Inspiring afternoon with Pret Apprentices

Denise Henson, Deputy Manager of Employment & Training

This afternoon, Alessio and I visited two of our clients who are currently on the Pret apprenticeship scheme.  We had the opportunity to talk with each apprentice about their experience of working at Pret so far and how supportive they have found the whole experience. 

It was really inspiring to see how each client’s confidence had grown during their time at Pret and hearing managers’ feedback about the positive impact both apprentices have had on them.  Image

We had the privilege of seeing Josef graduate from the scheme today too. He was so excited he barely slept the night before and moved his manager to tears when he expressed how pleased he was to be offered a permanent team member role. 

This has proved to be a really successful model and we are looking forward to seeing how their careers will develop as well as referring more clients to see others become part of the team at Pret, back on their feet and holding their heads high, building their own hope for the future!

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Christmas Cheer

Kaz Mayes, Deputy Day Centre Manager

Everyone was welcomed with a ‘Merry Christmas! Have some chocolate!’ as everyone knows the Christmas tradition of chocolate before breakfast!  Clients went downstairs, and those that needed to either had a shower or had their clothes dried, because it was absolutely pouring down with rain.  There were tea and coffee and Danish pastries for everyone as they came in.  Christmas music was playing in the activities room, until the Christmas Quiz started with lots of clients taking part, lots of fun competitive spirit, and a raucous prize giving!

The tables were laid downstairs, with white tablecloths and festive decorations, and once everyone was seated Christmas dinner was served. There were strict orders ‘pull your cracker and wear your hat!’  Two of our ‘Step-Up’ client volunteers helped with the laying of tables, and serving of lunch, one like a demon with the fizzy pop making sure everyone had plenty to drink, and the other putting us all to shame as he is catering trained and carried four dinner plates at a time!  Much jollity was had by all, and once the last pudding had been eaten, Santa arrived with plenty of gifts for all, with lots of jokes about whether anyone had been good this year!  tables resize

Many clients that day were pleased to be with us, some popped in on their way to other community lunches, at churches and hostels, and wished us a Merry Christmas, and said they couldn’t imagine not coming to see us today.

Christmas is not always a good time for some of our clients, and this year we had a few who were struggling with not seeing family or their children.  Staff spent time with them, talking about how they felt, and giving some emotional support.  One client became upset because he was not with his 3 year old this Christmas, and then apologized as he didn’t want to spoil anyone else’s Christmas, we reassured him that this was not the case, and we wanted him to come back and join the others downstairs which he did do.  As he left, he thanked us for our understanding, and was very appreciative of the support he’d received.  Father Christmas2


Everyone left that afternoon, full of Christmas cheer, and Christmas dinner, clutching a bag full of much appreciated presents, with lots of cries of ‘thank you so much’ and ‘I have had a great day, thanks’.

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Christmas Appeal Reaches New Record!

Thanks to donors the Radio 4 St Martin-in-the-Fields Christmas Appeal total is £1,844,728 and has beaten last year’s record!

“Thanks to our amazing donors, we’ve had yet another record breaking year”, said St Martin-in-the-Fields Charities Manager Craig Norman.

“Their support will enable us to help build hope in the lives of thousands of homeless and vulnerable people who will turn to us for help this year. We wish our work wasn’t necessary, but it is and the demand for our services is increasing, so we are incredibly grateful to everyone who trusts us to use their money to help so many people.”

The money raised is divided between The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Vicar’s Relief Fund.

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Winter Warmer

Billy O’Brien – Outreach Worker

I recently wrote a blog about Anti-Social behaviour (ASB) and homelessness in Westminster and who it affects, and how it impacts on the community. It was written to highlight an issue that unfortunately we have in Westminster with ASB and street drinking, which we are committed to addressing and also engaging with those who are committing ASB whilst street homeless.

But, what isn’t heard of a lot are the positive outcomes we have in getting those involved to address the ASB, and to ‘steer’ them away from others who show no motivation or commitment to cease these behaviours which affect the community and its businesses and residents. We do have many successes and the following is proof…..

