Doorway Writing Group March 2018

Writing Group March 2018
A quiet session this month. With temperatures outside bitter and more snow imminent, our guests were understandably preoccupied with thoughts other than creative writing:
No time for a rhyme or a fun anecdote
It’s a hot meal that’s needed, a hat, scarf and coat.

It was also the day of Dean’s funeral which some of our guests had been wanting to attend; since the weather had prevented them from making the trip to Salisbury, a number of his friends – including our most regular writer J – had chosen to have a jam in the music room instead in his honour. R I P Dean!
No original writing then this time but the crossword, word search and word puzzle still proved popular around the different tables with both guests and volunteers. It was also great to see that three guests had borrowed books from our library over the last couple of weeks.
We’ll be back for more reading, writing and word fun in early April. Here’s hoping everyone stays warm and safe!

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Back in the Yard – Doorway SleepOut 2018

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On the night of Saturday January 27th, the latest (7th) biennial Sponsored Doorway SleepOut took place in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Chippenham, venue for the SleepOuts since 2012. This year 42 ‘sleepers’ braved the elements (as far as I can determine, a record for the event by a margin of 1 sleeper), and at the time of posting the total raised is a little above the £10,000 mark. A special mention here to the 6-strong team from GreenSquare , who have raised more than £1500 of that.

Undoubtedly, a great success.

As ever, the SleepOut was held with the aims not just of raising funds (though goodness knows that is very important to a small independent local charity like Doorway) but also to raise awareness of homelessness and rough sleeping.  I talked in the blog piece of the 2012 SleepOut about the debate around the role of Sleepouts in fund and awareness-raising. As Doorway’s CEO Lisa Lewis said in 2010 in ‘The Pavement’ magazine, “Sleep-outs are a very effective means of gaining both media and public attention to highlight the fact that homelessness exists at all in rural areas. We can raise awareness and then go on to educate the public in the issues surrounding homelessness on all levels. We use rough sleeping as a starting point.” As she has also said on Doorway’s own website, the situation is different around North Wiltshire to that in the cities: “Homelessness is allowed to sleep on a sofa or the floor (‘sofa-surfing’), rather than remain on the streets. These are often an invisible problem in rural areas like North Wiltshire. Unlike the big cities, rough sleepers are rarely seen. People finding themselves without a roof in Chippenham are often taken in by friends and are the ‘Hidden Homeless’ of North Wiltshire”. So we are keen to use any platform available to us to raise awareness. And we cannot afford to miss any opportunity to raise money, as our financial existence is precarious at the best of times.”

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Chippenham Mayor Mary Norton, Michelle Donelan MP, Doorway CEO Lisa Lewis

One difference this year was that the Church Hall could not be used, due to refurbishment – so no bacon sandwiches in the morning! However, Cafe India most generously provided some food as did a whole host of volunteers – and a splendid buffet spread it was.  As a result of this, there was to be no Homelessness Service, but there were speeches by Chippenham Town Mayor Mary Norton and by MP for Chippenham Michelle Donelan, then one by Lisa herself, largely made up of a powerful extract from guest T’s speech at the Doorway AGM of 2011. There then followed an excellent concert by Lingmara world music choir, who have become stalwarts at this event, and finally the now-traditional bedtime stories  by BBC Antiques Roadshow’s Marc Allum.




Marc Allum telling stories

Then it was time for the ‘sleepers’ to settle down in their combinations of cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, tarpaulins and bits of plastic, some of the ‘veterans’ having tried to learn from their experiences in previous years. The weather had been dreadfully wet all day, but the rain held off for the night itself. The night started milder than expected, but there was a big dip in temperature around 3 o’clock, and a lot of wind.

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The ‘watchers’ stayed up all night for site security, unlocking the church door for toilet access (yes, we know, real rough sleepers don’t have toilets available), and ready for crises (thankfully, there were none). The St John Ambulance people were also yet again kindly in attendance all night, completely free of charge, as at every previous SleepOut. We really are most grateful to them.


Here are words from some of the participants……

Mayor Mary Norton: It’s a wonderful thing you’re doing.  Doorway is a marvellous organisation who do so much good work…. someone can have somewhere to go, get a hot meal, showers, washing, someone to talk to – and I think that’s very important, because people need to be recognised. It’s not the same if someone walks past and thinks “oh, what’s he doing here?’. They don’t know the story behind. And so many people – they’re not there because they choose to, they’re there because circumstances have forced them into it.

