A random act of kindness

A random act of kindness set the ball rolling for a treat for the Doorway Women’s Group.

Acts of kindness are not something that the women expect so for Maria Christina hairdressing salon on Chippenham to offer to open their doors solely for our ladies was just that.

For most of us going to the hairdressers is a part of life, we just do it, and it makes us feel better ourselves. A bad haircut or a bad hair day is not good.

I hadn’t really thought about haircuts regarding our women or even how they could afford salon prices. I knew that sometimes they cut their own hair or that friend would it for them, but when Maria offered her services it was brought into my consciousness.

We had to cajole and persuade some of the women to come as this wasn’t normal:

“why would a hair salon be offering this, what do they want?”

Tuesday came, I think all of us were a bit nervous but there was no need. We were warmly welcomed, put at ease and treated with such kindness that it didn’t take long for us to be enjoying the whole experience.

New hairstyles and certainly lots of chat and laughter filled the salon, so heart-warming (I definitely welled up a few times).

Maria and her ‘girls’ were great and equally enjoyed the afternoon. What a treat to have a salon close their doors and just be opened for us. And this isn’t a one time experience, we are going to be regularly booked in.

A big big thank you to Maria and her staff for their random act of kindness from everyone at the Women’s Group.

Mary, Support Worker & Women’s Group Facilitator.

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A “Green” Bag-Packer (Part 3)

Spent another great day at Sainsburys yesterday bag packing with Doorway.

Again the customers were great with their generosity and friendliness and so were the staff, special thanks to Jenna for  “allowing” me to go outside for a smoke break !

On my first session in November a lot of people were saying what a fantastic job “us” volunteers were doing. So the following Monday I spoke  to Lisa at the regular breakfast session asking how she felt about me in future if I could actually tell people that I was a “guest” doing a little bit to give something back for everything that Doorway do for us. She said that if I felt comfortable with that then yes go for it.

Well yesterday I was able to tell people that I was in fact a guest doing my little bit and telling them how Doorway help me and the other guests (I’m sure they would all agree with me) with the support and services they are all willing to give us, which is fantastic. Once the customers and staff were aware that I was indeed a guest they were all in awe hearing my side of the equation, of the help we do receive from Doorway. Two instances stick out in my mind.

1. One couple who said they always support Doorway especially with the harvest festival collections at their local church were impressed when I thanked them on behalf of all the guests for their support and what it meant to us.

2.  A five year old boy out shopping with his father sat in the trolley asked why I had a green shirt on and what was the bucket for he replied ask him. So we had a 5 minute conversation on why we were there, he then asked his dad if he could put some money in the bucket which with a grin on his face duly did, then saying he was going to tell mummy when he got home what he’d done and with a smile on his face waved goodbye I waved back of course with an even bigger smile on my face, it really made my day.

Thanks again to all the customers and staff at Sainsburys and especially to “team” Doorway for letting me be involved, I had a thoroughly enjoyable day out.  I’m Ready for part 4!!    

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The Corporate Scourge

Corporate control

It’s devouring us

Money over love

Let’s fight this scourge

Governments work for them

Business interests

Come before the state

Let’s fight this scourge

Most of humanity’s unaware

Do they know or do they care

Too busy watching cheap tv

Wanna be a celebrity


This speaks from a place of outrage but it’s vibrant and eloquent, too. It may be unfinished yet even as a fragment it says enough to be perfectly intelligible. It contains a sentiment that can be easy to ridicule—characterise as naïve, but I feel its power. It does seem (to me, as well) that unelected corporations and plutocrats are all-powerful and it is to their benefit if ‘humanity’ is distracted by the ‘bread and circuses’ of ‘cheap tv’ and ‘celebrity’. Questioning the status quo is very important and C understands that we should never lose sight of this nor the right to do so.

When C came to the writing group this song lyric was already in her head. She said it fitted to the tune of…but couldn’t quite remember the name of singer or song. She hummed a few bars but even then I had no idea what it was. But having a tune or rhythm in mind is a useful way of starting a song lyric or poem. Perhaps I should use my own advice more often (that would be a first).

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Doorway, Social Exclusion & the Berlin Wall – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – Jan 2015

Way way back, 25 years ago, in November 1989 the Berlin wall was brought down by the people of Berlin. Not by the authorities but by the people on both sides working towards a common goal of freedom and inclusion. Because they believed that they were capable of bringing about change as a united force against the East German communist society that had repressed the population behind the wall for 38 years.

