Joyous Act (1/2011)
Trinity Winchester is a charity providing services for those experiencing the effects of homelessness or vulnerable housing; problems with substance misuse; mental health issues; poverty; unemployment and social isolation.
Appallingly I have to begin my first of 2011′s posts with an apology to thepeople at Trinity Winchester. When I decided to change the format of this year’s blog and achieve one Joyous Act per month (instead of per day) I fully intended to post the outcome in the same month. For a number of reasons I won’t go into I’ve not managed this yet. I visited these guys on the 22 January and here I am hanging my head in the shadow of March (its shockingly April as I finish this). The acts themselves are coming along nicely but I must work harder on timely posting. Thankfully, the guys at Trinity are as patient as they are inspiring so here goes, let me tell you about my experience at Bradbury House, Trinity Winchester…
I thought I’d use twitter to help achieve January’s joyousness. I put out a tweet “Anyone know of a charity local to Southampton that might fancy a visit and helper for the day?’ Very quickly I had a response from Tanya-Jayne Park (@WebBasedWorking) a volunteer at Trinity Winchester. A few days later Tanya and I were on our way to Trinity in her bright yellow fiat. Tanya told me how Trinity had helped her many years before when she was a teenager dealing with some difficult circumstances. Now she chooses to give something back by volunteering her professional expertise to the charity, a small way to demonstrate her thanks.
When I arrived I met with Chief Executive, Michelle Gardner and Operation Manager, Sue McKenna. I felt extremely welcome and was immediately comfortable. I’m not sure what I was expecting. This was my first time in this type of environment and if I’m honest I probably expected a more depressing space. In my mind’s eye I anticipated a sad place full of disillusioned people but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This view was clearly naive and ill thought through. Trinity has an inspiring community spirit and an exceedingly positive energy – I felt it as soon as I walked in.
The centre offers an amazing array of courses and services that make a real difference to people’s lives. One of the services offered by The Women’s Centre is The Freedom Programme for women who are suffering from, or have suffered domestic abuse. There are also accredited computer courses, doctor appointments, a postal service and therapy sessions available. The centre allows people that are struggling for whatever reason, to maintain some dignity and order in circumstances when it really isn’t easy to do so.
Its pleasing to know that Trinity Winchester gets some financial support from Hampshire County
Council but its not surprising to hear that 18 staff and 30 volunteers raise more than half its required income each year through fundraising and trust applications. This is no mean feat. The centre is the only direct access drop-in centre in the region and has a sister centre in Basingstoke. Its general services can work with up to 54 people per day while its women’s centre supports more than 150 women, many of whom have children - each year.
Lunch came and it was time for me to get my hands dirty. I was to serve. I met the lady responsible for the cooking, someone else that had in the past used the centre to get back on her feet. She told me Sainsbury’s provides all the food for Trinity and then laughed as a I proceeded to make a mess of dishing up. I know. How hard could it be?
I was relieved to see smiling friendly faces and I wondered how it must feel to have to take that first step to Trinity’s door. I was really conscious not to appear as though I was gratuitously taking a peak into their lives. I wanted some pics for this blog but had concern that it might look somehow appear rude. They didn’t mind a jot and ended up taking the pictures for me. I was looking forward to speaking to the guys I was serving. I was genuinely interested to hear what they had to say.
I met a guy who used to run a million pound business – he was a driver originally and built up a nice little empire. When the business folded for reasons that could happen to anyone: red tape, lost contracts, he started to sell drugs. He didn’t use them, he sold them (at first anyway). He needed to keep ‘afloat’. He got caught and ended up in prison. He split from his wife losing his children too. When he came out of prison he started driving again until he lost his license for drink driving. He now lives far from his family in a rented room and comes to the centre for company and support. He is clearly a bright man but affected by circumstance and now, alcohol addiction. He was very honest with me and talked about the depression that sets in when not having work, the feelings of worthlessness when he looks back over his mistakes. The Centre is helping him stay on track while he continues to search for work. It gives his somewhere to go and a community to be part of.
