Richard Hartley, managing director of The Alpaca Collection, Stratford-upon-Avon, spent Christmas 2016 at a community centre in London helping to feed hundreds of homeless people who visited the centre over the Christmas period. Here is Richard’s account of his Christmas Eve and Christmas Day shifts with the homeless and hungry in the nation’s capital.
For many years I had heard, of course, of the plight of the homeless at Christmas and indeed had got as far as making vague promises of helping… one year. Then I met a couple of homeless guys on the streets of Stratford – heaven forbid! They had their own stories to tell and they weren’t of drugs or drink but of some real unlucky times.
This year has been a special year in so many ways and it was really time for me to give back a little to society. So this was the year and Crisis at Christmas in London was the place to be. Two shifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with 200 “guests” many of whom came in to the centre straight from sleeping on the street only to return at night.
Ours is a day centre which is there to dispense breakfast, lunch and dinner over the Christmas period and to throw in haircuts, showers, manicures and to advise on health and dietary matters as well as having a team of doctors, dentists, nurses, alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous.
Chess and monopoly, arts and crafts, jigsaw and books – were all available but by far the most used were the rows of computers where guests could contact their friends and relatives whether in Warsaw, Trinidad or Worthing.
This wasn’t a little soup kitchen but a professionally run organisation without whose help there would be many more homeless.
It didn’t change my life but I was lucky enough to meet some really good, well educated, well -mannered people who by some misfortune had suffered hardship. It could have just as easily been me on the street. There but for the grace……… No longer will I pretend to pass by on the other side.
Finally, we would like to share a poem with you which we received from one of our guests. At the beginning of the week he came in to the West London Day Centre a pretty broken man.
Waking up in the morning rolling up my bedding,
Knowing it’ll all be the same tomorrow, it’s doing my head in,
Having to hide it so it doesn’t get nicked,
Abused or p****d on yeah it makes me sick,
Make my way to the church for coffee and to get warm,
To the streets to get looked on in derision and scorn,
By those who don’t realise or even care about your plight,
Not knowing it could even be them tomorrow night,
Fighting and struggling to get the next meal,
Nobody can’t understand the situation until they feel,
Not having a nice warm bed and a meal on the table,
You wanna put an end to the stress but you’re not able,
Just one vicious circle of trying to make ends meet,
Or trying to eat and get the numb feeling out of your feet,
Put yourself there and you’ll know that it’s wrong,
The invisible, all you want to do is belong.
By the end of the week, Kev was the one singing with Chris Martin (Coldplay) which sums up what a difference Crisis at Christmas can do to a person during their time with us.
From 22nd until 30th December we welcomed thousands of guests in ten centres across London – Crisis at Christmas was also delivered in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Coventry. This was only made possible thanks to the more than 10,000 strong army of volunteers that attended shifts in London!
38,000 meals were served across the week and more than 5,600 meals across centres on Christmas day. From 23rd to 28th of December, 620 guests accessed doctors, nurses and pharmacists via the healthcare clinics.
Thank you everyone that contributed to my webpage at justgiving: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Richard-Hartley-Christmas-2016
I am just a little short of the target I set of £1000 so if you are thinking of making a contribution, it would be most welcome. And now I can promise you from personal experience that there cannot be a better cause on which to donate your money.