Michelle Donelan, MP: I’m very proud that Doorway is in my constituency. I think it’s a wonderful organisation.  It has my whole backing and support, and I hope to continue for many years supporting the organisation. I think that just one person who is homeless is one person too many, and whether you’re sofa-surfing or out on the streets, it’s unacceptable in today’s world in the UK.

Lisa Lewis quoting Doorway guest ‘T’: On the street, you live among the threat of violence 24 hrs a day, people spitting at you, calling you a tramp. I’ve got pasted a couple of times, people want to piss on you while you’re lying in a doorway.  You can’t sleep properly and you’re freezing cold. One time I was in the door of the optician’s, opposite Woolworth’s and that was in February, and I was absolutely bitter cold. And you know what pissed me off the most, was that Woolworth’s had closed down, and yet every light was on in there, and every bit of heating was on in there. And I was there. It upset you so much to see so many empty buildings that cannot even be opened up when it’s snowing.  I find that appalling.

Various ‘sleepers’:

(Guest B):  “I want to help Doorway because they’ve helped me. They know the situation I’m in, and what I’ve been in, and things like that. And whatever we can do to raise money and to raise awareness will be fantastic for Doorway. I’ve slept rough myself – slept in cars, on the streets.”

“I’ve not done it before, so I’m stepping into the unknown. We’ll see how I get on. I guess it’s about gaining a new experience really, better understanding as to what it might be like to be one of those poor people who have to sleep on the streets”

“For me, my daughter has no clue, she just lives her little life, and she takes for granted what she’s got. So I’m just trying to educate her that it’s not all sunshine and roses for everyone. And just ‘what if’ this was your life. And it’s not easy, and we’re doing it for one night, but this is some people’s lives. And it doesn’t give them a snapshot of what it’s really like, but if it just makes them reflect a little bit. Even if it’s a dry night, if you’re still wet from the afternoon, it’s miserable”

“That was a long night. I got minutes of sleep here and there. I timed the chimes. It was an experience. It’s one that puts a lot of things in perspective, so very glad in that respect that I’ve done it. It helps the cause and that’s great.”

“Even more grateful now that I’ve got somewhere to live.  I heard every single church bell except 5, and when I woke up just now and I heard it go, I thought “please let it be 6 not 5!” I will be doing it again next year…….. We had toilets and hot drinks and the safety of you guys watching us”

“I was pretty apprehensive about the whole thing really. I’d never got involved with anything like this before, and had a huge amount of sponsorship behind me, so was feeling a the pressure a little, but from the minute I got to St Andrew’s, I felt such a sense of support and kindness from everyone – the people organising the event, the words from the Mayor and our MP, the varied and lovely songs from the World Choir, the fabulous St John’s Ambulance folks, the friendly team of people from the Church offering refreshments and Marc  Allum, talking about his homeless ‘friends’ sleeping in the churchyard outside his back gate and our increasing need to help. It was so well organised and moving. The thing that really stood out, though, was the words from Lisa. She spoke about their work and how much of a difference this event makes to their ability to support vulnerable people. She read a testimony from a guy, who talked of his experience on the streets and the decline into drink and drugs, and how the Doorway team had ‘taken [him] by the hand….quite literally’ to break the cycle. It made me very emotional and very glad to be there doing something practical, and something that will make a difference. There was a calmness and sense of support about the whole event, which I found pretty special.”


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“It’s dry. I was just saying that if I was actually homeless, I would be bedding down for the night in soaking wet clothes now, because it’s been pouring down all day. And I wouldn’t have been getting a lift. I couldn’t have carried my cardboard box and my mat all the way here. I’ve been warm all day, I’ve had a hot cup of tea and something to eat. I’ve got security guards watching me, I’m not going to get beaten up or pissed on or spat on. The reason I’m here is my son, who has been clean a year now, he is a recovering heroin addict. He was living with me, but when he was really into the drugs, he used to go into Bristol to get the drugs, and ended up staying there, and he ended up sleeping on the streets for two years. And while he was on the streets, he got pissed on, spat on, he got beaten up really badly – he nearly died because he got spleen damage. He stayed in touch with me, and I’d go over and see him, and I met a lot of other homeless people. And I’m here because a: I think it’s really good to raise money for it, and b: I think it’s really good to raise awareness, not just for what you do but the situation where people – we’re all two disasters away from it. When I split up with my partner, it was touch and go as to whether I’d be homeless – I was lucky that I found somewhere to stay, but it was touch and go. I have  a lot of people say to me, because I talk about it a lot to people, about the situation, and people say to me “yeah, but they’re all addicts”. Do you know what, if I had to do this every night, I might be an addict. Even if people are in that situation because they are an addict, it wasn’t a conscious choice. My mother died of alcoholic liver disease. She was lucky she had us. My mum used to say that she wasn’t an alcoholic and that was because she didn’t see herself as an alcoholic because she wasn’t on a bench with a paper bag. My mum, bless her was doing a bottle of vodka and a bottle of wine a day, and just 3 days before she died, she said to me “I think you may be right, I think I might have a problem”. People think it’s just a working-class problem, but there are doctors, lawyers. There but for the grace of God go any of us, really

