Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Face it

What do you see? Is this an old or a young woman?

What do you see when you encounter a rough sleeper? I wonder if you see a person?

I went into London this week for a business meeting. The meeting ended about 5pm and I headed off to meet my brother at Waterloo station…rush hour! No signal on the tube, so as soon as I got there I head outside to ring him and find out what we would be doing. 

I see the man with the obligatory cup and sleeping bag but wanted to make sure my brother wasn’t waiting somewhere else for me, so dropped him a quick text, before approaching.

Whilst texting, and in my peripheral vision, I became aware of a young woman walking towards the rough sleeper; her face frozen in a look of pure disgust. She practically stepped over him, like a pile of dog poo.

It would be fair to say that he didn’t look good. Everything was dirty; the colour of his clothing stained with that kind of greyish hue that comes from being outdoors a lot. He was bent forward, possibly asleep with one hand sticking out, half way through a cigarette. Gnarled, brown fingers poked out of the sleeves of his checked jacket.

“Are you alright lovey?" I enquired.

He looked up at me, with a grubby face, and teeth like tombstones.

“Ah yes, I nodded off…didn’t get much sleep last night.”

I sat on the floor with him and listened to his story – abridged here – but incredibly similar to the 
other stories I hear. He has lost contact (and doesn’t want contact) with his family over the years; he talked about his young daughter however, that he misses her, but the family feud is too nasty to risk getting in touch.

Me: “Do you like living on the streets?
Him: “Sometimes. In the Summer it’s ok…but when the weather turns it’s no good. I’m trying to get enough money to go to the night shelter.”
Me: “They charge?
Him: “£7.00 but you have to get there early.”

I explain about the provision in Watford, which is quite different. He tells me that London is an interesting city, he hangs out in libraries and McDonalds to keep warm.  They move him on if he falls asleep there, and sometimes he hasn’t got money for a drink in McDonalds to justify being there.

There is a school of thought about not giving to the homeless which I disagree with, if you give this guy money he is going to buy a cuppa and save for a night’s shelter! If he bought say, alcohol after that, do you blame him? Do you enjoy a glass of wine in the evening? What’s the difference?

It’s what we see; just for a minute looking at him as a person and not a ‘tramp’ can make a world of difference.

Make that difference to someone this week. Acknowledge the people on the street – what you think you see at first glance can be an illusion.

Ruth Lee

Monday, 6 November 2017

Small Acts of Kindness - Now not so small...

Back in January 2015 during the coldest few days of the winter Lynne Misner experienced the horror of living in a house without heating. 

Living in a house without heating turns a lovely warm home into a cold, grey and uncomfortable place. It's like going from a colourful world to a black and white one, where everything you do is tainted by the feeling of being cold and trying to stay warm.

In this heightened state of awareness Lynne caught sight of a newspaper article stating that many elderly people on a fixed income often have to make the choice between heating and eating. In the 21st century Lynne questioned why do we still have this going on?

Often from a place of discomfort we see and experience things differently and after scouring the Internet Lynne spotted an "unfulfilled need" and then got very busy.

Gift packs for anyone over 55 who was having to make the choice between heating their home or eating. 50 packs in the first year... 2,000+ in the second and 4,500+ this year...

What was a small act of kindness has now turned into a very large act of kindness and it is growing all the time. The initiative has led to a huge community of volunteers who help out with packing days and managing the logistics of what is now a substantial organisation.

Small Act of Kindness works with the council, local businesses, other community groups and charities... plus they connect together lonely and vulnerable people... working together this is the start of rebuilding community which is vitally important and sadly lacking in this busy busy world we live in.

Below is a short interview with Lynne... the passion and the energy is self evident. Amazing to hear how far this project has already come... there is more work still to do in Hertfordshire... and then? ... maybe supporting the initiative throughout the country? ... It would be a braver man than I to bet against it!

World Premature Day - Audrey Mitchell

This month of November is our month as we celebrate World Premature day!

Events are dotted around on our facebook page. We still would love to keep supporting others like us, so anyone affected by Prematurity please do to join us.

Christmas of 2010 was the worst time ever as a family, our daughter at one month had already had a major surgery to close the whole in her heart PDA ligation two days before christmas.

What should have been a celebration that she would be given a better chance of survival left us watching her go into renal failure post op and being transferred back to her unit, to wait and see on Christmas eve. 

From then on we realised the true meaning of life never to be taken for granted, and have realised the how to offer hope. Hence this Christmas we would like to give Hope to families who spend time during Christmas in NICU by giving them gifts of Hope! We can't do this without your help.

