Music is a Therapy – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – Oct 2014

This year the Doorway team celebrate our ten year anniversary, which is somewhat ironic since in an ideal world there would never be any need for our service. However, the world is not ideal and, in fact, the demand for our service has steadily grown over the last few years due to the increasingly complex issues that our guests face in their lives. And so, we are celebrating the fact that Doorway is continuing to exist as an independent, impartial organisation that is able to carry on standing up and speaking out on behalf of those who are rarely listened to in our society.

On the 10th October each year, Doorway recognises World Homeless Day by putting on an event to highlight the fact that homelessness is an issue that needs to be taken seriously on a local, national and international level. This year we have decided to also celebrate our tenth birthday on the tenth day of the tenth month by holding a birthday party at the Pheasant pub in Chippenham. Local comedy legend Wil Hodgson will be MC’ing on the night, our very own Doorway band will be playing a set, and Bath based band The Tin Cards will be headlining.

Since the Doorway band was set up we have proved, over the years, that informal and more structured activities such as our regular music workshops build new skills, raise self-esteem and develop guests’ self-confidence so that they can change their lives for the better.

Music sessions have enabled us to engage more productively with those guests who find it hard to express themselves in words. The sessions are creative so what goes on is an expression of the musicians (whether they are complete beginners or accomplished players). Music is the language used; words are secondary; and non-verbal communication has been proved to be very effective.

The music sessions are stress-busting and life-affirming. Anxiety levels go down during the workshops, while confidence steadily builds. Buried emotions are allowed expression in a safe environment. Guests find that they can do something that seemed impossible just an hour or so before. And the knock on effect of this can be extraordinary – a sudden moment of musical understanding seems often to open up so many other possibilities in someone’s life: “if I can do that – which I thought I couldn’t – then what else might I be able to do that seems impossible?”

And this is something which is regularly witnessed at the Doorway music workshops. Feedback includes: “Releases mental stress and brings out the best in me. I would be down in the dumps, moping around, if not getting help here.” and “an oasis of refreshment in a desert of disturbance.”

Music session facilitator Al sums up our objectives with “It was clear that what happened today was that participants achieved something they didn’t think possible at the start of the session. We were able to raise expectations and show that what seems impossible can be done: guests do this for themselves with mutual encouragement; we simply give them the initial guidance, the right environment and permission, ensuring they realise it is their achievement. By looking ahead at the next goal, while acknowledging previous achievements, we can show that differences are within reach and can be made to happen”

Providing the opportunity for our guests to perform in public as a band takes these objectives even further. Not only are they having to work together as a team in order to produce something that sounds musical but they are also stepping outside their own personal comfort zones by standing on a platform in front of a bunch of strangers. We are, in effect, thereby taking away the safe and protected environment of the private music workshops. This is all part of the Doorway ethos of enabling our guests to travel along the personal journey of building up self-confidence and self-worth which will subsequently overspill into so many additional areas of their lives.

Posted in Alcohol, Benefits, Charity, Chippenham, Drugs, Health, Homelessness, Mental Health, Music, News, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Corky’s Rants – Number One

Since Corky was published in the Gazette and Herald newspaper back in August, he has been inspired to continue writing for me. This is his first rant and I am sure that there will be some more to come…

“Do you know what really grinds my gears –

f****n LITTER.

I mean there’s always a bin or a polly bag not far away.

So pick up your crap and bin it!! 

Not f****n hard PLEASE!!

Ok we can all be lazy but c’mon it’s minging 

So keep it tidy.”

Corky October 2014

Posted in Alcohol, Benefits, Charity, Chippenham, Drugs, Homelessness, Mental Health, News, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steve’s Story

Steve has been visiting Doorway on and off over the years since 2005. Unfortunately he falls into the typical cycle that we regularly witness – rough sleeping to being housed to rough sleeping again.

We are currently very very concerned about his welfare. He has arrived at the stage in his journey of life where he simply has nothing left to live for. However, there is no organisation or agency, from us to the police to the NHS, which is able to help him in any way since he just won’t help himself. One of the most frustrating issues is that when he is admitted to hospital he will simply walk out so that he can get a drink. Or he will be discharged to no fixed abode.

And it’s heartbreaking to watch someone spiral into a decline at such a rapid rate whilst being absolutely helpless…

In 2009 Steve recorded this interview with BBC Radio Wiltshire – listen to it and gain an insight into the reasons why he became dependent on alcohol and heroin. Back then he still had ‘hope’. Today that sense of hope has totally disappeared.

So when you see Steve, or someone like him, drunk and incoherent or begging in the street then remember that he has a lifetime story to tell and that it didn’t just happen overnight or out of choice.