Now I remember watching the event, on television, as a 20yr old student with that marvellous feeling when one is still young and naïve that anything is possible if enough people believe in the potential outcome. Unfortunately, over the years the cynicism monster grows within us and slowly gets more powerful until the stage that you think there is no point in attempting something because you’re never going to make a substantial difference anyway.

And then you stumble upon an organisation like Doorway. Which against all the odds continues to make a difference to the everyday lives of a number of people year after year. And okay maybe it is not as dramatic as a 100 mile wall tumbling down one cold night in Berlin, but actually the underlying issues are really very similar

Because as Doorway celebrates our tenth birthday this year it is worth looking at why there is a need for the organisation to exist in the first place and the common theme running through all the different stories of our guests is that of social exclusion.

Social exclusion is formally defined as “the failure of society to provide certain individuals and groups with those rights and benefits normally available to its members, such as employment, adequate housing, health care, education and training etc”

Now we at Doorway are unable to actually eradicate the numerous instances of social exclusion for those who are accessing our service but what we can do, very successfully, is minimise the damage caused by the failure of society to provide those rights and benefits.

And so, over the last year we have worked very hard at empowering our guests to develop a resilience to the constant battering they may get from both statutory agencies and society as a whole, both of which build barrier after barrier to them accessing the services that they so deserve as human beings.

This is achieved by building on the basic foundations of the extra activities that we provide for our guests – the football training, music workshops, writing group and the women’s group – which have all played a major part in our aim of increasing the motivation and self-worth of those who access our services. This has subsequently enabled our guests to have more confidence in tackling those everyday issues in their lives concerning addictions, housing, finances and debts, unemployment and mental health issues all of which contribute to the general feeling of isolation and of social exclusion.

So much of our work at Doorway is spent in compiling ‘hard’ outcomes for funders that sometimes it is difficult to remember that the ‘soft’ outcomes matter just as much to people on a daily basis – we can make someone feel better about themselves for even just a short period of time each week. It’s not all about the statistics and how many people have gained employment or housing, it’s often about the journey towards those goals and involves increasing self-confidence, self-worth, and motivating people to not give up along the way no matter how many hurdles are thrown at them by both statutory agencies and society as a whole.

The vast majority of our work over the last year has been concerned with the fallout from the introduction of the devastating swathe of welfare reforms in April 2013. I predicted, in my article in the G&H in  February 2013, the onset of ‘a perfect storm’ and explained that a combination of factors including falling incomes, rising costs of living, increasing unemployment, a lack of decent jobs and the proposed benefit cuts would affect those who were already very vulnerable.

And, unfortunately I was right in my predictions. More and more people have been driven into debt, hunger and homelessness over the last year. The bedroom tax, cuts in council tax benefits, the ending of disability living allowance, the benefit cap, just to name a few of the reforms, have all contributed to the fact that our workload has substantially increased in volume over the last year.

Over the last few months other, newly introduced, factors have contributed to the demand on our services. These include firstly the removal of the ability to apply for new benefit claims over the phone and replaced with the compulsory method of online applications; the vast majority of people who access our drop-in sessions are unable to complete these hour long applications and are therefore reliant on one of the Doorway support workers to assist them.

Secondly, the introduction of severe benefit sanctions which have a knock on effect. Often the individual will only be aware of the sanction after it has been put in place and therefore after the housing benefit has also been stopped, thereby ensuring that the rent hasn’t been paid and the person is even further in debt and also at risk of losing their tenancy.

Add to this the ongoing severe lack of funding in this county for statutory services including drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, a crisis mental health team that is itself in crisis, and the funding cuts to our partner organisations such as the Citizen Advice Bureau which have led to a reduction in their team of specialist employed staff and it is no wonder that we are inundated with the complexity of people’s everyday needs.

There are still so many moments in my working life when the cynicism monster rears its ugly head and I am filled with monumental despair and frustration and an insurmountable doubt in our ability to actually make a difference to the lives of those who are so dependent on our organisation. But it is also those very moments that keep me motivated to continue to fight for the right of everyone in our community to be able to access those rights and benefits that they are entitled to as human beings.

