While I was at the offices I had the great surprise of bumping into Clive Harrold, who went to Hill House School with me, and who I know has benefited from the opportunities which The Big Issue has given him. It was a vivid reminder that homelessness can happen to almost anyone. I think we all owe a considerable debt to The Big Issue, not only because of the valuable chance it provides to some of the homeless people on our streets to take on a real job, but also because it helps to ensure that homelessness is kept at the forefront of our minds.
The lack of a home is one of the dreadful problems facing many of our young people today but, all too often, homelessness tends to be a symptom rather than a cause. Unemployment, lack of suitable adult role models, low educational achievement and drug or drink problems all take their toll and prevent many people fulfilling their potential as they grow into adulthood. These difficulties can be so much harder to overcome, or so the statistics tell us, if people have been in care or in a young offenders institution. I doubt if it is very widely known, for instance, that around one third of all homeless people have a background in care.
Even with a very supportive home background, young people today can find it hard enough to maintain their self-confidence against the enormous pressures of modern life. Few would dispute that we live in an increasingly materialist and secular world in which people's identity is determined so often only by the job they do and the money they earn, rather than by what they contribute to society as a whole. The constant need to cut costs has meant that good long-term jobs can be hard to come by.
Since I set about creating The Prince's Trust some 22 years ago, we have learned a great deal about the problems facing young unemployed people in every corner of the United Kingdom. With the track record and contacts we have built up over these two decades, my Trust has been able to develop a range of successful programmes to address some of their specific needs. Today, and thanks in no small part to the enthusiasm and dedication of an army of staff and volunteers, The Trust helps over 50,000 young people each year to succeed in their lives - and to do so in many different ways. I found out recently that one young man who was helped by my Trust to start up in business - and there have been 37,000 like him in the last ten years - is even designing the jackets worn by vendors of The Big Issue in the north of England.
Much of our success has been due to our readiness to experiment with new ways of helping people and to take risks. We have learned much about the benefits of giving young people adult 'mentors' or personal advisors to help them find jobs or to develop their skills. Everyone we set up in business is given a volunteer business advisor and this is the major reason why two-thirds of those we help with grants and loans are still trading after three years. We now hope to extend this concept and to provide, as a pilot scheme, a number of specially trained mentors to work with ex-offenders and those leaving the care system. The need is great.
Another area where we have made a difference has been in encouraging people to volunteer to put something back into their local community. I have long felt that it is worth considering making volunteering an integral part of every young person's education, as is already happening in some schools. It was this feeling that led me to set up my Trust's Volunteers Programme which, since its inception, has involved 25,000 young people in countless projects to help their local community - projects like the refurbishment of a drop-in centre for the homeless near King's Cross, which bring such practical help and benefit to those in need. It is intriguing that many of those who have been involved carry on volunteering afterwards, having found it an enriching experience from which both sides benefit. I am also delighted that my Trust has been asked to be part of some of the pilot projects for New Deal that are starting this month and that so many of the lessons we have learned have been incorporated into this programme.
Encouraging achievement and developing hidden talent has been at the heart of what I have been trying to do for so much of my life. It is hard to describe how rewarding it is to see those who have so far achieved little making the most of new-found skills, or natural talents - whether in the arts, sport, design, innovation or entrepreneurship, to name only a few. They are the standard-bearers of Britain's future success and they deserve our support.
But it is not only the young people themselves who need public recognition. There are countless individuals and organisations who work tirelessly, in every part of Britain, to try to ensure that everyone in our society has a chance to succeed in their own particular way. These are the people who are the unsung heroes and heroines of our time and, without their dedication, the lives of those whom they touch would be greatly diminished.
The Big Issue and its Foundation have found one particularly effective way of making a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people and I hope that, through fruitful cooperation with my Trust, we can find increasingly imaginative ways of responding to those who desperately need our help, understanding and encouragement. In this way their talents and potential can be unlocked in order to make a lasting contribution to the quality of life in Britain.