Friday, 16 November 2012

Words from the The Bishops, Bethany and the rapper!

On Wednesday evening the Bishop of Woolwich, Michael Ipgrave and his wife Julia attended the Feast. It was a delight to have them with us for the evening. We also had a visit from Paul who works at Bethany, a Christian project that now impressively helps vulnerable and needy people from across Scotland. Do look at  The third (wise) man was Claude aka Gems. Gems provided the 'words' in the middle of the Feast.
Earlier on wednesday evening I had been at the Grand opening of Prendergast Vale school in Lewisham where the Bishop of London was one of the speakers. 
So this weeks Feast was particulaly busy with well over 100 people! No surprise that it was not a quiet night, infact the fighting, both verbally and physically, started before the meeting began.  But words do really matter, so let me leave it to the wise men to tell them.
The Bishop of London said, "Happiness is not dependant on knowledge, it depends on loving and being loved!"
Michael Ipgrave said about the Feast "It was an immensely impressive experience, to see how many people you are caring for through the Feast, and also to recognise the many ways in which you are encouraging them to take back responsibility and to move forward with their lives."
Paul from Bethany Christian Trust visited the Feast after waking at 4.30am in Edinburgh to fly to London for a full day's conference.  He said that he was delighted to find himself in Catford because being at the Feast was about real life! -
Gems, performed brilliantly, with words that reflected the grit and reality of lives but also the hope that is found in God.  He finished by describing that God calls us with a simple invitation.


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Team lessons from Le Tour

In case you missed it, British cycling sits at the mountain top of world cycling. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome are top of the Tour de France standings.  Both are capable of winning the biggest and most important title in cycling and it will be the FIRST British winner in the 99 editions of Le Tour.  My love of this race has only increased as I have discovered the joy of personally cycling long distances plus the added bonus of British riders doing very well - I miss the finishing commentary of  "Cavendish on the HTC train".

But the joy of the Tour really is in the complexity of the team dynamics. So here is my 4 top things to learn about team from the Tour.

1. The domestique is crucial.  The domestique is not a derogatory term, in fact the domestiques are essential to everything a team does.  Fetching drinks and snacks, pacing their team leader up a mountain, willing to give up their bike if a leader has a puncture and another 101 things. Lesson - Service to others makes a team work.

2. Everyone serves the ultimate purpose.  Even world champions serve others, Mark Cavendish is the current World Champion but on this Tour he is drinks and waterproof carrier for other members of his team.  Lesson - the ultimate aim determines every decision.

3. Riders surrender their personal ambitions.  Froome-dog as he is known (Wiggins right hand man) or TJ Van Garden (Cadel Evans understudy) have both had to wait for their team leaders on key climbs when they could have attacked themselves.  Both think they can win the Tour but instead this year they are serving others - their years will surely come. Lesson - Excellent no.2's are required to make a team successful.

4. The leader is the one who is most consistent always near the front but not the one who shines on every stage. Wiggins has gone at his pace, which is exceedingly fast, and not got drawn into chasing prizes that would distract him from the ultimate goal. Lesson - Leaders need to stay close to the front but be prepared to let others shine!

So there we are - simply the best sporting entertainment there is!  Team is what Le Tour is all about but if Bradley Wiggins wins Le Tour on Sunday I will be voting for him as the Sports Personality of the Year (even in an Olympic Year) as the leader of a Remarkable Team!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Empowering people - the spice is right!

On Sunday the Jericho Road Project cycling team which is myself and 4 others take on the challenge of the North Kent bikeathon run by our friends at Compton Cycles and Catford rotary. The distances are 25km, 50km or 100km.  The 100K course has 5042ft of climbing, Kent is a hilly place!  If you know Westerham Hill, it is a tough climb and comes at about the 85km mark.

It has been important to me that our fundraising initiatives model what we are trying to achieve which is to empower people.  Therefore our summer activities have been people from the project taking part, we also try to put the bar low on giving, i.e. £1 per person which means that all those taking part can ask everyone to contribute.  So whether it is £1 or lots of £1's, we are investing our funds into initiatives that don't give handouts but help empower people to get control of their lives and benefit others.  No longer recievers but contributors!

Let me illustrate this with a story that I love from our drop-in meeting which is called the Feast which has had its busiest year with numbers exceeding 100 on a number of occasions and this meant that we provided over 4000 3-course meals to the neediest people.