Steve’s Interview BBC Radio Wiltshire 2009

Posted in Alcohol, Charity, Chippenham, Drugs, Health, Homelessness, Mental Health, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Doorway Provides a Candle – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald newspaper – Sept 2014

In the summer of 2010 I asked one of our guests to write about his personal journey for our newly created blog. My intention was for him to get down on paper the various frustrations that he had experienced, from the starting point of the repossession of his house, through the times spent living in his car and subsequently the hostel, to the final point when he found himself living somewhere that he could once again call home.

After the obvious initial look of panic had started to drain from his face, I explained that not only could his story be used as a beacon of hope for all the others who would negotiate that same pathway, but that the process might be quite cathartic for him and would hopefully enable him to look back in the future and realise just how much he had achieved in the space of a relatively short period of time.

And so, after deciding on the pseudonym Samsa K, he started to write about the emotional, physical and mental minefield in small, manageable chunks which we then published regularly on the Doorway blog site.

I was totally blown away by what he wrote. He produced the most brutally honest and soul baring account of alcoholism that I have ever read and his final posting in November 2011, by way of a thank you note to all of us at Doorway, touched me deeply.

“I was talking to some of the Doorway volunteers after the AGM. The conversation touched on the difficulty of funding and the explaining of quantifiable outcomes in order to obtain such funding.  I was trying to explain what Doorway had done for me, when I realised that the most important thing that they had done for me was non-quantifiable in terms of funding criteria. In my opinion, the most important thing Doorway have done for me is to have helped in the re-discovery of my own humanity. What do I mean by this?  How have they done it? Two simple questions which are incredibly complicated for me to answer due in no small part to the emotional whirlpool-like journey I have experienced.

Recently I bought a member of Doorway a bunch of flowers and thanked her for everything she had done for me.  I thanked her and Doorway for turning me into something that was human again.  I told her that two years previous I couldn’t care a damn about anything yet twenty-four hours after reading something she had posted online I cared enough to turn up and try to boost her morale.  That to me, is a big deal.  It means I am capable of emotions other than fear.  If you are capable of caring about other people, for instance your own family then you can begin to take responsibility for your own actions in order for those actions not to have a detrimental effect on those for whom you love and care for.  With luck this could expand into the neighbourhood you live amongst and with a leap of vivid imagination the society in which you inhabit.  Pretty simplistic airy-fairy nonsense isn’t it?  Well, it’s worked for me.

There are times when I am mentally, emotionally living in a very dark place. Those times are now becoming few and far between.  It is not completely dark, for the gloom is fragmented by the flickering flame of a candle.  Doorway, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for providing that candle.

Lisa, when the Lottery fund asks you why you deserve funding, tell them that you provide candles for those in need. Somehow I don’t think that will satisfy the accountants, but that is what you have done for me.

Reading back I know I haven’t done Doorway justice. I know and many others know that when your friends turn away from you because you horrify / appal / disgust them, Doorway won’t.  Doorway will give them hope.  That’s a massive thing to give – probably non-quantifiable!!”

Posted in Alcohol, Benefits, Charity, Chippenham, Drugs, Health, Homelessness, Mental Health, News, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Corky’s Journey – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald newspaper – August 2014

Last month one of our guests, Corky, stumbled upon my monthly newspaper column for the first time and the end result of our subsequent conversation turned out to be my offer to publish whatever he chose to write for this edition.

Now conversations with Corky don’t tend to go along the ‘normal’ lines of social interaction and I can honestly say that I have no idea how I ended up proposing this to him. I also admit, hand on my heart, that I never expected him to come with the actual goods.

See Corky is just about the loudest Scotsman I have ever met. Not only does he have the broadest accent but he is also over 6ft with some majorly impressive dreadlocks and beard. Add to this the fact that he probably has undiagnosed ADHD and refuses to conform to any of society’s expectations and you can imagine my surprise when I subsequently found him two weeks later, head bent over the table for nearly three hours, furiously writing the following…

 “I rely on charity. Even a hello will make my day. Manners cost nothing. I’m just glad it’s hot and dry coz obviously the rain causes more damage (and obviously everybody gets wet). Anyway I diverse. If somebody was to ask you if you could travel back in time would you? And change your life? I would guess 80% of the people I have asked have said no. Ask yourself (honestly) would you?

 I’ve chosen this life. I enjoy my life. Things could be a wee bit different but they’re not. As I said I’m just glad it’s hot.

 Right! My name is Corky. Some of you may know me. I’m the loud and proud Scottish dreadlocked person which probably says a lot. Or maybe not.

 I went to Stonehenge in 1988. It changed my life (but in a good way). From then on I’ve travelled. I’ve owned 3 buses, 5 trucks and I don’t know how many caravans. It was great for years (until Thatcher of course).