And that is where the work of Doorway is so critical, we exist in order to support all those whilst they continue their struggle to be more inclusive in society. And so, every moment spent at Doorway is almost like small chunks of the Berlin wall repeatedly falling down day after day after day…

Posted in Alcohol, Benefits, Charity, Chippenham, Drugs, Football, Health, Homelessness, Mental Health, Music, News, Poetry, Volunteering, Welfare Reform, Wiltshire, Women's Group | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A “Green” Bag-Packer (Part 2)

Spent a long day at Sainsburys yesterday bag packing  with Doorway. Once again I thoroughly enjoyed myself and had great fun too.

Sainsburys staff were once again great, and the customers were fantastic with their generosity especially so close to Christmas, a huge thank you to everyone.

Thanks to the Doorway team for allowing me a second opportunity to help in a small way to give something  in return for all their support.

When’s Part 3 happening ?  Bring it on !!

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Christmas Lunch at Doorway

Just had an awesome Christmas lunch at Doorway with all the trimmings and a great festive atmosphere.

Went home with some goodies and a very welcome present to open on Christmas Day.

Many thanks to Lisa and all the team.

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Definitions of the word ‘Home’

At Doorway we are very interested in the power of words especially those relevant to the very core of our frontline work with those who access our services. Words like ‘homelessness’ are very easy to throw around in conversation but what does it really mean to those who have experienced it, are currently experiencing it or are faced with the possibility of experiencing it.

In order to gain a better understanding of the word ‘homelessness’ it is important to flip the entire perspective and reflect on the meaning of the word ‘home’ and therefore appreciate what is missing when one is in fact ‘homeless’.

If we consider the way in which people identify and become attached to places, people, buildings or objects then we are able to see a direct correlation between this attachment and to someone’s personal wellbeing, how they feel about themselves, and their self-identity.

Attachment to a place or a ‘home’ can engender feelings of belonging, safety, security and a permanence to someone’s current situation; all of which enhance feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.

However, not all experiences of home can be positive. The physical environment, or being isolated and alone, or relationships with others inside that physical space can all affect how someone feels about their home. And it is possible that people can experience both positive and negative feelings at the same time, for example someone may be in a physically safe place with a roof over their head but might also be in a fearful place due to their physically unsafe relationship with someone else in the property.

Attachment to a place called ‘home’ is also achieved through the possessions that we surround ourselves with – otherwise termed ‘the personalisation of space’. This makes a clear statement of the person that you are, your identity. Often when people are ‘homeless’ or in a temporary ‘home’ or move around regularly this is the part of their identity that can be lost. And this element plays a critical part in their overall psychological wellbeing.

Another way of supporting your identity is through the people that you live with, whether that is family or friends. Not only is one’s self-identity important but also that feeling of belonging to a group is critical to in establishing a ‘home’ environment.

It is very apparent then that the term ‘home’ brings together a number of physical, social and psychological elements any of which can be easily disrupted thereby affecting a person’s wellbeing.

Thinking about attachment then leads on to the direct opposite and we are consequently able to have a better understanding as to how people can feel if these critical elements of belonging or identity are missing due to issues such as regularly moving between places or someone finding themselves to be ‘homeless’.

However, no matter how long any of us have worked in this field, we are never presumptuous enough to claim that we know what our service users are experiencing or feeling without actually asking them. And therefore we recently asked our guests to explore what the word ‘home’ meant to them.

And whilst the majority of our guests wrote down the standard statements that we were expecting we were mightily impressed by their ability to actually express themselves in words that conveyed their hopes, fears, and feelings of self-identity and overall wellbeing.

We were fully aware, before beginning the survey, that such an emotive subject had the potential to cause emotional distress amongst our guests and we therefore ensured that we had a contingency plan in place in case anyone was affected by their experiences.

And surprisingly, everyone was more than happy to partake in our survey except for one person who point blank refused to complete the form. Unfortunately, he really found the process impossible since he, very sadly, had never actually experienced anywhere that he could have called ‘home’ due to a childhood spent in various rather ironically named ‘care homes’.

“Home to me means a sanctuary, somewhere you feel you belong, where you can put down roots, where you can settle and feel at peace. It doesn’t have to be amazing, it just has to be yours. Without a place to call home we feel adrift, detached, not quite part of life. That moment when you have your own key to your own placed is the most magical feeling in the world. To lock that front door behind you, and take a deep sigh of relief and know that you have finally landed is at once the most basic need and the most precious gift of all. I am thankful that I and my four children are no longer homeless every single day. 19/08/10 the day I leapt. 19/05/11 the day I landed.”