Green Square at Doorway SleepOut 2018

Howard Toplis and the GreenSquare ‘team’

Howard Toplis:  “We were very fortunate with the weather because it wasn’t too cold and it stayed dry. Although the ground was hard and none of us got much sleep, we all knew we had a home to go back to. It made us all think about what it would be like if we didn’t have a home to go to, and we had no other choice but to sleep rough again and again. With increasing pressure from funding cuts, and amidst rising levels of homelessness, charities like Doorway provide a vital service for people in need.

The night itself was thought-provoking. It had been totally clear to me from the outset that we were going to come nowhere near replicating the experience of real rough sleepers. We had safety in numbers; we’d be safe from physical and psychological abuse – we weren’t going to get moved on in the dead of night, shouted at, urinated on, we had no long-term mental health issues and fears to contend with; plus the fact that we had drinks provided, access to toilets, even medical help if needed. Even if it was freezing cold or rained all night, it was literally for one night only, we had beds and homes to return to the following day. I spent the night feeling very honoured to have been a part of the SleepOut and to be part of the strong, life-enhancing and life-saving chain which is Doorway


Thanks again to all sleepers, organisers, helpers, contributors etc etc. We’ll presumably do it all again in 2020. The real rough sleepers did it again the next night. And the next. And…..

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Volunteer Profile – Alice

My name is Alice and I have been volunteering for Doorway for just over one year now. It’s been an absolute privilege to be involved – this piece explains a little bit about me and my motivations for wanting to get involved.

I grew up in Chippenham having moved with my family to the town at the age of five. I left when I went to university, returning about three years ago after a number of years of working in different places. I got to know about Doorway through the local paper and knew it was something I wanted to support when I was able. Donating money is vital but to be able to give your time and help directly is equally as important and I’m lucky that I can arrange my work life to give me the time to support the charity one afternoon a week.

I have a number of motivations which led me to Doorway. Firstly, it was the opportunity to be able to do something meaningful in my home town. As much as I would love to support all charities, when resources are limited, you have to start with the those that you feel have the greatest need – the homeless and vulnerably housed of the local area. These are individuals often at the bottom of society, in desperate need of a helping hand – one that Doorway offers. Some of those people are individuals I went to school and grew up with, people with whom I share a journey and a history. It brings a sense of realism way beyond simply supporting say Shelter or Crisis through a monthly donation. Charity really does start at home, in your own neighbourhood and community.

Another motivation that led me to Doorway is my work life. I am a director of a new company looking at alternative ways of helping people get onto the housing ladder and Doorway is giving me the chance to better understand some of the factors that lead to homelessness and the issues that surround social housing provision. I’ve been surprised by the number of rough sleepers in Chippenham and the inadequacies of the ‘system’. I’m certainly not going to solve all the problems but gaining a better understanding helps informs my work and will hopefully drive some change at a strategic level. 

Joining Doorway was a little daunting at first. I didn’t know how sessions worked and I really felt like I was stepping into the unknown. I didn’t know who the guests were or how they would react but you get to know people over time and they get to know you. I’ve had some truly brilliant and enlightening conversations. I’ve also had some heart-breaking ones. We don’t judge, assume or criticise but provide an environment where people can just be themselves.

During a drop-in session, I help out pretty much where ever I’m needed. That might be at the coffee table or on the front desk to sign people in. Sometimes I help people with their clothing needs or laundry. The simple act of being able to wash, dry, fold and return someone’s clothes is a powerful one. It goes way beyond what is a chore at home. It gives someone dignity and confidence – the opportunity to look their best despite their situation.  