Jack came to the Feast, he was an expert at complaining about all the things people hadn’t done for him – especially the benefit department and support agencies.  For roughly the 1st 6 months he attended the Feast he simply sat, ate and moaned. Then one evening he started helping nand contributing, he began by emptying the bins and now he does this every week as well as collecting the dirty plates and crockery returning them to the kitchen.  The amazing thing is I do not hear him complain about anything.  In fact when he is thanked for his help, he is so delighted and expresses gratitude for the encouragement.  

Let me tell you about one of cyclists.  Brian spent 26 years in prison - he caused so much trouble inside jail that he was frequently put in solitude and was refused paroel on a number of occasions.  He became a Christian in prison and he tells me that everyone knew because his behaviour changed so much.  He was then granted parole and he left prison with a job that he continues to do.  He is keen to help the lives of others which is why he is tking part in this year's Bikeathon.

Our plans in the next few months include starting the King's Debt Advice centre which helps people regain control of their finances.  This will start in September 2012.

We are partnering with agencies who are engaged in providing work opportunites.  We have some ideas that we are hoping to roll out in the next few months.  Did you see that one of our residents has won an award for her new business, read the Lewisham Mercury article here. Well done Marie -  the spice is right!.  It's called Mama-Marie chilli sauce and you can still see her on the stand at Lewisham Shopping centre until the 19th July. 

If you would like to sponsor the Bikeathon or support the Jericho Road Project financially or in other ways please contact

Look out for the bikeathon pictures on twitter @simonjohnallen or on the twitter feed on the side of this blog.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Life and death - "Wheels"

The Feast has always been about life yet death is very close to many who attend.

This blog is in memory of Anthony McKain!

He was more commonly known as 'Wheels' because he was unable to walk and therefore was in a wheelchair.  Wheels died whilst serving a 3 year sentence in HMP Belmarsh in April 2012.
I got to know Wheels early on in my time in Catford so probably about 8 years ago.  I visited the bungalow that he lived in.  It was a shocking place, windows broken and radiators hanging off the wall.  He was separated from his wife and he never spoke badly of her because he was frustrated at himself rather then her for their split.  He allowed many people to stay at his when they were homeless which led to even more chaos.  It was only time before he lost his property and Wheels spent many years homeless.  Hostels never worked for him. Sadly for myself and other housing worker who did everything they could ultimately his anger and addiction prevented him from finding accommodation again.  His disability always added an extra layer of complication, even to his end!

I received a letter from Wheels in March, written from prison.  I have read it many times again since hearing that he had killed himself. The letter makes me cry!

Here in his own words is the reality of life and death. [Extracts from the letter].

"As you can see my life's caught up with me again [prison].  I actually was trying to make a change but life just didn't go to plan.  It got so freaky!"
"I got seriously drunk to numb the pain and also cope with the freezing cold of trying to sleep under a tarpaulin under a hedge"
"I was on the verge of ending it all so committed enough crime to get put in prison just to get out of the cold before I neded up dead but didn't intend gettnig 3 years."
"most people do some form of work in here, I can't even do that as the workshops are up the stairs."
"say hello to everyone, hope you all had a nice Christmas.  Hope you got something nice.  Although I don't know them , hope your family are fine.  Remember good as you are, they put up with your busy life and the cranks you deal deal with, Ha Ha." 

I understood Wheels and he understood me.  We didn't agree on everything but we respected each other.  Death took Wheels before he found a Life worth living.  I miss him!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Nevertheless is a brilliant word

What are you aiming for?  I like to have targets.  Last Christmas I was given a GPS watch, which records how fast you are moving plus lots of other stats when I am running, cycling and walking.  When I am running it provides a target to beat although I suffered the disappointment that I could not improve my previous best every time I ran!  I use it on the bike as well but the targets are not always time related.  When the road is flattish I am time focused but when I get to the hills especially the 25% incline that is Church Hill in Cudham for example it becomes a personal battle against the tarmac.  Can I climb the hill and survive? 

However in my work I have to set a different sort of target.  When you work with vulnerable people the progression is more roller coaster than steady improvement.  Sometimes simply hanging on without embarrassing yourself by screaming is the only way through!!  In reality all people take steps forward and steps backwards, it is just that some backward steps are illegal or dangerous.  And it can be seemingly very small things that present big obstacles. 