We first met ‘X’ (name undisclosed for confidential reasons) in 2005, presented from a large city in the North East of England and came to Central London to rough sleep and street drink because “there’s nothing up there for me anymore”, a sentence we hear many times from people who leave home areas and head to the magnetic and attractive bright lights of London. He believed that because he lost his job as a panel beater and was shunned by his family due to his chaotic drinking, that London would solve all his problems or ‘allow’ him to continue drinking himself into oblivion.

He initially used our day services to clean up or get cheap food. He then began to meet and hang around with people who had been rough sleeping for years, long term street drinkers and what most towns and cities in the UK have, a local ‘drinking school’. Now, obviously due to this person being new to the area not much was known about his character, his behaviours and how he interacts with people who show a genuine interest in his situation. What followed was approximately 6 years of chaos and destitution for this client, he became very problematic and on many occasions short term exclusions from our services were the only option open to us.

These weren’t because of his drinking as such but because this sometimes led to him becoming extremely threatening to staff and users of The Connection. He very rapidly became seriously physically dependant on alcohol, which was heart wrenching as we couldn’t always allow him into The Connection and he was clearly in need of help. He became a ‘face’ in Central London’s homeless community and also he was a constant target for enforcement teams and the police.

I personally began to case work him in early 2010, as my role/experience was suited more towards alcohol/drug using clients and those involved in ASB and chaotic street activities. The fact that many years previously I had been in almost the same position myself gave me an advantage in understanding the best way I could help. Our relationship began at his pace, just focusing on the little things, his health and the alcohol consequences, his personal care, access to the Day Centre without incidents and so forth. So he began to use services more meaningfully, and then began using our night centre on occasions, just to get an M.O.T from the streets.

This yielded positive results, he began to request structured appointments and I complimented this by escorting him to medical appointments and giving him incentives such as free food, clothing, travel fares and the crucial incentive- my ears and undivided attention.

On the occasions he was sober he showed such insight into himself, his past and a really dry and extremely funny sense of humour. Obviously he wasn’t a reformed character but he began to realise that shouting, threatening and being abusive wasn’t going to alleviate his situation. We then got to a stage were we hit the million dollar issue, his housing. His outlook on what he wanted was clear, a flat or nothing.

Due to his anti-social street activities he was made to sign up to an Acceptable Behaviour Agreement by Westminster City Council and breaching this agreement would only have led to him receiving an ASBO and being removed from central London altogether.

So we needed to strike whilst he was positively engaging, we put him in touch with a more personalised approach with St Mungos, and given funds to start working towards resettlement. His health was improving and he on his own back started to reduce his drinking. We then placed him in temporary accommodation to ‘train’ him for independent living, which can be daunting and scary for long term homeless clients, there were obvious teething problems but he and we worked through it, he had a massive support network to utilise and he milked it!

He now was housed in the early part of this year in his own tenancy in West London, he has never signed a tenancy, nor had his own place as he was either living with family or ex-partners. He isn’t ‘cured’; he is a work in progress. The magic of this story is he is maintaining his tenancy and using his support network if he is having problems, the part of this story which touches me and lets me sit back and feel warmth is that he is spending this Christmas indoors, in his own flat with his friends, not suffering or freezing near to death for the first time in years.

Please help us build hope for thousands of homeless and vulnerable people by supporting  this year’s Radio 4 St Martn-in-the-Fields Christmas Appeal.

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Tis the Season

Billy O’Brien – Outreach Worker

As we approach Christmas, Billy casts his mind back and recounts his Outreach shift last year in central London on Christmas day. You can support this year’s Radio 4 Christmas Appeal here

Picture the scene….. 6am…Strand Central London…..met with a freezing cold male who was in Central London trying to find work, very frightened and wide eyed at what he has woken to, a deserted London with nowhere open and looking like a scene from an apocalyptic movie…..introduced ourselves to him and informed him he has a place to go to and be with people and get warm food etc.  2012-08-27 09.25.06

Further along a young female with severe mental health and drug dependencies lying under a thin blanket (-7 was temp at time) showing no motivation to get up and get warm or our offers of a place of safety and warmth later, just a nod to indicate she is ok. A young couple, both under 30, trying to motivate each other to get warm, managing a fake smile and grateful to be offered a warm meal later.

On St Martins Lane 3 males who are physically ravaged by heroin/crack use are sitting under their sleeping bags staring ahead…wondering what the day will bring, can they score drugs today? Can they acquire the money to get the drugs today? Is any day centre open they can access as they are all excluded for various reasons from several daycentres in London, I enquire after their welfare and ask them to pop by The Connection at St Martins later as I can give them hot food and extra clothing etc to alleviate their discomfort.

Lastly we get to Piccadilly Circus, normally heaving with shoppers and tourists, traffic and buses honking horns and jostling for position at the lights but now deserted….we see a young male (18 years old) obviously in distress, his shoes, jacket, bag containing his passport, travel documents and letters from his parents in his home country in Eastern Europe is lying under just cardboard and bubble wrap, he looks at us with utter relief which we picked up on straight away. He was robbed the night before by persons unknown who thought it was funny to go out drinking, saw a vulnerable homeless person asleep with belongings easily stolen and took them…..we end the shift then as he has just socks on his feet and a thin t-shirt, so we take him straight to The Connection to kit him out in new shoes and clothes and jackets from donations we receive from you guys reading/listening to this, he is safe so we can have a warm cuppa and contemplate the shift……..

This is Central London on Christmas Day 2011, on an Outreach shift with our partner The Passage day centre, which is based in Victoria. We joined forces to cover practically over half the borough of Westminster, looking for new rough sleepers, checking people are not dying of exposure, injuries, drug/alcohol related incidents and looking out for the elderly, females, foreign nationals who don’t speak a word of English, those who are excluded, those who are violent, those who tell us on a daily basis (with choice words) to go away…..and so on. London transforms for the homeless population at this time of year.

2012-09-06 07.37.32When we are with our loved ones on Christmas Day and stressing about burnt potatoes or running out to get batteries for toys that will only get used for a day or two, crashing on the sofa watching Shrek for the 7 year running, moaning about reduced public transport and long queues for sales that you probably wont buy anything from……. Think of the young male mentioned above. He would not have had a spoken word of contact with a friendly face, never mind a mince pie if homeless services didn’t cancel/postpone their Christmas to make sure he got one that day…..

This isn’t a tale to sadden people or put a black blanket over the festive period, it’s reality, it’s happening and it’s about perspective.

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Phillip’s Revealing Photos

The Connection runs a photography workshop which provides disposable cameras and encourages people to express themselves, and share their experiences through photography.

Phillip has been involved in the project and started taking photos of homelessness. He has experienced homelessness himself, so each of his pictures tells a story, and provides a unique insight into the dangers and harsh reality of life on the streets of London.

Phillip says: “When you go around carrying a camera you want to take pictures of everything – you get into another world and I was chasing the thrill of trying to get the best picture all the time which I enjoyed.  You can come up with a lot of interesting things – pictures show you something you are not aware of. I have been homeless myself and when I look at these pictures I see just how deep the homeless problem is. When I saw homelessness from these pictures, it brought back a sense of what my life has turned into. That made me rethink and challenge myself again and again about my homeless situation.”

For this year’s Radio 4 St Martin-in-the-Fields Christmas Appeal we are Building Hope for thousands of homeless and vulnerable people across the UK. Support the appeal by donating here

The street is not a good place for girls or women. I still remember one day I woke up there was someone sleeping next to me and I saw it was just a little girl. I could tell she was homeless but she was afraid to sleep by herself so she came and slept by me. But, I woke before her and when she woke she jumped and I could tell she was scared and I tried to make it easy for her, I asked if she was ok.

Near Embankment station there are some beautiful gardens where they take out the deck chairs for the summer period. They host some music events and people sit in those chairs and enjoy the entertainment. During lunchtime office workers sit there and dive on their sandwich. But early in the morning, before all that, when the park opens you’ll find homeless people lying in those chairs. Most of them didn’t sleep all night so sleep there during the morning.

This is an extraordinary picture because some people can sleep with nothing no matter how cold it is – and I don’t know whether they do fall asleep. It’s very early in the morning – there are 2 worlds: city life and homelessness. The guy on the other side of that window is doing business while the man sleeps outside.

This guy is sleeping outside the opera house in Covent Garden –next to him there is a can of lager. I do not drink. I have a lot of people who would drink – to get them to sleep. You can’t sleep sober. Drinking alcohol and homelessness is tied together. The bad thing that I’ve noticed is that drinking destroys them.

I took this photo of a guy sleeping next to the road because if he rolls at night he will be run over by a car. But, there’s a reason he sleeps there – there’s a fan by the restaurant so it blows out hot air, but on the other side it’s a road. It’s a dangerous situation but when you are on the street most things don’t matter, it’s what you need at that moment and if you need warmth then you don’t consider anything else. Now looking at it I can see the dangers are obvious.

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I Felt Privileged to Have Known Martin

Wyn Newman – User Involvement Manager

Last Thursday I attended the commemoration service at St Martin’s for people who had died during the year who were or had been homeless.

One of the 150 names read out was that of Martin. I had got to know Martin when he started coming to our Friday afternoon rough sleepers group nearly 10 years ago.
I did not know Martin beforehand but I knew he had a serious drink problem and found it difficult to cope with the busy daycentre.

The deal on a Friday afternoon is that no one is going to talk to you about your housing, your drinking, your benefits claim or any of those reasons workers usually have for starting a conversation.

Martin was a big bear of a man with a big bushy beard, a very gentle giant.
Martin was absolutely clear about two things, he was not going to stop drinking and he was not going into a hostel.

Martin drank strong lager everyday and his mood and ability to communicate depended where in his cycle of drinking you found him. When he got it wrong he would curl up in a corner and go to sleep for the afternoon. When he got it right he was articulate, funny and insightful. He could talk knowledgeably about literature and philosophy. When in the right mood Martin would enjoy his afternoon, have something to eat, get his clothes washed and have a shower. Sometimes the clothes were beyond washing so he was fitted out with something new. We saw another side of Martin, one others were not lucky enough to know about.

I know he had been fished out of the Thames on at least one occasion and I accepted that he would probably end his days on the street.

At the time we were very lucky to have a volunteer reflexologist who attended the group, called Faith. Faith was infinitely patient with people. She spent time getting to know people. She would build trust with the people who then chose to find out about reflexology. Martin was not keen on the idea but eventually succumbed to Faith’s persistence.
In my view this was the start of the changes that occurred in Martin’s life. He struggled with the therapy. It would reveal deeply hidden fears that Martin had kept well hidden for many many years. He would tell me he would not have the therapy again because of the feelings it produced, but Martin did have the therapy again. He had to deal with these feelings if he wanted to experience the benefits of the reflexology. He was making a very real and hard choice.

Martin never stopped drinking but he did eventually move into St Martin’s House in Clapham. Martin enjoyed the independence that the house offered and Matthew and Lynn were around when needed. When his health deteriorated he moved to a care home. I visited Martin a few times in Clapham but then lost track of him until I heard of his death earlier this year. I feel privileged to have known Martin.

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Just a Minute! Nicholas Parsons is speaking at ArtWorks!

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London, its Attractions and Anti-Social Behaviour.

Billy O’BrienOutreach Worker

Big Ben, Tussauds, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace. The attractions roll off the tongue, the sights we see every day on our way to work, the huge queues forming to get in, the half price offers in the Sunday papers and the long winded promises to take a loved one or visitor to one of theses attractions…what else does London attract us with? Pubs, bars, clubs, discos, theatres, cinemas, open parks, Soho, Oxford St, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Sq….the list goes on and on. All part of why London is the centre of the world, and it’s why it attracts 30 million visitors a year, and is the most visited city in terms of international visitors.

But what about the other side of London, the side most of us will never see or will even know about. Let me tell you what’s happening in our borough (this is not a reflection on rough sleeping). Westminster as a whole in the year Sept 11 to Sept 12 had the following- 7,741 violent crimes against persons, 2,123 robberies against persons, 167 rapes, 1,582 residential burglaries- a snapshot of overall crime in Westminster. Source: Met Police Crime Figures 2011/2012

What’s this got to do with rough sleeping? Well some of you may, or may not, know that I have been going on joint outreach shifts with the SSHU – the Safer Streets Homeless Unit. They are a dedicated unit of the Met Police at Charing Cross Police station whose remit is to target and identify problematic rough sleepers, address and investigate crime in our homeless community, serve the Westminster community businesses and residents by protecting them from crime and anti-social behaviour from rough sleepers ie; drug dealing, begging, urination, sleeping on private property. They also check regularly on the welfare of our most vulnerable rough sleepers, much the same as we do, when we are on shift, ensuring they are safe and not in any immediate danger. They also attend case conferences to contribute to vulnerable rough sleepers’ action plans, not for enforcement but to be part of the multi agency involvement it takes to get high support clients into a better and safer environment.

