Prince William celebrates with former rough sleepers who turned their lives around

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The Duke of Cambridge speaks to award winners Colin Chilman (PA)
The Duke of Cambridge speaks to award winners Colin Chilman (PA)

Prince William celebrated with former rough sleepers who turned their lives around.

The Duke of Cambridge helped hand out gongs at the 40th birthday of homeless charity The Passage in Victoria, London.

He was also reunited with two former homeless people who have found jobs thanks to the charity.

The Duke of Cambridge, Royal Patron of The Passage, during a visit to the charity’s headquarters at the St Vincent’s Centre, London (PA)
The Duke of Cambridge, Royal Patron of The Passage, during a visit to the charity’s headquarters at the St Vincent’s Centre, London (PA)

And in a speech William fondly recalled the trips he made to The Passage with Princess Diana when he was "just a small boy".

William recognised Nomonde Mkhwanazi, 49, who he previously met before she transformed her life and now she is training to be an NHS nurse.

William said: "You’ve not changed. I do remember you. Really nice to see you and look at you now. It is so important, this service.

"You are smiling more than you were last time you had your cap down and now you are smiling. I’m so pleased that things are getting better for you, really pleased."

He also spotted Colin Chilman, 56, from a previous visit, who is now working in a central London restaurant.

Colin remembers the Duke visiting the Passage with his mother Princess Diana and Harry when they were boys.

William said: "Colin, what a journey. Well done I am so pleased it’s going well."

He later presented the duo with their Outstanding Achievement awards at a short ceremony.

Afterwards, in a speech, the Duke congratulated all the winners.

He added: "Everyone has played their part and done incredible things. Your dedication and determination are remarkable and you should all be extremely proud of your achievements.

"All of you in this room - whether you are clients, staff, volunteers, partners or supporters - are what makes this place so very special.”

Wiliam took over as royal patron from his mother Princess Diana in 2019.

He told the ceremony: "Over the many years that I have visited The Passage, first with my mother when I was just a small boy, I have developed a great affection for everyone who is here.

"Every time I come here, I am touched by your warmth and friendliness and the dignity and respect you show to every single person who comes through your door.

"I am always so impressed to see and hear the difference that The Passage makes to the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness.

"And I find it particularly inspiring to meet former clients who were helped by The Passage’s wonderful staff and volunteers in their time of need and who have come back to help others now that they are doing much better themselves.

"The last 18 months of the pandemic have shown us how much we rely on each other to get by - and just how strong our communities can be when we work together to get things done.

"Initiatives like ‘Everyone In’ have kept those who are at risk of homelessness safe. And as we emerge from the pandemic, we now need to continue that collaboration to prevent and end homelessness.

"Thank you to everyone here at The Passage for all your continuing efforts in this life-changing work and enjoy a very belated happy 40th."

The Passage opened in 1980 and its 40th birthday party was postponed 12 months due to Covid.

Speaking afterwards, reformed alcoholic and drug addict Mr Chilman described how he used The Passage for 35 years.

He has been working as a kitchen porter for the past two and half years in a West End restaurant Carousel after the charity put him through a hotel training course.

He said: "I remember seeing Diana many years ago and she was with her boys. They were so young. I also met William several years ago but I had a long beard.

"I’m well happy to win this. And extra special to get it from William. I just did what I did. From being an alcoholic I quit all that I went through a bad time and thankful for what has happened.

"It was 35 years ago and it changed my life. When I started the Hotel School I didn’t think I was going to last a day. The Passage has changed my life."

He was also given help getting accommodation and beating his alcoholism

Ms Mkhwanazi, 49, was referred from hospital in March 2016.

She was homeless and suicidal with mental health issues fighting extradition to South Africa. The charity helped her get a flat and train for the NHS.

She said: "The Passage accepted me and they were kind. Now I want to give back as a nurse in the NHS. Without the Passage I would have given up hope.

"I don’t feel worthy of getting this from Prince William but they say I am a role model for others in similar situations."

The Passage runs residential and resettlement projects, health services, homelessness prevention schemes and a modern slavery referral programme.

Mick Clarke, chief executive of The Passage, said to William: "Thanks for the support you give and the time, often without the cameras. Thank you for the care and compassion."

Since being established, they have helped almost 135,000 people to end their homelessness for good.

The Duke became Royal Patron in February 2019, having visited The Passage numerous times over the previous years with his mother.

Di also took William and Harry onto London’s streets to see rough sleepers when they were boys. The event was due to take place last year but was postponed due to the pandemic.

At the height of the crisis the charity set up an emergency food hub, preparing and delivering 350 hot meals daily for people self-isolating in temporary accommodation.

The hub was resourced by volunteers working seven days a week and has supplied over 94,000 meals.

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