The Month of October saw the founders of HertsPrems Rebekah and Audrey nominated for the Woman of Purpose Awards at the London Docklands Double Tree Hotel on the 7 October (video below). This gave us recognition which we never thought possible, we are so grateful for this opportunity.

I had also been acknowledged in my day to day efforts http://www.cnwl.nhs.uk/news/bed-manager-audrey-mitchell-nee-rugge-wins-women-purpose-award/ ... this outlining HertsPrems work till now.

This month also sees the launch of the Gift of Hope Campaign which will initailly be for Luton and Dunstable Neonatal Unit where we had our baby girl in Nov 2010 (born at 23 weeks weighing 1lb3oz / 540g).  She is doing  very well, and we cannot thank enough the Neonatal Intensive care unit in Luton, who proved their worth over and over with their expertise and life saving interventions.

Please support me on my just giving page here

Post  by : Audrey Mitchell

Friday, 20 October 2017


It’s that time of the year…

Scratchy throat, blocked up nose, coughing…yep, we are into cold and flu season.

I often suffer from a cold when the weather turns cold; I don’t think I wrap up enough, or is it just the germs that the children bring to school?

Feeling less than brilliant, I set off to Yoga. Just before the session I notice a rough sleeper under the tunnel nearby. I stop to chat, and explain that I won’t have change until after the class – she replied ‘cheers’ in a croaky voice – someone else who also gets unwell at the start of Autumn.

Q: “Why are you sitting under here though, in the shade? There’s lots of sunny spots?

A: “The police move you on, but it’s not just that, they can give you an ASBO.

I pause awhile to take this in. So, if she is hanging about in more visible areas she will be moved on and face a possible ASBO? Surely not, surely if she wasn’t begging (which she wasn’t, I just happen to know she sleeps rough and I like to help her out) or being a drunken nuisance…?

Apparently so. We, the people in "normal-land", with houses, cars and warm places to go do not wish to see grubby ‘poor’ people on the streets. Even though we are all just one pay cheque away from poverty ourselves.

This is why I can’t get rid of it, the weather…I can’t get completely dry so it just lingers on.

Imagine that. You have a stinking cold, coughing etc and not only do you have to sit in hidden spots under the underpass, but if it rains and you are caught in it, there is nowhere to warm up or put on new clothes. She did have a tent and outside equipment, but they were stolen a few months ago.

I stop feeling sorry for myself and carry on with my day; a day of cappuccinos, laptops, purring cats and friends.

Yes, I have a cold and it is rubbish. Compared to some, however I am very, very, blessed.

written by : Ruth Lee

Want to help? I gather stories from the streets and sometimes run fundraisers to help buy essentials for the homeless. If you would like to do something positive and practical to help, then please get in touch and drop me a line at :  ruth@startutors.info

Website : https://sites.google.com/view/watfordhomeless

Friday, 8 September 2017

Man's Best Friend

It’s the last day of the Summer holidays

One of those gorgeous pre-Autumnal days where the sun shines brightly but the gentle breeze cools. A great day for sitting and chatting.

Simon sits in front of the old BHS store with Bella, his dog. I notice his well-used Subway cup, a few 2p’s making dull shapes on the bottom of the white, waxy container. I immediately fuss his dog, as he feeds her snippets of a pie, and as I admire her beautiful tortoise-shell coat. She looks healthy and well looked after.

Looking a little tidier than some rough sleepers, I notice Simon wince in pain. He has a problem with his back, exacerbated by sitting on the floor. His bedding seems to do little to alleviate the problem.

Being a curious soul, I ask him how he got here and am pleased that he was willing to allow me to write down the gist of our conversation in this blog, providing that his identity isn’t shared.

A : “Six years.”
Q : “What’s that?” I enquire.
A : “Six years I’ve been on the streets now.”

All I could say in response was “Wow.” It sounds like a very long time.

He used to run a little business; he is an underfloor heating engineer. Living with his father and brother, he lost both family members in quick succession. Within a short period of time, his son also passed away and he “lost it all”.

Q :  “Why can’t you be rehoused?”
A :  “They won’t take the dog.”

As an animal lover, I can completely understand this, however it raises an interesting point. Why should service providers take on his dog? One of my dear friends has just rented an affordable flat which stipulates no animals…she would love a cat but accepts that she can’t afford a property that would allow this (i.e. renting a house/flat or getting a mortgage). She is sad but sees this as a choice.

I don’t know what the answer is. Animals can be every bit our best friends in the same way as humans can, and given the amount of loss in this man’s life, can you see why he wouldn’t want to let her go?

I thank him for telling me his story and drop some change in his cup. The rights and wrongs of giving to be discussed in another blog post.

An aside to that…people have asked, how do you know these stories are true?

I don’t.

I do however, have means of corroborating some of the stories, as I spend time regularly getting to know the homeless people of Watford. 

I’m undertaking this project with honesty, so if I find a few ‘tall tales’ retrospectively, I will add corrections in the next blog.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Watford Homeless Project and underwear...

I’m writing this while everything is fresh in my mind; just had an excellent meeting with Steve Devine and Ian Masters from New Hope Trust. We were discussing and collaborating about the imminent blog post with our rough sleepers. Whilst there, we also talked about the best use of the money which was raised recently, through our charity event for sleeping bags.

Rather than sleeping bags, the greatest need at the moment… is a stash of pants! Queue silly picture…

After having a shower, the guys just don’t have enough pants and socks. So, I am going to give £100 to buy these exclusively. I am quite passionate about the money going directly to the rough sleepers, one of the nice things about the New Hope Trust is that if you want to give money for something specific (i.e. it doesn’t go on running their organisation) then you can do that. The benefit for me is also that it avoids waste/time/effort e.g. “When I say pants, I do actually mean boxer shorts…and the socks, well we had a donation of really thick socks once that were just impossible to use!” said a staff member.

There are some practical aspects of support that are beyond my level of expertise! I’m keeping the other £100 in the kitty at the moment. I’m really struggling to find a pun that uses kitty and pants so am going to sign off here!

Any thoughts/comments/bad jokes are welcome: ruth@startutors.info

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Random Cafe Watford - Part of the Real Junk Food Project

It was fabulous to meet up with Jane Johnson once more on Wednesday 23rd August. We were aiming to meet at D20 - Games Cafe in Queens Road however our early meeting at 10:00am meant last minute change of plans to Ocean Bells Coffee Company instead, another of our great local independent coffee shops!

Jane was a delight to interview as I know how passionate she is about 'taking action' in the community and this project really does demonstrate the kind of innovation and creativity that we're going to need in the coming years.

A project led by people in the community

Basically this is a people led project. Someone (Jane in this instance), saw an idea that really resonated with her... which is a way to 'feed people rather than bins'. Huge amounts of food stocked by supermarkets goes out of date or spoils and ends up in dumps. That's right... food that is still edible after all the money spent on growing it, shipping it, storing it, displaying it... all discarded as the food is fed to the bins.

This project in simple terms, is to take this produce (from supermarkets and other sources too) and turn it into healthy, nutritious, tasty food for the community. Anyone can come along, have a delicious meal and then offer what they wish in return; 'Pay as you feel'. That might take the form of payment, services, support, publicity, referral, recommendation... or just plain old washing up!

We have seen how foodbanks have unfortunately become a vital part of food provision in our local communities, and this cafe is another project example of how when the community starts to come together we can do some pretty amazing things.

Come and get involved!

The Random Cafe starts off with a launch event on the 16th September at the Centrepoint Community Centre in Raphael Drive just off Radlett road. Others are also now organised at West Watford Community Centre in Harwoods Road.  The goal in time is to have a dedicated venue which will act as a centre for building community and that will serve food every day along with workshops and training on how to cook really nutritious food on a budget, making use of whatever is in season or available in the fridge.

What is really inspiring about projects like this and the Watford Homeless Project (Ruth Lee) is that they are not set up and controlled by the council, or the voluntary services sector... nor are they charities either. These are local people wishing to innovate and create alternative ideas for solving real problems they are passionate about... and then just getting on with the job! Judging by the volume of support and offers of help that Jane has already received she is not alone in being concerned about food, waste and sharing with others how to cook and eat better.

Projects like this have a way of spiralling into all sorts of avenues that were never envisioned at the outset. As people become aware and begin to collaborate, visibility in the community increases and others want to join in... either with existing projects like this... or go on to co-create other ideas inspired by the actions of others.

"There are so many different ways that people can join in, there really is something for everyone, it's totally inclusive", says Jane, "that's the real power of projects such as this, anyone who would like to participate and make a contribution, can".

Further information and Updates

Watford Observer story

Crowdfunding Page

Random Cafe Facebook Page
Random Cafe upcoming events

Email : randomcafeuk@gmail.com
Twitter : https://twitter.com/realjunkfoodwat