Lennie James: Generations of lives at risk if care charities are not funded

Actor Lennie James has said that generations of young lives are at risk of being lost if the UK’s care charities are not properly funded.

The Walking Dead star, 54, who is Barnardo’s ambassador for children in and leaving care, said those in charge of the system were showing “less and less commitment”.

James, who spent eight years in care following the death of his mother when he was 10, added that charities such as Barnardo’s had become “the experts” to fill this void.

Lennie James in south London (Piers Allardyce/PA)

He told the PA news agency: “If charities like Barnardo’s didn’t exist then a lot of lives would have been lost. A lot of lives would have been ruined.

“Not just my life or somebody that I grew up with’s life. But it would be generational. It would go on and on.

“One of the basic things that Barnardo’s provides is a safety net.

“And they are providing a safety net at a time when arguably the people who are providing it are showing less and less commitment.

“Thank God Barnardo’s and other charities like them are not going that way and are actually trying to step up and do more.

Virgin Media BAFTA TV Awards 2019 – Arrivals – London
Lennie James attending the Bafta TV awards (Matt Crossick/PA)

“It’s partly because they have to, but it’s also because they have become the experts now.”

James was born in Nottingham and raised in Streatham, London, following the death of his mother, later training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

He has starred in a number of Hollywood blockbusters including Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and Blade Runner 2049, and appeared as DCI Tony Gates in Line Of Duty.

Although James said he had a “broadly good experience of council care”, he said he wanted to remove the “stigma” surrounding the label.

James said: “A terrible thing happened in the sense that me and my brother lost our mum and we ended up in a children’s home.

Lennie James takes part in a session (Piers Allardyce/PA)

“It so happened that if something like that happens, you would hope to end up in a good children’s home.

“I think people are much more used to hearing bad stories about children’s homes than good ones.”

On Tuesday, he also launched the multimillion-pound Positive Futures appeal with Barnardo’s, pledging to fund-raise the first £50,000 with his wife Giselle.

He has named his year-long campaign after his birth and foster mother, Phyllis and Pam.

Barnardo’s is also aiming to build 50 gap homes around the country, where young people leaving care are taught life skills which will help them become independent.

Care leavers listen to Lennie James (Piers Allardyce/PA)

James added: “I think it is vital. I think it is really important. I think that if we are not looking after the kids in care, then I don’t know why we are calling it care. It’s just lip service.

“They deserve more. It’s through no fault of their own but sometimes you feel like it is, when you are in that situation. You feel like it is your fault that this is happening to you.

“The situation that some of those kids are in, and the things they have experienced, and the lives they are living, the very least we can do is help them enter the world in the best way possible to live successful lives.

“I don’t think that is too much to ask.”

Earlier in the day, James visited Barnardo’s YouthBuild service at a centre in Lewisham, south London, where he took part in sessions aiming to teach young people construction skills.

After the sessions, James posed for selfies and spoke with a number of those enrolled in the programme, some half of whom had been in care, the charity said.

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