Feedback from our guests keeps us going…

Found this letter from one of our guests whilst unpacking boxes today in the office:-

“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 through the post 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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From The Writing Group (yes, the Writing Group)

It has been a quiet but not unproductive season for the writing group.

J’s a man of Gloucestershire and the history and topography of the county often occur in his writing. The ferry referenced in this lyric crossed the Severn at a fording point that was in use in Roman times. I think it is an effective metaphor for the struggles J has had in his life, as well as the ‘lifeline’ Doorway has been for him. On a technical level this is an accomplished piece. There is rhythm (J often writes with a tune in his head) that paces the arc of the poem from first stanza, with its hint of resolve, to the third with its experiential, ‘life is just a fraction of headstones over cobblestones’. J also uses rhyme, pararhyme (shatter, shutter, shelter), alliteration, assonance and consonance, but naturally, without it feeling forced or done for effect. J has given me permission to share his work with the readers of the Doorway blog, but he is not sure if it is finished.

 

The Arlingham Rope Ferry

Seagulls shatter the night turning purple to grey

They’ll soon be rolling up the shutters of the roadside café

Sit in a bus shelter and reflect awhile

My shoes aren’t shiny but they’ll last another mile

And the Arlingham rope ferry’s just holding on

 

Gloucester city’s overcrowded, the Severn Bridge takes a toll

Going down the estuary to watch the waters roll

The tide is a healer and a hunter too

Load on…cast off…pull it through

And the Arlingham rope ferry’s just holding on

 

My eyes grow weary and my aching bones

Tell me life is just a fraction of headstones over cobblestones

But while hay’s in the meadow, the fields full of corn

Leaves curling in the fires of dusk and dawn

And the Arlingham rope ferry’s just holding on.

 

 

J wrote a footnote to this lyric: The Arlingham rope ferry isn’t there at the moment but I’d like to thank doorway staff and volunteers because it has been a lifeline to me over the nine years I’ve been coming here. Thanx.

 

 

 

 

 

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Letter to Doorway from a Guest – 3rd July 2014

‘A’ came into the drop-in today and wrote this letter during the writing group session…

It’s feedback like this that reminds why we do what we do and just how important our work is to those who are going through tough times…

“To all the Staff and Helpers at Doorway.

 Thank you so much to all of you for your help I really do appreciate it. I know I can be strange sometimes, weird or not normal but if I didn’t have your help support and confidence I probably wouldn’t have found the confidence in myself to find myself somewhere to live. I know I get into trouble but I honestly wouldn’t ever do anything to get myself into trouble. I do have a brain somewhere in my head LOL very small but yeah.

 Thanks ever so much to everyone that has helped I feel a bit better knowing I have your help. Really do thank you so much.

 To Lisa, Mike, Mary, Kev, for all the helpers and cooking staff you’re all so lovely.

 And I couldn’t do it without you lot and my lovely gf or wife to be.”

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Why the Doorway football team plays in pink…

Lisa’s Guest Opinion Column in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – May 2014

As he heads out of the door, at the end of a drop-in session, B turns around and states very determinedly that he wants us to purchase a pink football kit for the team. I look at him incredulously and then make him confirm that he really does mean a PINK kit for playing in public tournaments.

When the rest of the football team confirm that they are happy to play in pink I am actually really rather proud since it shows that the levels of self confidence amongst the individuals have increased dramatically over the short period of time that they have been playing together. As far as I am concerned it shows balls if any male can carry off a shocking pink kit on a football pitch.

The football project is just one of the extra activities that Doorway introduced, way back in 2010, in order to promote physical activity, thereby improving health and wellbeing, and positive social engagement to counteract the general boredom that many of our guests experience in their everyday lives.

Another important objective of the project was to promote social cohesion and teamwork amongst our guests who so often have to live their lives on an individual basis without being able to trust others. When you’re sofa surfing or rough sleeping then life is very much about self-preservation, protection and survival. Football is one of those activities where it is impossible to be an individual and you need to work together in order to produce the end goal. Quite literally.

And so, due to the kind generosity of others in our community, the project was launched in 2010 and since then the team have been able to play weekly at the superb indoor facilities at Ladyfield Church at no rental cost to us which circumvented any outdoor weather issues. The staffing costs have been covered, over the years, by grants from the Co-operative Community Fund and the, now legendary, pink kit was subsequently purchased with a personal donation from the extremely generous local boy Peter Wanless, who is now CEO at the NSPCC.

Since the launch of the project the entire team has evolved and progressed and each individual has increased their own personal level of fitness. In defiance of the sexist assumptions of the general public, female guests have played a major part in the success of the project.

The team have played in half a dozen tournaments including the Wiltshire Addiction Support Project’s annual 5-a-side tournaments involving charities, drug and alcohol support agencies and Wiltshire Police at the superb facilities at the Stanley Park football ground. We even managed to put out two full teams in a couple of tournaments. They have also played in the annual Oxford and Wiltshire Social Inclusion Cups although this has caused some frustration due to the absurd, and somewhat archaic, Football Association ruling that prevents mixed teams from participating. At each of the Social Inclusion Cup tournaments our girlies have been unable to play but have still turned up on the day to support and cheer on the boys playing.

