A “Green” Bag-Packer

Dressed in a green Doorway polo shirt I entered Sainsburys on a new venture in life, my first experience as a bag packer. Never thought I would ever be helping people by putting their shopping into bags,  I’m particular where I put my shopping when packing.

However I spent 3 hours yesterday afternoon helping out bag packing and what a thoroughly enjoyable time it was,  and the time actually flew by.

A huge thank you to Sainsburys staff and customers for their friendliness and generosity.

All the customers young and old were giving donations whether or not they wanted help. A great eye opener to me on how the public responds to supporting charitable organisations.

Once again a big thank you to Sainsburys for their support.

Really enjoyed giving something very, very small back to Doorway and thanks for the opportunity.

Bring on the next session

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“I wouldn’t cope with homelessness” – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – Nov 2014

I’m up to my elbows in the washing up bowl trying to clear up the debris from dinner when out of the blue my husband comes out with a blinding statement from across the other side of the kitchen along the lines of “you would cope if you were homeless”. Before I can even contemplate how 1) he has randomly thought of this topic or 2) how he could possibly have come to this conclusion, I reply with total conviction that no, there was no way that I would be able to cope with being homeless.

I’m not sure whether I was more surprised by the fact he believes me to be that capable or by the look of disappointment that appeared on his face after my admission of hypothetical failure.

And so, I subsequently reflect on the reasons as to why, hypothetically, I couldn’t cope with being homeless.

Firstly, and most practically, I have an issue with being either cold or wet. Combine these two variables and you get one very unhappy Lisa. Unbelievably, he has also obviously forgotten that I have such cold feet that I have to wear socks in bed and that he bought me an electric foot warmer for my Christmas present last year.

Secondly, I am scared of the dark. Not just scared but really scared. Although on the positive side the irrational fear that I have had since early childhood of monsters lurking under my bed or in the wardrobes would be successfully eradicated.

Thirdly, I actually quite like human company. My husband might be surprised by this admission since he knows full well that the last thing I want to do in the evening is have a conversation with him. What he doesn’t understand is that I have been interacting with people all day long and by the time I get home I have lost the ability to actually talk. So being homeless wouldn’t suit me on the basis that I couldn’t do it by myself due to loneliness and I don’t trust anyone enough to rely on them to look after me.

Fourth, I am a bit of a snob when it comes to my choice of alcohol. I enjoy a glass of chilled wine with my dinner most nights, but only a glass, and I haven’t yet met any rough sleepers with a vacuvin wine stopper amongst their possessions.

Further reasons include the fact that I have a pitifully bad lower back which means that I couldn’t walk very far or lie down on hard surfaces; I would have no resources to charge my mobile phone and so I wouldn’t be able to play the Simpsons app game that I am totally addicted to; or charge my kindle so that I could read my book; I have an absolute abhorrence of public toilets and I like soft toilet paper. Add to this the fact that I get hunger pains if I don’t eat and I adore my food then I would be seriously disappointed if I had to exist on sandwiches or tins of cold baked beans as my staple diet.

Another problem would be that I would get myself into serious trouble if anyone attempted violence, verbal or physical, since I am obnoxiously gobby and I would end up getting hurt.

I wouldn’t be able to cope with the lack of structure in my day. Like most humans beings I need schedules and routines, take that away and all you would have would be hours and hours of endless meaningless, empty time. And no kindle.

I would find it impossible to ask anyone for help due to both my own sense of pride and also an overwhelming feeling of failure. And since I need a minimum of eight hours sleep a night to function anywhere near adequately I wouldn’t have the mental capacity to go to meetings with statutory agencies, answer questions or fill in endless pages and pages of forms.

I’d give it forty-eight hours maximum…

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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.

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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

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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

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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!!”

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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

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