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Rough sleeper taught himself to play Ravel on open station piano

Camden Mayor Richard Cotton leads fund-raising drive for homeless charity

14 September, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Camden Mayor Richard Cotton with Francois Pierron

SOME days it is used by frustrated musicians passing the time as they wait for a train. At other times it’s claimed by children playing chopsticks.

Francois Pierron, however, looks at the open piano at St Pancras International a little differently: the 22-year-old learned to play on it while homeless, a release from the horror of living on the streets. Three years on and now living in a hostel and accessing help, on Friday evening he swapped the busking vibe of the station concourse for the slightly more rarified rooms of Lauderdale House in Highgate, where he entertained an audience for a fundraising talk by Alastair Campbell on mental health and homelessness.

“I used to go to St Pancras station all night long. Every night I used to go there to play piano,” Mr Pierron told the New Journal. “When I was hungry, when I was sad. I wasn’t very good when I first started, but I kept going back. It was free.”

Mr Pierron was helped by the long-standing New Horizons homelessness charity, which put him in contact with the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. It enrolled him on its On Track course, a free programme for young people not in education or work which helps them prepare for a career in music. A fan of Ravel and Debussy, he now dreams of one day playing in the main hall of the iconic venue in Chalk Farm Road. Mayor of Camden Richard Cotton, who had met him at the Roundhouse, later invited him to play before Mr Campbell’s talk.

“I tried to stay positive but everything that you can imagine happens when you are homeless happened. I was sleeping everywhere,” Mr Pierron said. “There is a nonchalance among people. There’s a normalisation about homelessness, like you are just part of the landscape. On my 20th birthday I woke up near a bin area. It marked me. From that time I tried to make more of myself. “One time someone tried to stab me, because of a postcode war. You can be attacked for being in the wrong street.”

Mr Pierron grew up in the French countryside, but after an unhappy childhood in which he felt he did not fit into traditional education, he left in his late-teens. “I’d heard of Camden before, because of Amy Winehouse,” he said. “At one centre, I got to play for her parents.” In the winter months, he took shelter in church crypts as part of the CW4S Homeless Project, the Camden charity which Mr Cotton is supporting during his mayoral year. Mr Pierron spent one New Year’s Eve sleeping in Bloomsbury Baptist Church.

Mr Campbell’s talk raised more than £1,000 in ticket sales for the charity. “When I was young I hardly saw anybody sleeping rough,” Cllr Cotton said. “Now, sadly I see it all over the borough. “It could happen to any of us. We could all be one breakdown, divorce, missed pay cheque away from this. CW4S has a holistic approach, not just helping them get a roof over their head, but trying to help them find work, help them get their lives back together.”

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