The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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February 2018

Helpers at our Night Shelter

had this to say about their experience.......

Bruce and I only did it three nights so hardly the back bone of the operation but what I would say is that meeting the homeless men and women was a very positive experience for us. It is trite to say, 'there but for the grace of God go I,' but these humans, each beset by their own set of problems, really reminded me that we are all vulnerable and that it is our gift and our responsibility to help our fellow humans. The outpouring of love and kindness from the members of the church community was breathtaking. Meeting new church people and getting to know others better was inspiring. The work involved, because it was so well organised and spread across so many, was easily managed. I am grateful to Andrew, Christine, Rebecca, Jeremy and the rest who made this possible and look forward to doing it on an ongoing basis.

On Saturday evening with guests - Most satisfying night out all year!
I felt like a station on a pilgrimage with all these stories  passing through - both of helpers and guests. It was an unexpected privilege and I learnt loads.
On staying the night  - not as cold or scary as I thought. I felt rather proud of myself!

I think the shelter is as good for the community as it is for the guests.

I volunteered to help set up and pack away and found great pleasure in this.  It was humbling to be of service to our guests in a very small way, and lovely to spend an extended time with people from church and beyond - the sense of camaraderie was uplifting.  The peace and love of Christ was tangible in the Crypt rooms each evening. I am so privileged to have been involved and look forward to next winter!

A real pleasure to share my Sunday morning toast and jam with a room full of new and interesting people.

Arriving to do the washing up I had the impression of stepping into a warm, friendly environment - very relaxed, sounds of conversation and laughter coming from the dining room, enticing smells (my goodness the food was good!) and a general air of a friendly house party. By the time we'd finished (and it didn't take long because everyone lent a hand) some of the guests would already be settling into their beds for the night, whilst others stayed chatting and even playing backgammon - a game that can go on for hours so I assume someone called time eventually. So many enthusiastic volunteers made the night shelter possible - so many young people gave up time in their busy lives to cook meals, serve them, and then rush back to their families.  As an older person without those commitments I admired and appreciated this generosity. And it was nice to be working alongside them - and other members of the congregation I hadn't met before. The night shelter was primarily for the homeless of course, but I think it was for us as well and perhaps, I hope, HPC will never be quite the same again.

Cooking for the Winter Shelter has been an incredibly humbling experience - giving the heartfelt gift of a good hot meal and seeing what it has meant to the guests has been wonderful. Week by week we have loved getting to know the guests and hearing about the wonderful success stories. The shelter coinciding with advent, a time of contemplation and giving, has been particularly poignant. Thank you to all of the wonderful cooks who have made up a very large team!

Until a few months ago, our experience of C4WS had been limited to the annual fundraiser quiz night (which we recommend!) and a general awareness that this was one of the local charities our church has supported.  However, all that changed when the opportunity arose for HPC to be directly involved in providing shelter for guests. We decided to sign up as ‘washer-uppers’ and to help out as a job share, alternating between the two of us across the nine-week period. And so, duly briefed and trained, and with Marigolds to hand, we have spent our Saturday evenings in the church kitchen washing up.

What have we learned? Far more about the C4WS charity and the fabulous work it does to help support people into employment and more permanent accommodation. It’s been an eye-opener too, removing misconceptions and preconceived ideas we may have had about what ‘homelessness’ looks like.

What have we enjoyed most? The teamwork and camaraderie of all involved:  fellow washer-uppers, Judy and Jane, the cooks under the direction of Rebecca, and the fantastic team of evening/overnight helpers. The sense that we were contributing – in a very small way – towards making our guests feel welcome. And the warm appreciation on the faces of the guests themselves.
Would we do it again? Sign us up for next year!
Angela & David

The joy of meeting volunteers of all ages, many of whom I had not seen before.

Waiting anxiously as the first guests arrived at 7.30, and showing them round our rather small and cosy premises, some hoping there just might be a shower. No alcohol or drugs allowed, but a smoking space outside in the churchyard. 

12 mattresses set around the walls of the Crypt room, each made up with a sheet, duvet and pillow, a bottle of water under each chair, which separated one mattress from another.

Watching as each guest took possession of a mattress, which instantly became their own safe space for the evening.  The Crypt was always a peaceful, quiet room, in contrast to the noisy streets outside. Seeing how respectful the guests were of each other’s space.

The arrival of amazing trays and dishes of food prepared by very generous parents at the Parochial School just needing to be heated and served. The guests and volunteers around two large tables in the Gregory Room many deep in conversation, sometimes lives shared, sometimes talk of food and football.A wonderful convivial atmosphere and the Gregory Room never looking better with its vaulted ceilings and curtains. At that moment, the best venue in town.

The kindness of the volunteers who just came to do the huge quantity of washing up.
The quiet that descended after supper as most of the guests settled down for a night’s sleep, some after a final cigarette outside. They knew there were 2 volunteers sleeping in the corridor should anyone need help of any kind.

Saying goodbye to some of the guests as they left after a good breakfast, prepared by more volunteers. Feeling sad that they had few places to go on a Sunday until the evening shelter at a church in Highgate.
A large pile of washing waiting to be collected and washed by yet more volunteers.

Reading these comments I am reminded of when I first talked about holding a shelter in church to Marjorie, vicar of St Mary's Primrose Hill.  She said that the remarkable thing about the experience was the transformative effect it had had on her congregation.  I don't know that the congregation at St John's has been transformed but certainly our sense of community and purpose has been greatly enhanced by all the effort from so many people put into mounting the shelter.  It's created bonds between disparate elements in the congregation and also been a focus for communities around the church - our neighbours in Church Row and in the school.  These bonds are not all visible - the children helping to stuff pillows into cases may not know the ladies who will be washing those pillowcases later - but for all to feel part of a common effort is immensely valuable.

When I first visited the shelters on becoming a trustee of CARIS Camden I was struck first by how difficult it was to tell the guests from the volunteers; others have remarked on the feeling of "there but for the grace of God…." The guests are indeed our guests - we serve them, but quite quickly I found myself caring about them too, in the way I might care about friends or family and the atmosphere did resemble a family party with both all-age jollity and the few grumpy teenagers in another room (actually they weren't grumpy, they were just dead tired).  It was a privilege to be part of this.

We shall be holding a party on Saturday 24th February to which I hope all involved, young and old, near and far away, will come and there will be ample opportunity then to say the many thank yous that are due.  Here I'd like to finish by thanking the C4WS staff - Jenna, Nikki and Laszlo whom we saw, as well as Sam who works tirelessly but to us invisibly, on the welfare side.  It wouldn’t happen without them!                                 
 Andrew Penny

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