“It’s great to see guests (and volunteers) improve their fitness and skills. In some cases it’s given incentive to stay off substances, at least for that day. In others it has been a reliever of stress and frustration. It’s good to be in a place where life outside is left behind for a while, and we’re all ‘on a level playing field’, where people are equal, and the only things that matter are the efforts put in on the pitch.
It’s also been a source of fun and pride to take part in tournaments, and to see the sense of camaraderie and team spirit. But most of all, there have always been smiling faces and lots of laughter.”

Doorway football  team

I still remember that first day that our team played in a public tournament. There was a moment before kick-off when I was terrified that we would end up being publicly humiliated. However, that was short-lived and it very quickly became apparent that I should have had a little more faith in their abilities. And the pink kit? Well not only is it very easy to spot our players at a distance, but it also gives them a distinct psychological advantage on the pitch!

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The Journey from Volunteering to Employment – Sian’s Story

Sian, Doorway’s Administrator, was recently interviewed by the Volunteer Centre Wiltshire and her story has just been published on their website.

Sian had recently completed an Open University degree in Psychology and was looking for something new to do with her spare time. She had been aware of Doorway through publicity in the local newspaper and thought it would be beneficial and worthwhile to support their work. As Doorway work with some of the more vulnerable members of our community Sian thought it would be a good opportunity for her to gain experience and build confidence and knowledge of working in this sector.

When Sian started volunteering she was very keen to support all areas within the drop-in session so she did whatever was necessary to support guests such as loading the washing machines, cleaning the shower and chatting with guests over a cup of tea. She increasingly found herself in the kitchen washing up, making toast, frying eggs or serving breakfasts and found that keeping busy suited her very well. Sian still enjoyed being able to engage with guests over the serving hatch or during breaks.

Sian enjoyed engaging with guests but also meeting other volunteers. Doorway has 45 volunteers and Sian enjoyed being part of the diverse, dedicated team.

Before volunteering at Doorway Sian had been a school governor (another voluntary role) and this had improved her confidence as she had to speak in front of parents and teachers and chair meetings. However, volunteering and working at Doorway has enabled her to speak with confidence to all members of society. Doorway also provide extensive training to staff and volunteers which Sian has been encouraged to participate in throughout her time there. Although Sian is no longer at the drop-in sessions, training in drug and alcohol awareness, domestic abuse, housing and benefits has not only increased Sian’s skills but also enables her to deal with queries from members of the public and guests at the office. Knowledge of volunteering within the drop-in session is also invaluable to her current work and enables her to work effectively to support colleagues, volunteers and guests.

Personally, the main benefit of volunteering for Sian was that she gained employment after 17 years of being out of the workplace environment. She was aware that the previous administrator was leaving and that her post would be available. Sian had a chat with the Chief Executive, Lisa, about whether she thought she might be suitable for the role, as although she had no office experience she had acquired IT skills and qualifications when her children started school. Sian was encouraged to apply as Lisa had seen from working in the drop-in that she was organised and efficient. The multi-tasking skills, using her initiative, prioritising and flexibility that was required to fulfil Sian’s various commitments over the years, stood her in good stead for being able to provide administrative support to Doorway.

Sian knows that volunteering has definitely improved her employment chances as it is so much easier to get a job if you are able to demonstrate skills and experience. She will always be immensely grateful to the Chief Executive and Doorway for believing in her and for giving her the confidence to apply for, and then be successful in, her job.

Sian says that “without a doubt volunteering, whether at Doorway, as a school governor or on a committee, enabled me to develop the skills and experience to return to the workplace confidently. I cannot recommend it highly enough”.

To find out more about a volunteer opportunity contact Volunteer Centre Wiltshire on 0845 521 6224 or visit our website www.volunteercentrewiltshire.org.uk

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A day in the life of the Doorway Chief Executive

Lisa’s Guest Opinion Column in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – April 2014

My job title of ‘Chief Executive’ is somewhat misleading considering the variety of tasks and responsibilities that I have acquired over the years whilst working at Doorway.

And so, here is the short version of a random day in my working life…

Anyone who works alongside me knows that I am not a morning person and so as I stumble into the office at 9am on a Thursday morning the first task on the agenda involves the consumption of copious amounts of strong coffee whilst answering emails.

I then attempt, very unsuccessfully, to finalise a strategic planning document that I have been working on for what seems like months as one of our volunteers arrives in the office to organise the movement of food donations around our various different locations.

Since two out of four of my staff are on leave it is my job to buy the provisions, and so on the way down the high street to the drop-in I stop off to buy eggs for breakfast on Monday and milk for today. I am now faced with a vast array of shelves and shelves of different types of eggs and I am panicking since generally I cannot cope with 1. shopping and 2. having to make a choice. To make matters even worse the eggs that I normally see in the fridge each week are not in stock and rather pathetically I can feel the stress mounting rapidly.