Doorway attracts a whole raft of different types of people, be those guests, staff or volunteers. Having the opportunity to meet such a diverse group of people has been a real pleasure and not something that would have occurred in other aspects of my life. The menacing looking homeless man on the street isn’t so menacing when you have a name to put to the face, when you have sat down over a meal and heard their story. Doorway teaches you tolerance and understanding in a world where a lot of negative assumptions are made about the homeless and vulnerable. It’s a place full of care, attention, love and warmth. Sometimes noisy and unpredictable but always welcoming.

The staff, volunteers and guests of Doorway touch my heart in so many ways – it is a true privilege to be involved. 

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

Doorway Writing Group February 2018

Doorway Writing Group February 2018

February’s writing group brought us: a crossword – now a fairly popular regular feature among guests and volunteers; two word searches – this time on modes of transport (vehicles and routes, ways of moving around, displacing and relocating ourselves); and phase two of our new ‘key word’ puzzle. Besides encouraging us all to engage with language, all of these word games, of course, also offered the potential to spark conversations – on perhaps the unlikeliest of topics – and even to offer ideas for stories or poems*: an invitation to let go and unleash the creative potential.
At the writing table itself, there was the chance to discuss and borrow from our expanding library of accessible and quick-read literature (a number of guests had a quick browse so let’s watch this space) and the obvious opportunity to put pen – biro or felt tip or even pencil – to paper; the noble J was, of course, only too happy to oblige there.

*For instance, how about writing a story or poem including split pea/split level/split personality or square meal/square root/square peg or even catwalk/cat litter/cat flap? Anyone feeling inspired?

City Foxes (a poem by J)
The city centre
The station, the shops
Factories and businesses
Here perennial weeds
Tenacious groundlings
Find cracks in concrete
Competing with pedestrian soles
Fumes from traffic combustion
The city shuts down
In the fragile hush of night
Foxes forage alone
The way that wildlife
Crosses that frontier
is urban survival!

On the edge (a poem by D)
On the edge
Hedging many a bet
Dipping my toe in
Scarce getting it wet
On the edge
Sitting out for a while
Just talking the talk
And smiling the smile

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Doorway Writing Group January 2018

Doorway Writing Group January 2018
A quiet session to begin 2018. But small starts are okay – they allow for growth!
A number of guests and volunteers engaged with this month’s ‘jobs old and new’ word search and a fun word puzzle involving finding one word which can combine (as a prefix) with three other words. That’s hard to describe – let’s find an example. An interesting one from this month’s selection would be: card/present/suit (answer = birthday). Overall it seemed to provide a nice level of challenge and some good conversation starters (or story prompts?) so we’ll continue to use some of these throughout the year. Many thanks to Macmillan Cancer Support from whose 2017 fundraising challenge I borrowed this puzzle (and here’s hoping the actual participants managed to raise plenty of money for this good cause!)
Sharing the writing table with some avid jigsaw completers (K in particular) working on a dog-themed puzzle, gave rise to some nice memories about dogs we know and have known: K and I found that we’d both had mischievous little black and tan Jack Russell crosses when we were younger.
A couple of recent poems to round off then and wishing you an inspiring, thought-provoking and heart-warming January!

The grandson’s come to visit
I can see his car through my door
Old Sid shuffled down
To the shop in town
There’ll be tea and biscuits galore
Then they’ll watch a soap on the telly
And maybe play a game
Then a bite to eat
Gramper’s favourite sweet
And Sid’ll forget Joe’s name
And Joe’ll give Grampers a Christmas scarf
And Grampers’ll do a slow twirl
And have a puff
On his favourite stuff
And Joe’ll be texting his girl
And then he’ll give Grampers a fond little hug
And promise to come again soon
And Sid’ll just snooze
Through his post—Christmas blues
And wait for the next blue moon
(a poem by D)

Her boyfriend sings of true love
And of roses which are red
Yours scowls at you and growls at you
He’s sick inside his head.
She prances and she dances
He caresses her in bed
But your boyfriend beats you black and blue
You wish that he was dead.
When his eyes are full of malice
And there’s venom in his voice
And he restrains your every movement
Puts chains round every choice
It sucks to hear her cooing,
Turtle-doving tales of bliss.
‘Cause you wanted and you waited
And your life has come to this.
(a poem by D)

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The Diary of John Bloggs – Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Left St Marys Paddington. What next? Find work? Find somewhere to live? But it dawned on me I don’t know London it’s so Big. Only worked in London… lived in B/bs did nightlife. It’s not the same as being part of London…that was my thinking then all those years ago – 30 plus…

So I knew part of the east end. Walked back. I was near Aldgate East London. Funny how it happened but this guy kinda sensed I was troubled…said “Hey want work?” I was sitting outside a church at the time having a breather…

”yeah ok what is it?”