It might be easy for you or I to judge the decisions he has made along the way, but how can any one of us be sure that in a parallel universe, with our backs against the wall, that we too wouldn’t make some irrational decisions we would later regret? We all know that addiction does not discriminate. Alcohol and drugs are a very real part of our society whether we like it or not. Whether you are a risk taking party animal, or a glass of red by the fire type – there really is no way of knowing on that first sip if it will develop into a more sinister habit. Addiction is a serious illness and one that affects many of our country’s homeless. And the number of homeless people in this country is only getting larger what with the current economic pressures and increasing numbers of unemployed.
I spoke to many people around Trinity, all from very different walks of life and all at very different stages on their respective journeys. They had many things in common, not least that despite the knock backs and challenges they were facing they all, without question, had on balance more hope than despair. I got the overwhelming feeling this was because of the Centre, and more than that, the people working in it.
I spent time talking to CEO, Michelle Gardner. An inspiring lady who despite being in astonishing back pain (from a slipped disk) openly shared her achievements and frustrations with me. Michelle is a business woman. She is in the business of helping people. What she achieves on a ridiculously tight budget would impress any FD in the private sector. She manages a team of volunteers and employees who are working to give give people back their independence. To provide them with somewhere safe and non-judgmental where they can start to put their lives back together. A bad day at the office though isn’t when a project is late or a deadline gets missed, its when somebody dies. In her words, “It happens, but it shouldn’t”.
Operations Manager, Sue McKenna came to work at Trinity after more than 10 years working in the private sector. She acknowledges that the money isn’t what it could be but but that benefits outweigh the costs. “Working for a charity doesn’t feel any different to working in the private sector, you still have a job to do but I know we are ultimately doing good and that is important to me”
While I was at the centre I met one of their most recent success stories. A young homeless couple were being congratulated by the Trinity community as they had finally been allocated a house. These guys had been living in stark conditions in a caravan for ten years and had been working their way through the system by themselves to no avail. It took about a minute before they accredited their key worker for the final results. Her hard work providing emotional support and encouragement through their endeavor meant they managed to get things sorted. They are expecting a baby and knowing they will be able to provide a proper home for their new family had them very excited.
I met Jane, one of the Centre’s key workers. Jane was clearly devoted to her job and worked tirelessly on behalf of her clients. She told me her philosophy was to “never expect too much. If I don’t reach out or make a difference first time it just makes me more determined to try again”. This grit and determination is a necessity when working in an area with infinite goals and objectives. The simple truth is however much the centre does do, there will always be more than can be done and more people that need help. One of Jane’s clients told me how he used to sleep rough at the Cathedral. Jane used to go and see him there and just say,”come and see me”. She didn’t give up, and eventually he did. Now they are working together to get his life back on track.
I had an an amazing day at the centre. I left feeling inspired and hopeful for all those that have the courage to take those first few steps and ask for help. I also felt grateful for the support networks in my life and opportunities that I have had over my 3o odd years that have meant I have been able to face life’s adversities knowing I’ll always be ‘alright’.
I did however leave feeling a little frustrated too. Frustrated at what I know is the misconception in our country about those that are homeless. Yes, some of them want to be, it is all they know and you know what? Its their life and so be it. We can’t change that.
But my overwhelming personal feeling is that most homeless people are massively mis-understood and the fact is that many are suffering from some sort of mental health issue – and no, this doesn’t mean they are all loopy. I suspect that depression is at the heart of many of their problems. Depression often leads to self-medication with alcohol and substance abuse and vice versa. Its almost irrelevant to me which comes first. As a nation we underestimate the effects of real depression and we belittle addiction as if those afflicted choose it. Something Michelle said while I was at the centre really struck with me. She said, “One human being should be able to look into the face of another human being and see that they are ill” and she is right.
With a touch more compassion, some real thought instead of judgement we might all begin to realise that homelessness is so much more than not just having a roof over your head. It runs deeper than that and centres like Bradbury House, Trinity Winchester make a real difference to those struggling to find their way. To make a donation or volunteer at Bradbury House visit the website here.