talk it would be our homes – not our grand public buildings – that would have all the best stories. The real stuff of human life – love, childhood, vulnerability, intimacy, betrayal, acceptance and pain – is revealed behind closed doors and drawn curtains. It is at home, with our partners, parents and children, that we are genuinely ourselves. The version of history I was taught at school was largely one of great men and great deeds, a history that took place in palaces and battlefields. It was silent about our shared, inner and domestic histories, the stories of the rest of us, the ungreat, who live quietly and privately in anonymous terraced houses.

A House Through Time begins on BBC2 on 4 January

Hippy dream now a billion-dollar industry with California set to legalise cannabis

While Arctic conditions gripped America’s north-east, balmy sunshine bathed Los Angeles last week – but that was not the only reason denizens of the Venice boardwalk were feeling mellow. An astringent, earthy aroma infused the Pacific zephyrs wafting through the buskers, joggers, skateboarders, tourists and panhandlers.

“Weed is part of the culture here,” said Oni Farley, 30, perched on a sandy mound, watching life go by. “It’s part of the LA/California scene, the laid-back vibe.” He ignored a police patrol car that inched through the throng. “I’ve blazed in front of cops and they don’t say anything. To be honest, most of the time I’m so high I don’t notice them.”

Pot wasn’t hiding. In multiple different ways it was on display.

“Addicted to weed, anything green helps,” said a scrawled sign tilted against the backpack of Alexander Harth, 36, a dusty member of the boardwalk’s homeless population.

On the pavement, Marc Patsiner hawked wooden ornaments etched with Californian symbols: sunglasses, palm trees and marijuana leaves. “It’s pretty bohemian out here. People associate us with the leaf.”

A vape shop offered glass pipes and other pot paraphernalia. T-shirt stores peddled images of Barack Obama smoking a joint alongside other herb-themed garments saying “best buds” and “just hit it”.

On Monday, California, the US’s most populous state, and the world’s sixth biggest economy, will officially “hit it” by legalising cannabis.

Think Amsterdam, but sunnier and vaster – a watershed event for the legalisation movement. Overnight a shadow industry worth billions of dollars annually will emerge into the light, taking its place alongside agriculture, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and other sectors that are regulated and taxed.

It will answer to the newly created Bureau of Cannabis Control – bureaucratic confirmation that a day many activists did not dare dream of has indeed come to pass.

A product pilloried in the 1936 film Reefer Madness will become culturally normalised and economically integrated, said Philip Wolf, an entrepreneur who runs a cannabis wedding company and a firm that pairs pot with gourmet food. “It’s going to help destigmatise the plant. There’s going to be a lot of people making money and people will want to tax those dollars. This is going to spread. California is a trend-setting state.”

California legalised pot for medicinal purposes in 1996, ushering in a web of dispensaries, spin-off businesses and creeping mainstream acceptance. That culminated in voters last year approving proposition 64, a ballot initiative which legalised pot sales for recreation. History will mark the date it came into effect: 1 January 2018.

It is expected to unleash profound changes across the state. The Salinas Valley, an agricultural zone south of San Francisco nicknamed America’s salad bowl, has already earned a new moniker: America’s cannabis bucket. Silicon Valley investors and other moneyed folk are hoping to mint fortunes by developing technology to cultivate, transport, store and sell weed. Entrepreneurs are devising pot-related products and services. Financiers are exploring ways to fold the revenue – estimated at $7bn per annum by 2020 – into corporate banking.

Customers at MedMen, a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Use of the drug to ease pain and disease has already been decriminalised in California.



Customers at MedMen, a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Use of the drug to ease pain and disease has already been decriminalised in California. Photograph: Richard Vogel/AP

California is not the trailblazer. Colorado grabbed that mantle in January 2014 when it became the first jurisdiction in the world – beating Washington state and Uruguay by months – to legalise recreational cannabis sales. California is one of 29 US states where pot is legal for medical or recreational use. With medical certificates you can criss-cross the country getting legally stoned.

But cultural, political and economic heft makes California a landmark in the global legalisation campaign. This is the state that incubated the political careers of Richard Nixon, who launched the war on drugs in 1971, and Ronald Reagan, who continued hardline prohibition policies under his wife Nancy’s slogan “just say no”.

California’s path to yes wound through Venice, a gritty beachside haven for beat poets, artists and musicians long before hippies wore flowers on their way to San Francisco. The Doors, among others, kept the counterculture torch lit in Venice: here they wrote Light My Fire, Moonlight Drive and Break on Through. A giant mural of a shirtless Jim Morrison still peers down from a wall. It was in Venice that generations of Angelenos and tourists toked illicit spliffs. They still do, though it is now a gentrifying tech enclave.

When California legalised pot for medicinal purposes many cities and neighbourhoods refused to issue licenses for pot dispensaries. In Venice they popped up like toast, as did “clinics” where for a fee ranging from around $20 to $40 doctors issued pot recommendation letters to ostensible patients. Some were genuine, with ailments and pain alleviated by the herb. Many just wanted to get high. “Pretending you have an affliction just to smoke, that’s ridiculous,” said Farley, the boardwalk observer. Having served in the navy, he claimed to have post-traumatic stress disorder. “I don’t, but that’s what I said.”

The California Alternative Caregivers’ dispensary set up shop in 2005 on Lincoln Boulevard, on the second floor of a maze of little shops and offices. “It was by design, upstairs, all the way to the back. We didn’t advertise,” said the manager, Jim Harrison, 46. Pot, medicinal or not, still needed to be discreet. If asked about his profession Harrison would say he was a healthcare professional.

The sky failed to fall in on Venice, or other areas with dispensaries, and little by little pot became more mainstream, even respectable. Harrison, who wears a white coat and calls his patrons patients, is proud that his dispensary’s protocols, such as sealing and labelling bags and containers, have been replicated in the new state regulations for recreational pot.

Full legalisation feels historic, he said. “It’s pretty amazing. The cat’s out of the bag.” His dispensary will create a new space for recreation customers and keep a separate room for patients. Tax on medicinal pot is lower so dispensaries expect that market segment to dwindle but not disappear.

The new era may begin with a whimper. State authorities have given counties and cities authority and responsibility to govern the new industry. The result is a patchwork. Some places, such as Kern county, are still banning all commercial pot activity. LA and San Francisco only recently approved local regulations so it could be weeks or months before newly licensed pot shops start sprouting. Oakland, Santa Cruz and San Diego have licensed operators ready to open on Monday.

Golden State Greens ‘budtender’ Olivia Vugrin (right), serves a customer in San Diego, California. Dozens of shops in the state will be selling marijuana for recreational use from tomorrow.



Golden State Greens ‘budtender’ Olivia Vugrin (right), serves a customer in San Diego, California. Dozens of shops in the state will be selling marijuana for recreational use from tomorrow. Photograph: Elliot Spagat/AP

Donald Trump’s administration casts a shadow because pot remains illegal under federal law. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has compared the herb to heroin and threatened a crackdown. Fearful of federal prosecution, banks are shunning pot businesses, leaving the industry stuck with mounds of cash which must be transported under armed guard.

Venice’s bohemians helped pave the way to California’s big experiment but it is another California, that of boardrooms and city halls, which stands to gain.

Based on Colorado’s experience politicians across the Golden State are expecting tax windfalls. Labour unions are hoping to recruit tens of thousands of workers to cultivate and sell pot.

Wealthy investors are snapping up land in Salinas and other cultivation areas with a view to mass production. Others are forming pot-focused business accelerators and management firms. Start-ups are devising new apps, products and services.

Corporate expansion felt a world away from the patch of sand that Harth, the Venice panhandler, called home. Despite the sunshine drawing big crowds to the boardwalk he stuffed his sign – “Addicted to weed, anything green helps” – into his backpack. The dollars weren’t coming.