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

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

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)

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

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

Posted in Guest Profile, Homelessness, Hostel, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Doorway Writing Group November 2017

Doorway Writing Group November 2017

In addition to a crossword, guests were invited to complete a word search this month focusing on popular cartoon characters. This combination seemed to work well with at least seven guests participating, aided and encouraged by volunteers and two visiting literacy/learning disability specialists.
J composed what he called ‘a daft poem’ for us to enjoy. See below. He also took up the challenge of including words from this session’s crossword in a piece of writing, selecting the words ‘mastiff’ and ‘teashop’ to weave into part 3 of his short story. He had, he said, been looking for a few fresh ideas to spark some connections and these would do just fine! We’ll certainly look forward to seeing what he does with them – part 3 to be posted in our December blog.

Bat Lament (a poem by J)

The simple art of letting go
Is not too cool for bats you know,
For not being stuck to the ceiling
We end up on the floor
Which makes bat bedtimes such a chore
Ah well, fear of the dark is all in my mind
But what bothers me batty is we’re mostly blind
Such a cruel joke of nature
Has made us all nocturnal aviators
So if humans when trying to rest
Glimpse a flattering shape in a high vis vest
A high-pitched shriek and a miner’s hat
It’s only me…
The scaredy bat.

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

Doorway Writing Group October 2017

Doorway Writing Group October 2017
We had a quiet but fruitful session this month as we resumed after a short break.
A number of guests had a go at the crossword: some working together – discussing the clues in groups, some taking a copy home to try out later.
We wish K good luck with his new tenancy. We will miss the intriguing circus anecdotes but here’s to his next chapter in a more settled life.
J contributed a poem – as thought-provoking as ever – and part two of a story. Read on and enjoy!

Tadpole Village (a poem by J)
“Life is waiting”*
The tadpole village is emerging
That the planners have spawned
Transplanted from the drawing board
New houses, new roads, schools,
New beginnings.

The village of Hannington
A little farther on, also, is a new village
Transplanted in the aftermath of the
Black Death Epidemic
The old village deserted, buried, abandoned…

Like Blakehill airfield, after the war
Now the flight path of westbound geese
Honking at sunrise in V formation
While amongst the brambles and thorns
A new heart is beating, in chrysalis
By a single thread suspended
And waiting for a butterfly
*From The Cider House Rules (1999)

Part 2 of story by J, first posted in May 2017 blog, (renamed A Pilgrimage of Chaos)
Bright autumnal sunshine.
Freddie tossed a pie crust across the path in the park.
Repeats… That was Freddie’s CV for today.
“Hi,” said a voice on the bench beside him. It was Nigel, his adviser from an hour ago. Freddie was a little surprised.
Nigel took his sandwiches from his briefcase.
“I always eat my lunch here, you don’t mind sharing the bench, do you?”
“No, not at all,” said Freddie. “I won’t be here long.”
They began eating together in silence while pigeons squabbled and fought for the crusts beneath them.
Nigel paused, mid-sandwich and swallowed.
“You know I saw you an hour ago, you cleared your throat and a most peculiar thing happened.”
Freddie felt his brain jolted as he anticipated the thread of the conversation. HE KNEW THIS PERSON.
“20 years ago at least,” Freddie ventured hesitantly.
Nigel nodded. “You were the boy in the car park over there that night.”
Freddie tried to straighten himself clutching his knees, almost shaking as his brain reeled back the years to an empty car park in the small hours of a drizzly Sunday night.
Freddie sat absorbed, as Nigel continued, picking at imaginary threads on his jeans.
“Yes a long time ago, but what a night. After you panicked me I went back home before my parents knew I’d gone. I just lay there waiting for morning, you know life is worth hanging on to I told myself, and I learnt that emotions make a tyrannical master.”
“Yep,” Freddie nodded.
“When you weren’t there I was sure you’d jumped. I never ran down those stairs so fast. I paced up and down for over an hour in front of the car park and I came back next morning and as I stood there looking up…” He paused.
Nigel nodded eagerly, encouraging.
“Well, I felt that…my life had… HUMAN VALUE!”
“And now here you are, so many years later.”
“Anyway strange meeting eh!”
“Take care.”
“Yes, good luck!”
Freddie walked the familiar lanes back home, musing under colossal, portentious clouds.
Nigel walked away, patted his briefcase and turned, just in time to see two screaming seagulls circling the air with the remains of his lunch.

Posted in Homelessness, Mental Health | Leave a comment