”Well its putting up market stalls.”

“Oh yeah where’s this then?”

“Just down the street. It’s called Middlesex St” ( brick lane market better known )

“Ok what’s the money like and hours?”

“It’s £10 and cup of tea and a sandwich. Saturday we put them up. Sunday afternoon we take them down. Get finished by 4pm. I will take you somewhere we can eat for nothing later.”

Which I found out was East London Mission in Webber Street…so Friday I stayed in a covered car park near to Middlesex Street. It’s still there. Met a guy who was also sleeping there and had been for some years. He was kinda unpaid security man. Some people used to give him a tip for looking after their cars even though it was a pay and display car park. He shared his food with me that night.

I met Steve the next day. Everybody called him ‘Market Steve’. He was well known in the area. But what I didn’t know was he was homeless himself till later. So Saturday put stalls up. Slept again in car park..cold..wind blowing hard. This aint good but stuck with it. Sunday lunch time slowly but surely, took stalls down. 4pm we finished. Steve good as his word took me down to the mission. What a shock to the system that was. So many people here, a kinda epicentre of poverty. Never seen anything like this before! A real eye opener……

I’m breaking for a moment. To be continued…

Made a mistake in read back, it’s Cavell Street East London Mission and it’s still going today. Pay and display park still going today as well.

Market Steve took me to another place…St Botolph’s church in Aldgate which had crypts. 3 arch tunnels inside which had very long tables which people could sit at on long benches. There we had sandwiches and tea given six to eight at night. Plus had two toilets and showers. The people using this place mostly homeless had a name for it “Bottletops”.

There was a lady called Doris, a volunteer a retired lady, who worked in the city. I remember her standing at the door inside before it opened and place opened at six about 200 in the line filed in she would say ” One sandwich per person “ you don’t take two ! Everyone respected her! Salt of the earth – you don’t upset Doris! I got to know her well over a few weeks and found out where all the long filled rolls were coming from – a chain of shops called Bengys – sandwich shops in the city.

And I got involved as volunteer going out at 4pm with a hand held push trolley going around these shops picking up left overs of the day. Maybe six black bags full plus any end of sell-by in Boots as well. This food was used in the evening centre Monday to Friday (more on this food story in chapter four )…

Now we are in the year 87…Botolph’s has money to build onto the right side on building a day centre. I used to sleep at night under the builders plastic next to a rubbish skip outside stick it from top of skip to bottom make it like a tent…I am starting to get around now…learning the ropes. It’s near Xmas Steve takes me round loads of different centres where free Xmas dinners were. And at most places it was Xmas dinner presents of socks., hats, and 10 cigarettes. Got in the end fed up of eating Xmas dinners. But can’t really complain it was hot food when all said and done.

That year I spent seven days with the Quakers Xmas shelter in Bethnal Green…it was in a church on the high street…..end chap 3

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Doorway Writing Group December 2017

Doorway Writing Group December 2017
Beyond discussions about short stories and Quick Read books round the writing table, a number of guests had a go at this month’s crossword and word search puzzles; the word search themes of car parts and dog breeds proved good for stimulating some interesting conversations.
There seemed to be quite a French theme to today’s session: in honour of K’s dedication in completing the jigsaw picture of an open air cafe scene in Paris, three of the crossword answers also had a French connection: cul-de-sac (a street or passage closed at one end); pas de deux (a dance for two people); Pyrenees (mountain range between France and Spain). We discussed a few funny ways of including all three in a special short story but in the end J opted to write out a couple of poems for us instead. Happy reading and happy Christmas! Be with you again in the New Year.

Advent (a poem by J)
The names and dates carved into the wall
Beyond living memory
Castaways of history
But candle flames
Maybe a flicker of remembrance
For those who pause in halls
Between and after the wars
When the lights are put outside
And the trees are brought indoors
And the everlasting arms of the God-who-is-good
Wait to safely gather them all

Sharp-shooting (a poem by J)
Monday night in the Ladyfield Drive
The lights are on and we’re alive
Warm ups, jogging, pant and stretch
Off Kev dashes to fetch the vests
Kick off and there’s no anxiety
The future’s round and leathery
Criss-crossing, zigzagging
Football Rules
We’re nobody’s fools
For an hour or so, start the week,
Just sharpshooting

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