In kennedy’s name

From training to become a Catholic priest, Richard McKendrick
has gone on to head a major support charity for gay, lesbian and
bisexual young people. Kate Coxon spoke to him.

Four years ago Richard McKendrick applied to be a carer with the
Albert Kennedy Trust, which provides specialist support services
for lesbian, gay and bisexual young people. He didn’t get the
job. “I was turned down because they were only recruiting carers in
London and I wasn’t living there at the time.” Today, the
organisation covers London, Manchester and Brighton, is expanding
into Northern Ireland, and has development plans for Wales and
Scotland. McKendrick is its director.

The trust was formed in 1989, shortly after the death of Albert
Kennedy, a gay teenager who had run away from a children’s
home. The 16 year old fell to his death as he tried to escape from
a homophobic attack in a multi-storey car park in Manchester. The
bulk of the trust’s work consists of providing supported
lodgings, advice and advocacy to 16 to 19 year olds who are
homeless or living in a hostile environment. Placements are
supported by a social worker, and some foster placements for
under-16s are undertaken in partnership with social services.

McKendrick points out that supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual
teenagers is not easy. “This is not because of the client group,
but because we are an easy target for unhelpful media stereotypes.
People say: ‘how can young people possibly know whether they
are gay or lesbian or bisexual – you are influencing them,
corrupting them and placing them with paedophiles’.”

The reality, he says, is that when young people come out as
lesbian, gay or bisexual, those around them are ill-equipped to
cope. “Some teenagers are thrown out of home, or if they’re
in the care system like Albert Kennedy, they run away. They head
for the bright lights of the cities – especially where
there’s a known gay scene.” Getting a place in a hostel may
not be the answer for these young people, who are targets for
homophobic abuse and discrimination.

McKendrick is familiar with discrimination. When he came out
nine years ago, he was training to be a Catholic priest. “I was
told: ‘you can be gay or you can be a priest – you
can’t do both.’ I was devastated.” Now, he says, he
would challenge this view. He took a job as a mental health worker
in a residential project where he’d been a volunteer,
eventually moving into a management role at the charity Turning

Three months into the director’s job, McKendrick is
planning a relaunch of the trust. “We are in the process of
expanding. At the moment we’re developing the service in
Northern Ireland. We want to promote our services more widely
across the statutory sector and beyond the lesbian, gay and
bisexual community.” Since about 20 per cent of the trust’s
income comes from the Diana Fund, which has experienced cashflow
problems, securing more funding is an issue. The trust is also
working hard to attract more carers. “Young people are there in
bucket loads – but appropriate carers are few and far between.”
There is also the need for a short-term crisis residential unit as
a safe alternative to a hostel if the young person can’t be
matched to a carer.

Much of the trust’s work is with 16 and 17 year olds, a
group that has been poorly served by mainstream services since
changes to housing benefit entitlement in the early 1990s.
McKendrick is concerned that recent policy measures are not
helping. “Supporting People [the government’s programme for
strategic funding of housing-related support services] has
effectively taken a big chunk out of our funding. These kids are
still slipping through the net.”

But McKendrick sees much cause for optimism. “This is a good
time to expand. The disappearance of section 28 should make life
much easier for us. In the past, professionals have sometimes been
concerned about working with us, for fear that they’ll be
seen to be ‘promoting homosexuality’. We’re keen
to do more preventive training, and we’re noticing more
willingness to address the huge problem of homophobic bullying in

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.