 I’ve lived on the streets on and off for 10 to 15 years. It’s been tough but it’s been good. A big learning curve actually back to the question would you change your life if you could. I wouldn’t even the bad bits. Once again learning curves.

 This country is falling apart. You only have to look at all the changes in the law which are mostly done without us knowing or agreeing. ie poll tax, criminal justice bill, public order acts, ASBOs, squatting laws, room tax etc etc. I’m not allowed to swear but all of our natural resources have been ****** miners, shipbuilders, car makers etc!

 This is just my opinion, everyone is allowed one. We know who to blame but will it change?

 I may be a blagger and beggar but I am not a thief. So take this as you want. I feel like an old fart coz I’m falling apart but I’ve still got a few years left.”

 Now, for me it’s not even the end result that matters. Yes, he’s written something that is personal to him which reinforces the Doorway ethos of giving a voice to those who are rarely listened to, but what matters most is the journey that Corky travelled during the last two weeks.

Basically, I showed him that I had faith in his ability to attempt a task that was way outside his comfort zone. And subsequently, I have kept to my promise of getting him published in the newspaper.

So, I think that what I am trying to prove here is that the individuals you find travelling around the country and refusing to conform to society’s norms are still people at the end of the day. People with stories to tell if you just gave them a chance.

And it’s worth remembering that they all came from somewhere originally: when Corky travels down south from Scotland he has to phone his mum to tell her that he has arrived okay….

Corky’s poem didn’t make it into the newspaper:-

I’ve done them all
Oh yeah and alcohol
I don’t feel tall
I sometimes feel small
By rights I should be dead
And it’s starting to hurt my head.
So don’t go down the same path
Coz it could be cobbled and bumpy
Then you’ll know people can be grumpy.
So if you’re down
Don’t have a frown
Coz there’s always someone worse
Than you!
So all I can do is tell you
Please not to do drugs
But sometimes they don’t listen
So just say no!
And you’ll know there’s nothing

Posted in Charity, Chippenham, Homelessness, News, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go the Pinks! The Doorway Football Team play in the Kandu Kicks World Cup Tournament

Saturday 16th August at Stanley Park – The World Cup!!

Doorway is Costa Rica costa rica flag for a day 

The teams assembling, the crowd buzzing and then the news breaks – Colombia haven’t turned up! Some kerfuffle with the drug squad dogs at the border perhaps? Who knows but this means a short delay while the organisers rejig the schedules and make a slight mistake when they delete Costa Rica instead. Hang on – that’s US, Doorway!! You can’t just rub us out – we trained long and hard for this. Much more writing on the fixtures tables and a further delay but eventually we are back on track and the tournament begins.

Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (1) Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (6)

Match 1 and Doorway are on pitch 1 facing Uruguay. A nervous start and after 4 minutes our defence slips up and Uruguay score. That seems to spark us into action and after pressuring their defence for a couple of minutes a mistake is forced and a defender puts through his own goal and we’re back at 1-1. That’s got us pepped up and a couple of minutes later Kev slots home a goal and we’re 2-1 up! The game moves from end to end for a while and then Uruguay start to apply some pressure and eventually force an equaliser so now it’s 2-2 with 9 minutes left. Once again we respond the right way and after several attacks Jordan bangs in the winning goal! Stout defence keeps Uruguay at bay for the last few minutes and we hold on for a well deserved win.

Costa Rica 3 – 2 Uruguay

Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (16)  Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (18)

Match 2 is our bye round

Match 3 sees us up against Mexico. They are a very good side and press forward a lot. After 6 minutes that pressure tells and we’re 0-1 down. More pressure from Mexico but Doorway are fighting hard and showing great spirit and after 12 minutes Miller pops up in attack and bangs in an equaliser! The rest of the game is tight but determined defending from Mario, Julian and Steve and top-notch goalkeeping from Connor gets us to the whistle still at 1-1 – a cracking result against a good team.

Costa Rica 1 – 1 Mexico

Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (33) Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (32)

Match 4 and we face the defending champions – Iran. From the beginning we struggle to deal with their power and movement and after 7 minutes we’re down 0-2. Some of the fighting spirit comes up again and on 9 minutes Kev rifles in a goal to make it 1-2 – can we get back on level terms? Sadly, not this time and Iran notch up another couple of goals before the end.

Costa Rica 1 – 4 Iran

Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (62)  Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (65)

Match 5 brings the Netherlands into our sights. For some reason we’re all at sea from the start and find ourselves 0-3 down after just 6 minutes. Now we start playing and putting a lot of effort in – especially Peck who suddenly seems to be everywhere. He gets just rewards for his efforts with goals on 8 and 13 minutes to bring us back to 2-3 but an equaliser eludes us despite all the hard work everyone is putting in. Netherlands manage to slot in another before the end and we end up on the wrong end of a slightly unjust score.

