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The facts of leaving home

Kirsty, Rachel and Duncan are working out how to survive on a budget of pound;40 a week. Their living expenses include rent, electricity, food, television licence, clothes, furniture and - almost as an afterthought - something for a social life. But what exactly does a pint of milk cost and how much is a jar of coffee?

"We take so much for granted when we live at home, we never really need to think about what is involved," says Kirsty Johnston, one of the sixth year pupils at Ross High school in Tranent, which is actively involved in a project to reduce homelessness among young people. "We want people to stop and think before they leave home."

The need for clear information is the driving force behind two publications being produced at the school with guidance from the Edinburgh-based Bridges Project, a voluntary organisation which advises young people on housing and homelessness.

Their brightly coloured Snapfax is designed to appeal to the vulnerable group of 14 to 16-year-olds who may be tempted to leave home at the same time as they leave school. Now the committee of six pupils is researching detailed information for an accompanying booklet (Safe as Houses? is the favourite working title so far) for parents and pupils.

Key themes in the book - health, housing, personal safety and finances - will be developed ino four lessons for S4 students, first at Ross High and then throughout East Lothian. The reality of leaving home will be explored in workshops and role-play involving pupils in discussions with police, housing officers, voluntary organisations.

The Housing Education Project was initiated by East Lothian housing department with funding from the Tranent Social Inclusion Project. One of the SIP's aims is to encourage young people to take active responsibility and in this case students have taken the housing project so seriously that they met five times during the summer holiday.

"They became extremely engaged at the end of the summer term," says Hilary Hall, an English teacher at Ross High. She has been responsible for developing the project at the school, selecting the committee for a cross-section of skills, co-ordinating with workers from the Bridges Project, and finally introducing drama through TAG, the Glasgow-based theatre company.

TAG has produced a play about young homeless people and by chance the start of its tour next February coincides with the planned publication date of Safe as Houses? (if that is its title). The student committee will be among special guests at a public discussion planned to open the play in Glasgow.

Ms Hall describes the project as "time consuming but very exciting".

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