The Jericho Road Project has grown to now include a significant number of people from addictive backgrounds, criminal backgrounds and generally difficult troubled backgrounds.  One of my targets is very basic - It is simply maintaining every part of the Project as a positive place to be and not allow people's past issues to cause damage to each other.  The result is that people have to become part of the solution for each other, it is the only way forward with the scale we are at.  That is why time spent helping people choose to forgive or help them learn to communicate well with each other is my time well spent.

Maintaining a BIG target (Vision) and also being satisfied with the day to day nitty gritty of helping people is essential.  I have found the words in Jeremiah 33 to be so encouraging.  Jeremiah described the destruction and bloodshed in the land (in recent weeks I have heard and seen new examples of the brokenness of people).  He then uses the word NEVERTHELESS and it is the most brilliant word in chapter 33 - it could say 'despite everything' 'regardless of what you have done or had done to you' - Nevertheless, God says he will bring health and healing to [his city]; [He] will heal his people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security.

This is a target I have for every person I meet.  It shapes how I speak to people.  It reflects why we keep going with people who let us down.  It is why we take risks with people.  It is why when people say there is no point trying anymore, I am able to say there is hope.  It's why we work with some of the most difficult people in our society.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Chepstow Circles!

Last week 17 of us from the Jericho Road Project went to Chepstow for 4 days.  We stayed at Woodcroft Christian Centre, which is a great venue with plenty of space to relax.  We had lots of rooms, a kitchen, table tennis area, pool room, TV lounge, a sport hall and even our own Peacock strutting around the grounds.  We did a walk up a mountain, did some rock climbing, went to some waterfalls, played a pool tournament, worshipped God and read the bible.  We had a relaxed fun time. 

I have done days out and residential trips for all 10 years of the project.  One of the most memorable trips was to Knowle Park because we managed to leave someone behind and also spent ages finding someone else who had fallen asleep under a tree!  It was that trip which increased the crime rate at the National Trust gift shop but it was offset by Catford having less street drinkers for that day!  Sid the Punk came with us and on the journey there we had to stop for him to take a toilet break by the road side - I had no idea how many layers a Punk wears and therefore how long it takes to do a 'quick' wee!

Chepstow didn't have any Punks but I did have an emergency toilet stop with a difference.  On our return we going at a slow pace in London traffic and I really needed to go so the 'human Satnav' (In London Streets he is brilliant but needs lots of food to keep him going!) stopped us outside the bookies to use their toilet.  I can't remember ever going into a bookies before but I wasn't going to protest at that moment.  As you might expect the group thought this was really funny.   

So every Chepstow holiday (this was our 4th year) has it's particular memories.  It is the people that make the difference and this year's bunch were great.  On the Wednesday night people shared some very personal reflections from lives that had suffered much, often from a very young age.  It was not always comfortable listening but it was very real.  It was also in the context of God being the great rebuilder.  The previous night we had read "Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security" (Jeremiah 33:6).  We were a group of people whose lives had been changed, were being changed whilst we were together and will continue to be changed in the future. 

Two reflections at the end of the week summed it up: "this week has helped me understand what church is all about" and "this is what the church is talking about when it says move from rows to circles" [which is the current King's preaching series looking at how we build community together]

Chepstow is a long way to go to make a circle but the great thing is that we brought the circle back with us!

Friday, 9 March 2012

A short history of my swimming career

Rebekah and I celebrated our 15 wedding anniversary last night by watching David Walliams swimming 140 miles in the Thames - romantic hey!  Don't worry we are going away for the weekend. 

Swimming is simply really hard work.  This year I will do my first Olympic distance Triathlon which involves a 1500m swim in one of the docks on the River Thames.  And whilst I can now swim that distance in a lunch break at the local swimming pool, I have not swum in the Thames in a wetsuit nor had hundreds of other bashing into me ever before.

The real problem I have always had with swimming is the breathing thing.  When I was young I swam backstroke to avoid having mouthfuls of chlorinated water choking me.  I could sprint a length and at the end be totally breathless.  In fact my best swimming moment came in the school gala which was in the days when my secondary school had an outdoor pool.  It was solar heated!  I was sports captain and I managed to lead the Saxon House to victory in all the sports events.  It required powers of persuasion, which was easier to do when it meant I could get children out of their lessons but lots of persuasion I did.  The final event of the swimming gala was the sixth form relay race and I had the last leg.  Now I can't remember what position I was when I started the length I had to swim but I came home first and as a result my house was victorious! 