Costa Rica 2 – 4 Netherlands

Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (77)  Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (81)

Match 6 is Portugal. We seem to be tiring and just not clicking in this match and are under pressure all the way through it. They score on 8 minutes and that proves to be the only goal of the game – thanks largely to the efforts of Connor in goal as he produces a string of fine saves to give us some hope.

Costa Rica 0 – 1 Portugal

Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (103)  Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (106)

Match 7 is the last game and it’s England. Another bad start from us and we’re 0-3 down after just 4 minutes! Everyone looks a little tired and dejected but England start to relax a little and a chink of light appears. That great Doorway spirit comes up again and we start to work really hard and begin playing some good football again and England are now on the back foot. After 11 minutes Peck pops the ball in the net and we’re on a roll – 1-3. Efforts are redoubled and on 15 minutes Kev gets on the scoresheet and we’re at 2-3. Can we dig deep and get back on level terms? Yes we can – on 17 minutes Peck is on hand to put away the equaliser and it’s just reward for all his efforts. No more goals despite both teams having chances so it ends all square.

Costa Rica 3 – 3 England

Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (121)  Doorway Football Tournament Aug 2014 (136)

We didn’t make the final which was between Iran and Mexico with Mexico defending very well to take a deserved 1-0 victory and lift the trophy.

Overall we finished 5th which is slightly disappointing but the lads should be proud of their efforts on the day so here’s a big WELL DONE to them:-

Connor  Jordan    Julian   Kev   Mario   Miller  Peck   Steve  

All the photos can be found on Flickr here 

With huge thanks to Roland for writing this article!

Posted in Charity, Chippenham, Football, Uncategorized, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Installing spikes is not the point” – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette &Herald newspaper – July 2014

Random acts of kindness and generosity by the local community are regularly witnessed by us at Doorway. Not only do we receive both financial and food donations but we also are blessed with offers of contribution in kind, people’s valuable time and various other offers of assistance which enable to us to continue to provide an extremely necessary service to those who are most vulnerable and marginalised.

However, it is a sad truth that we live in a society where many people can be very quick to judge others for their misfortunes, make instant assumptions about those less fortunate, and condemn them to a fate that they feel they deserve.

And, unfortunately, this is inflamed by regular reports in the national media, particularly over the last year of welfare reforms, calling people “benefit scroungers” and far worse.

So imagine our surprise when a breaking news story surrounding the placement of metal spikes outside a block of flats in London, to deter rough sleepers, hit the headlines last month and initiated a massive national public outcry. Through the power of social media the story went viral and resulted in over 130,000 people signing a petition on to demand that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, enforced removal of them.

Not only did the public response ensure that the spikes were removed from outside the block flats but subsequently others were also taken away outside Tesco in Regent Street, London and a branch of Halifax in Swansea. The latest news (this week) is that barriers placed over warm air vents to deter rough sleepers in Glasgow have been removed by a guy called Gary who states that he is a “citizen vigilante” and these acts have now been backed up by various protestor groups and homelessness organisations.

Now I applaud the reaction by the general public and I am truly heartened to hear that the power of the masses can bring about change so quickly and effectively but, and it’s a very big but…

The sad truth is that placing metal spikes to deter rough sleepers is only the latest in a long line of deterrents employed by various different businesses and councils as anti-homeless measures.

Measures introduced to prevent rough sleeping or other public antisocial behaviour, such as skateboarding, are now officially termed as “hostile architecture” or “disciplinary architecture” as the means to describe any type of urban architecture that is designed to influence public behaviour.

And, since the emergence of hostile architecture in the 1990’s, councils have been coming up with increasingly innovative ways of preventing the public from participating in any type of general antisocial behaviour in open spaces. Examples include metal brackets attached to benches or low walls to deter skateboarding or the Mosquito technology devices to prevent young people gathering in public places.

More subtle methods specifically targeting rough sleepers include benches designed to discourage sleeping which can be found all over the country but are so common that the public doesn’t even notice them. Different designs include individual bucket seats, vertical slats or large armrests between seats and wall railings which only allow leaning instead of sitting or lying. Other measures such as fencing off parks, closing down public toilets overnight or even strategically placing prickly plants in public areas have also been introduced without us realising.

And let’s not forget the draconian methods employed by Westminster Council back in 2009 where rough sleepers where hosed with water, whilst bedded down at night, as a “psychological bullying tactic” thereby preventing them from being seen in public areas.

So, actually, at the end of the day we are simply enabling the important discussion to drift away from the topic of how we support rough sleepers through the process to finding a stable secure home to the topic of whether or not we should allow them to sleep on the streets or force them to walk around 24 hours a day and “treat them like pigeons”

Posted in Charity, Chippenham, Homelessness, Mental Health, News, Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment