Independent Appeal: Teenage runaway on a mission to change young people's lives

The passionate advocate now lectures politicians on the problem of desperate children, says Jonathan Brown

Sitting in the lounge of his apartment in one of central Manchester's more prestigious mill developments, Carl Hillier could be just another of the city's army of smart young professionals.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE NOW.

But it so nearly did not work out like this for the 24-year-old, whose experience as a teenage runaway has made him a passionate advocate for young people with an eye on entering politics so that he can fight on their behalf.

Seven years ago, months of skirmishes with his mother at their home in Weymouth, Dorset, came to a head.

"Me and my mum were arguing," he recalls. "It was a case of I didn't know what to do with my life ... I walked out."

It seems incredible that the disciplined adult chatting about youth justice, and his work helping 14- to 16-year-olds back into education and training, was ever angry and directionless. Yet it is a story all too common.

The first feelings after he ran away were positive. "You are just glad to be out of the argument, you think 'Yes, I can do this'." But hours of walking up and down the seafront on a cold night meant reality as well as the cold soon began to bite. He had reached rock bottom. At 1.30 am, he rang a helpline. But he was told social services were closed until Monday morning. Even then the nearest help was 30 miles away in Poole. "The advice was to stay safe or go home. So I just walked the streets all night," he says. The sensation that there was no one to help still lives with him. Two days later, after a couple of nights of sleeping on a friend's floor, he was put in touch with the Children's Society's Waves project in Weymouth. The Children's Society is one of three charities being supported by the Independent's Christmas Appeal.

"They were about to close but they said 'Come in and sit down'. We must have been there for three or four hours," he says. "On the outside I appeared confident. But as soon as someone asks how you are, you fall to bits."

Staff at Waves found him a bed and breakfast and then supported accommodation, where he stayed for nearly a year and saved the deposit for a flat. But help went beyond food parcels. "They listen. That is the first thing. Even if it's the stupidest thing in your own head they will listen to each question, understand and relate to it. Once you have got it out of your system, they will set you small goals and say: 'What do you want to do in the next week or month?" he says.

The experience of fending for himself was daunting. "Going from being with my mum who was doing everything for me, it scared the crap out of me," he admits. He got a job, although cleaning out toilets at 4am had its own challenges. "There were days when I wanted to quit but I would go and see someone in the project and they would tell me to think about my future."

He became a deputy bar manager, but still suffered doubts. Unlike other youth services he was welcome at the Children's Society even after he was 18. "There were times between 17 and 20 when I felt like going back to where I was. You still want to run away and hide," Carl says.

Four years ago he took the plunge and relocated to Manchester to work in financial services. Since then he has travelled to the United States to speak on behalf of young people, addressing audiences of British politicians. The political path is one he would like to follow himself.

"The big dream is to help make changes in Parliament. One hundred thousand runaways just isn't right. It is one every four or five minutes and only 40 per cent are ever reported to the police," he says. Over the years Carl has witnessed his share of people being helped: a 13-year-old runaway whose stepfather beat her up and who got hooked on heroin; a child kidnapped on the streets by a couple who fed him bleach; six-year-olds running away from home. Seeing such people getting help inspired him. "You realise that if they hadn't had that support they would more than likely be dead," he says.

The charities that we are supporting

Save the Children

Save the Children works in 120 countries, including the UK. It saves children's lives, fights for their rights and help them fulfil their potential. Save the Children's vital work reaches more than eight million children each year – keeping them alive, getting them into school and protecting them from harm.

www.savethechildren.org.uk

The Children's Society

The Children's Society provides crucial support to vulnerable children and young people in England, including those who have run away from home. Many have experienced neglect, isolation or abuse, and all they want is a safe and happy home. Its project staff provide essential support to desperate children who have nowhere else to turn.

www.childrenssociety.org.uk

Rainbow Trust Children's Charity

Rainbow Trust Children's Charity provides emotional and practical support for families who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. For families living with a child who is going to die, Rainbow Trust is the support they wished they never had to turn to, but would struggle to cope without.

www.rainbowtrust.org.uk

At The Independent, we believe that these organisations can make a big difference to changing many children's lives.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE NOW.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own