We also attend monthly partnership meetings with SSHU and other units of the Met such as the Safer Neighbourhood Team, to discuss and plan ways of motivating/supporting high support clients and those involved in anti-social behaviour to address their behaviour and the impact it has on our locality as a whole.
SSHU also assist when we are planning and implementing mental health act sectioning to ensure it goes smoothly and less traumatic for the clients involved.

So, they are in effect a partnership agency and we need to be working closely with them, I’m not saying we disclose and inform on our clients as we all know the policies and procedures around this, it’s about being up to date with current strategies concerning rough sleeping- here is a quote from the Westminster Rough Sleeping Strategy 2010/2013, “protecting the community from anti-social behaviour associated with rough sleepers, including begging, litter, noise and urination”.

Enforcement of anti-social behaviour is a top 2 priority for the council, and we need to be seen to be contributing to this, why you ask? Rough sleeping provision in Westminster is located in business and residential areas, the behaviour of some individuals undermines the acceptance, in the community, of the worth of service for rough sleepers, with the high numbers of rough sleepers into Westminster it is important that anti-social behaviour or destructive behaviour is not accepted as the norm and is dealt with swiftly and appropriately, targeted operations tackle cross border drug and alcohol related activity, prevent new rough sleepers being drawn into criminal activity such as begging, drugs and prostitution. (Source: Westminster City Council Rough Sleepers Strategy 2010/2013)

There are objectives to working closely with our enforcement partners- Ensuring a balance between enforcement and social care agencies, target those who are not vulnerable but refuse all offers of assistance and use all available enforcement options against them, SSHU/SNT to enforce the “one service offer” message, regular meetings with community groups in order to understand the issues that are of most concern to residents and businesses, seek the support of the UKBA (United Kingdom Border Agency) to deal swiftly with those with no recourse to public funds engaged in persistent low level crime and anti social behaviour. (Source: Westminster City Council Rough Sleepers Strategy 2010/2013)

Historically social care and enforcement have had, how shall I say, a grey area in terms of information sharing and when and when not to use the police, which is understandable as we have clients confidentiality to adhere to, and also client/worker relationships to consider. The police have excellent professional boundaries and don’t expect us to inform on clients. But if we witness anti-social behaviour- we witness a crime, it’s our job and responsibility to either address it or report it. We can’t suddenly say “oh it’s outside the building” or “they are only drinking” or worse, turn our backs. No one likes to walk up Adelaide St in the morning and see our street drinkers causing alarm, distress and harassment to the public, but who can say they’ve seen it and reported it?

Anti-social behaviour is not just attributed to rough sleepers, as we saw last year during the London riots, but we do have people who are in our locality who have no reason being here other than to cause alarm, distress and intimidation to the public and they claim to be rough sleepers. Also there is incidents of anti-social behaviour at Soup Runs and food handouts, property being damaged and the soup runs themselves being monopolised by the greedy- not the needy. This isn’t a rant about how bad or worse anti-social behaviour is, or how anti-social behaviour is a major problem in rough sleeping because it isn’t, it’s about addressing it and letting those know who are committing anti-social behaviour that it is not acceptable and we will be working closely with our enforcement partners to eradicate it from our community.

The Connection at St Martins has a track record of innovative ideas and interventions in addressing rough sleeping, and I am happy to set an example by being seen to support our local bobbies in addressing/reporting anti-social behaviour and support our local businesses and residents…..

And with the common aim we and the police have……………. to get our rough sleepers off the street and into sustainable accommodation.

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“It was like Scoring a Goal”

Kamal has just finished a month’s work trial in John Lewis’ menswear department. He talks about the experience.

“I didn’t feel any stress and everybody was laid back and profesional and doing what they could to keep the wheels of the business turning. They were spot on and very focused. I got the satisfaction of dealing with the public and for me it was like scoring a goal everytime I interacted with a customer! I brought a smile on the customers’ faces no matter how they felt.

I would take the customer to the till and once they’d paid I’d shake their hand. I really enjoyed my time there. “

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