Doorway Writing Group May 2018

Doorway Writing Group May 2018

The wordsearches on the sights of London and different types of sports were fairly popular this month and our crossword served to challenge and baffle a number of our guests and volunteers in customary fashion. Most of us could name – and speak about – the ‘breed of dog with short legs and a long body’ (dachshund) and the ‘game in which one player vaults over the back of another’ (leapfrog) but none of us – shame on us! – knew the name of the first African winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. We do now though: Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright and poet. I’ve just looked him up, in fact, and the Wiki entry mentioned a recurrent theme of his: ‘the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it.’ That sounds profound and thought-provoking; maybe I should look up one or two of his poems to bring along to the next writing group. Watch this space!
We had some intriguing little discussions at the writing table including the significance of different colours. Is green or yellow the colour of hope? Does blue represent faith? We spoke about whether we prefer to write on plain or lined paper and if the latter, do we write on or across the lines? Do we conform or rebel? Should we sometimes write backwards or upside down even, in order to challenge our brains? Plenty of food for thought!
We wound up by speaking about spring and other seasons, at which point J set to writing us another of his wonderful poems: enjoy!

Spring (a poem by J)

It starts on the ground, somewhere
two weeks, continual rain,
the morning the sun returns
green appears in tufts and splashes
and the verges explode with blossom
and the springtime mantle
of leafy splendour.
Life is exuberant, bustling
the sky full of birds
the bushes full of birdsong.
The earth is singing
hope is flourishing
the sun is shining
warmth and light returning
the seasons’ prime.

Posted in Homelessness, Mental Health, Poetry | Leave a comment

Public Property

Homeless and vulnerable people are not public property!

Just saying …..


I’m living on the street, that does not make

Me yours to feed with food I do not eat

Though I may lay my hat before your feet

My history is not your tale to take.


I’m old, I’m poor, I’m ill, I haven’t got

A pot to piss in, or a welcome mat

You still don’t get to patronise, or pat

My head as if you think I’ve lost the plot.


I’m pregnant, I’m in prison, I’m alone

I’m lost, I’m frightened in a foreign land

I’m vulnerable, but not, you understand

Your bitch. My mind and body are my own.


So touch me not, nor tell my tale for me

For I am not your public property.


© Gail Foster 17th May 2018


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Doorway Writing Group April 2018

Doorway Writing Group April 2018
This month’s word searches on wild birds and wild flowers proved quite popular and opened up a few interesting conversations: had anyone ever seen a guillemot and what did one even look like? A number of guests helped with the crossword clues shared around the tables. We also experimented with sharing a poem – this month in the form of a fun, thought-provoking one by the inimitable Steve Turner called quite simply ‘I like words’; guests and volunteers were encouraged to think about whether they had a favourite word (which they could, if they liked, share on a post-it as material for a story or poem).
At the writing table, we discussed ways of capturing those mad, creative ideas as they occur to us: scraps of paper, post-its, a notebook (and of course a pencil) in your pocket etc. J had been experimenting with jotting things down on his phone and had even tried putting a whole story on there recently which he managed to transfer to mine. Here then for your enjoyment is another lovely little gem from J. Happy reading and till next month!

A short story by J

Abie sat on the platform bench at Valeford railway
station and looked up at the electronic timetables
hanging overhead. The train she was waiting for was
expected in 20 minutes.
On time. She resumed casually flicking through the
pages of her magazine before folding it and putting
it back in her shoulder bag. She looked around at
the passengers around her, casual strangers. Safe
and anonymous, her thoughts untethered like an old horse
in a lonely field.
A few miles away the train rolled through the
familiar countryside: Hedges and livestock, houses
and cars on the forecourt. Ernie watched the passing
vista with a resigned expression watching the blur of
the rail bed upon which the rails seemed to float
searching for that distant elusive vanishing point.
Thinking made Ernest tired, and eyelids drooping he
rested his head on his forearm.
The anxious youth with curly dishevelled hair
looked over his shoulder at the old man nodding off
across the aisle and resumed rummaging through
the contents of the rucksack upright on the floor by
his side. He worried about meeting his folks at
Valeford; the term at university had been a disaster
he could no longer keep secret, so many problems
he couldn’t even begin to deal with. He sighed then
he too closed his eyes.
Twenty minutes passed. The groups of people waiting
on the platform thinned. Abie looked up again and
blinked. The train due to arrive, her train, had
vanished! No record of it was on the board. What
could she do?
The train kept on travelling while Ernie dreamed
of all the train journeys he’d taken in his youth on
weekends laughing with friends, short journeys, long
journeys, journeys to places he knew he would
never return to, places he refrequented again and
again all became one dizzying blur. The young man
dreamt of an old man staring out of the window,
troubles vanished with the passage of years the
vanishing point still ahead, always ahead …….
Ernie woke with a start as the mystery train
pulled into the station. He reached down for his
rucksack and observed from his sleeve HE WAS
raced towards the doors and they slid open.
Abie waved and hugged the figure descending
onto the platform. “You’re very late,” she beamed.
“I’m very….” Ernie stuttered.
The train pulled out of the station while the
confused guard stared at the abandoned rucksack
and the two empty seats.