“I thought they said ‘hope’ but, no, it’s ‘home’ – the two are probably related. I hope my hearing improves then I might get home. I do get home but I’ve never (or rarely) felt ‘at home’ even when I’m there. At least this is how it used to be. Lately I have felt closer, imagining home just over the horizon. Something has shifted, and I think it’s because I feel more at home to myself after a lifetime away. This sounds hopeful.”

“Warmth, security, confidence, options, being able to work, normality.”

“Home sweet home. Home is where you can go to at the end of a hard day’s work and relax and unwind! To other people home may the place where they can shut the door and just say f**k the world and they can do exactly what they want when they want. Some people haven’t got the luxury of calling a place home which is this day and age is sad.”

“A family, a place of warmth, somewhere where you feel safe.”

“Home is somewhere you feel safe, secure and comfortable. A place where you are loved and can just shut the world out. A place where you are contactable, a centre to operate from and it’s where your family and loved ones are or can be and can also feel safe and loved.”

“A safe warm place. A place to belong. A need for everyone. Something there’s not enough of. A need for self. A place to put roots and memories.”

“Home is what you make it.”

“I lived in an abusive, violent home and ended up in a refuge. And I was given the chance of a fresh start on my own with my daughter. Home is now somewhere to feel safe and warm.”

“Home is better than ‘homeless’! But when you have a home you have the spectre of ‘homelessness’ hanging over you, so much responsibility! They give you money to live, great! But then they want half of it back, council tax, bedroom tax etc. gas, electric, water, arrrgggh give me a job! I love my home but I am always worried that I am going to lose it, isn’t ‘home’ supposed to be security etc. I’m perpetually worried.”

“Doorway feels more like home than my flat right now. This is because I pay mortgage but cannot keep up with the maintenance as it is too expensive. I sweat constantly but my flat is cold because I have single glazed windows. I put a plastic curtain on to keep the heat in but the condensation from this has ruined the plaster around the windows. My boiler is on its last legs so I am scared to put the heating on. I feel like trashing what is left of the shithole that I totally regret buying.”

“Safety. Secure. Somewhere to live. To wash and clean dry clothes. Somewhere to close the door and feel safe. Somewhere warm and safe to sleep. Comfort and inner warmth. Belong somewhere.”

“The word home means nothing to me. Perhaps because I moved home about 8 times as a child.”

“A place to rest my head.”

“Sanctuary. Somewhere to live of my own free will. Can do my own thing in private and decide who comes in.”

“I was on the streets for a long time now I have a nice home, with the help from Jephson and Doorway.”

“Home is where the heart is. It also means happiness. Home is safe.”

“Home to me means security which never had. Family son daughter grandchildren which make me happy in my life. Focus responsibility for bills etc. Have thing to do which I enjoy doing and have a home where I can rest and be secure at the end of night start the day again.”

“What most people would say is ‘home’ is where the heart is or wherever I lay my hat that’s my ‘home’. It means Scotland to me and family and friends.”

“Be stronger? Looking after yourself. Warm roof over your head. Behind the door safe.”

“Home means to me that it is a safe place to rest and secure. It is also a permanent roof over your head. It is also a place where you shut out all the dangers outside.”

“Home is where the heart is. Where it’s warm cosy and snug. And you are in from the cold.”

“Yes, home is somewhere to go, a place you put your belongings, make a meal, rest yourself, and pass the time of day. Have some friends round.”

“Everybody needs a place to live, a place of safety and refuge. A home is provided for us from infancy and losing one’s home is a major event in a person’s life. Living at home is a responsibility because sharing a home is like sharing oneself. Home is heavenly!”

“Warmth. Cooking. Laughter. Arguments. Fun. Planning. Music. Sleep.”

“Scratch my balls in peace or pick my nose.”

“Safety. Sanctuary. Security. Home cooking. Sleep. Rubbish. TV. Big mugs of tea or coffee. A place where I can be creative.”

“Home means all comfort and love. Somewhere you can call your castle.”

“Warm. Safety. Freedom. People to talk to.”

“Home to me is the place/area (not necessarily building) where familiar people are and life / background predictable in essentials.”

“Home for me means my safe place, and my security.”

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