There is also a maddening moment when I realise that there is no way that I am going to be able to carry my handbag, my briefcase, 45 eggs AND 6 pints of milk and so I have to make a second trip out to buy the milk and pay the veg bill at the local greengrocers.

As I enter the kitchen, the overwhelming smell of lunch hits my nostrils and I realise that I am starving. I don an apron and start sorting out all the stuff that is needed to set up for the drop-in whilst catching up with the cooks and making sure that they are okay.

My next task is to counsel a volunteer on a personal manner before leading the briefing session with all the volunteers and my two support workers. Since the majority of them are rather high spirited today it takes all my concentration to keep them under control and I, only half-jokingly, threaten to introduce the concept of a naughty step.

The session starts at 12.30pm and my responsibility for the next three hours involves assessing every guest as they come through the door and then delegating them to either one of my two support workers or to one of my team of volunteers according to their needs and issues.

It’s an extremely busy session but I manage to squeeze in some time doing one-to-one support with several guests covering topics such as alcohol dependency, domestic violence and suicide. A very intense and emotional conversation also takes place between myself and two guests as I try to get them to talk to each other and express their frustrations about one of them self-harming. I also manage to devour some lunch at about 2.45pm.

Three hours later we close the doors and I then lead the debrief with team. Afterwards, I complete two DBS application forms with new volunteers and then check the building is all in order and lock up.

It’s now 5.10pm and I dash into the hairdressers for a quick haircut. There is then the frustrating realisation, as I speed up the high street at 5.40pm, that the chemist is shut and I am now unable to buy sterilising wipes (the ones I found in the drop-in earlier had all expired). I also get a text from one of my support workers confirming that guest x actually went to the doctor appointment.

Once I am back in the office I make several phone calls, answer emails and finalise the paperwork from the session. After printing off loads of publicity stuff for the Friends of Doorway event this weekend, I look at the clock before locking up and heading home. It’s 7.15pm and I have managed another ten hour working day.

The publicity paperwork is dropped off at a volunteer’s house on my drive home and I collapse on the sofa at 7.40pm. My hubby takes one look at me and silently hands me a large glass of wine. He then makes me cheese on toast and I begin to unwind…

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Huntingdon’s Disease – the Ups and the Downs…

Lisa’s Guest Opinion Column in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – March 2014

As I am stood, bent over double, with tears streaming down my face there is a truly horrible moment when I think that I am actually going to vomit. It is rather unfortunate that I have just consumed the largest plate of food imaginable and it is at that point that M decides that it is time to launch into one of his hilarious tirades.

M is recounting a recent experience with a street fundraiser and his tale is so non politically correct that it is off the scale. He manages to not only reduce me to a state whereby I am hiccupping with laughter but he also ensures that I am totally unfit for any kind of professional interaction with anyone else in the drop-in session for a rather long time.

However, on the flip side, there are times when M comes into the session and my heart breaks with sorrow at the state that he is in.

M has been diagnosed with Huntingdon’s disease and since we hadn’t experienced anyone affected by this condition before, we had to undertake background research very quickly in order to understand the noticeable change in his behaviour traits.

Huntingdon’s disease is an inherited condition that is a slowly progressive and interferes with bodily movements, but it also very significantly affects awareness, thinking and judgement and leads to changes in behaviour. The most obvious physical symptoms displayed by M involve a general stumbling around and a lack of co-ordination to his leg muscles, along with a slurring of speech and short term memory issues. Rather confusingly, to the general public, he just appears to be simply under the influence of alcohol.

He is also developing worsening cognitive and behavioural problems and these are the issues that are currently causing the most distress to him. It’s like the filter between his brain and his mouth is totally absent and he just blurts out the first thing that comes into his head, no matter how non politically correct, shocking or even offensive it might be to the other person that he is interacting with. And M’s vocabulary is also getting worse.

“My language is terrible and they just think it is an excuse”.

It is this part of the condition that is currently getting him into the most trouble. Each week M will come into the drop-in with another tale regarding his antics and every time the story involves the same outcome of being arrested and charged. A consequence of which is that there is currently a mountain of outstanding fines piling up and since M is on benefits and unable to work there is no way that he is going to be able to pay them off in the foreseeable future.

Even though M wears an official card around his neck stating that he has the condition, with a brief explanation of his symptoms, he is still finding it very difficult for people to understand the disease. And he knows that it is only going to get worse over a period of time, since he witnessed the deterioration in his mother’s health from an early age. He states that at the age of 10 he knew that she was showing the first symptoms.

“All other mums were doing mumsie things and she just seemed a little bit distant at the time”.

He says that he spent most of his time around his friends’ house since

“her cooking was a shambles”

Looking at him, and the way in which he has already deteriorated over the last 12 months, I wonder just how bad he is going to get and how long it will take until he needs fully supported accommodation.

I truly hope that he will not allow this horribly debilitating disease to impact on his rather special personality and that I will be continuing to cry with laughter for a long time to come.

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