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Quintin’s Story

Journey into the Unknown

After half a century of hard work and failed relationships, life was to come crashing down around me. Unforeseen circumstances and dubious decisions, on my part, led to my complete mental breakdown and suicide attempt some 3 years ago. Insane working hours and impossible deadlines mixed with an extremely volatile marriage had overcome my inner strength. My entire life had been torn apart and thrown to the wind. Everything that I had worked for over many years was gone, everything.

I was admitted to a high dependency psychological hospital and spent the next 6 months being sedated, treated and prepared for my return to society.

Being given sanctuary with my sister and brother in law seemed at the time a saving grace. I moved in with them and started working locally, life was starting to reassemble itself, or so I thought.

18 months after I moved in I was given instructions by my volatile brother in law. I was advised to devise a plan, during the next 4 weeks, and vacate their home and lives. Evidently I had exceeded my welcome.

Luckily I still had my job and my old car. I moved out of their property that very day, not wishing to stay any longer in an aggressive family environment. I started sleeping in my vehicle near my workplace until my boss, a certain Parish councillor and pillar of society, decided to give me the same 4 weeks to come up with a plan and find employment elsewhere. He was my brother in law.

So, in the space of 3 weeks, I had been evicted from my family’s home and lost my job at the family engineering business too, nice.

Initially, being homeless and jobless didn’t phase me, after all that I had been through whilst living with my ex, it had prepared me to cope with major life events.

Being mindful of the future and realising that winter was coming I took advice from Wiltshire Mind, who have weekly self-help group sessions that I attend, since moving to the area. Sadly, the amazing group leader suddenly left their employment not long after I became homeless. She was totally dedicated to her work and was one of those people you never forget.

The day I presented myself to the council offices in Chippenham was also the same day that I passed through Doorway’s entrance.

Not knowing what to expect from the housing officer, at the council offices, I duly filled in all the forms and was informed that I was on my own, no help was forthcoming.

Next stop, Doorway. Unsure of how they could assist I entered the Salvation Army Hall in Chippenham, anxious and hopeful at the same time, to be greeted by complete strangers. After quickly outlining my case I was instructed to collect a hot meal and the paperwork would be dealt with thereafter.

From day one and to this very day Doorway have never questioned or criticised anything concerning myself, they have accepted me, as I am.

In a world largely based on consumerism and finance and the haves and have nots, being treated equally, without question, is very rare indeed.

Slowly I started to become a regular visitor, Monday morning cooked breakfasts are to die for. Hot showers and washing machines made being homeless much easier to digest. I rely on their food parcels to carry me through to the next week, I had no income at that point or savings, I still had not even thought to apply for any financial assistance. After all, I had never claimed for anything before, always believing that I was responsible for myself. I am an aeronautical engineer and have travelled all over Europe and beyond, for my work.

One Thursday lunch time, they had arranged for the council officers to attend, in an informal way, brilliant idea. This was to be pivotal for myself. After several previous visits to the council being fruitless, I was fortunate to discuss my issues with such a humane council adviser, the advice I was given was to change my lot.

Along with the Council, the Citizens Advice Bureau and Doorway, they have all assisted in my transition from being homeless immensely.

All of the staff at The Doorway have helped, a few, more than they can imagine, from the unseen volunteers to the galley slaves, the Char Wallahs and especially the female angels, that float around, waiting to engulf the unwary. The one thing that was and still is today, is that whilst all hell might be going on in one’s private life, Doorway, remains a constant, always there, same people, same welcome and always happy to engage and offer humane advice.

Understanding that life is ever changing and people are to be respected as human beings, accepting change leads to a more deeper calm and inner peace. Once you have reached that blackest point of your life and been lucky to survive, life changes, becomes simpler and easier to accept. Most of what we think is important to us is just cluttering our lives. Whilst each day is not the same as the last and some are not good at all, the struggle is easier to digest with the assistance of loving and humane supporters of life, Doorway.

Thank you for your support and advice, without this, I could not have progressed to where I am today.

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

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.”

2018-01-27 20.05.07

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…..

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

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