Well the breathing thing (or rather lack of breathing which is easily mistaken as drowning!) was still a problem until about 5 years ago.  I did my first sprint Triathlon (400m swim) doing back stroke.  No I've never seen anyone else ever do backstroke at a Triathlon either!.  So I had to learn how to breath and do front crawl at the same time.  I asked anyone who could swim well, how it was done. I watched and learnt, then practiced.  I can now do front crawl and breath comfortably nearly all the time.  It is one of my great personal victories. I need to credit Carl for helping me to swim well and in a straight line, thanks.  Carl and his wife Kate are my swimming heros, they swim outdoors all year round without a wetsuit.  Ice does not stop them!  

And then last week something new happened to me.  I swam and instead of concentrating intently on remembering to stay afloat, I found myself daydreaming as I swam.  It had become a learnt behaviour.  It was a new milestone in my swimming history.

So later this year I will swim almost a mile in the Thames and whilst it is 139 miles less than David Walliams I will be breaking new water in my swimming history!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Who would want to be the England Manager?

I am sure that every view on the team at the pinnacle of our national sport has been expressed but here are a few of my thoughts.

Why are the English FA doing paying £24 million to any manager? Absolutely staggering!  Immediately abandon this stupidity. 

Having no manager and captain now makes no difference to how well England will do in the Euro's.   

By definition the captain of the English team is given to human being so why do we have expectations that they are going to be a saint.  The role is only important to the media who need a figure to talk to and who shakes hands first.  Recent captains who have been found wanting by the media are simply a reflection of society.  Honestly finding a morally upstanding England captain will give me more reason to be shocked. 

Every football fan in the country thinks they could do the job and I think lots could if it didn't involve the media pressure that descends.  Ultimately we don't have the best squad of players in the World or Europe and if you believed the table that we are the 4th or 5th best team in the world that still means there are 3 or 4 better teams.  International football involves too many non playing days, the weeks of build up is suffocating, daily press requirements etc.  The job requires remarkable PR skills rather than remarkable football management.

For what's it's worth I would like Martin O'Neill to be the next England manager. 


Even more FASTER

There were a number of questions following my blog last week about the FASTER scale so best to read that blog first.

Qu. What to do with anxiety?
The key to Anxiety in the FASTER scale model is based on knowing what your 'building blocks' are (the things in your week that you need to remember - F).  So when an individual becomes aware of anxiety building up (needs self awareness obviously) their building block may be a person who knows them well and is able to provide good advice or perhaps it is section of scripture that brings the person back to a place of faith or another example may be exercise, getting out for a run might be what is needed to get perspective on a situation.  There are numerous other examples of what builds stability in life.

Qu What are 'building blocks'?
This is a 'Simon Allen' phrase.  I often draw a wall with large bricks and ask someone to fill in the bricks with words describing what gives strength to their life.  Here is examples of what are not 'building blocks' that I've heard someone give recently - "seeing my children once a fortnight" because in this case it exposed huge insecurity.  "church on Sunday" because it left the person unsure about relational connection.  Now they both could be blocks to build with but in this case they are not.  Building blocks bring stability and strength to a person's life.  What are your building blocks?  Mine are relationship with God (reading the bible is key), my marriage, work, exercise, family and friends.

Qu. Lapse / relapse defined
I find the term lapse very helpful when I am talking with people who are struggling.  It takes the heat out of someone messing up.  It gives terminology when someone has done the R that they didn't want to but gives them space to get back to their priorities before the lapse becomes a relapse.  Relapse is then defined when someone has given in and given up the fight to stop a particular behaviour.  Do remember that this doesn't need to be a daily activity, if there is a weekly 'lapse' pattern, the person may well have moved into relapse. 

Qu. At what point do you motivate the person?
"I reached my lowest point and then I did something about it".  This is a common phrase in recovery stories but I would not tell someone they are at their lowest and they must do something about it.  I tell people the truth so I can find myself telling people who insist they need rehab they are simply not ready to go to rehab and when they have made progress in defined areas come back. 
What I aim to do is provide people with the information that will help them make an informed decision.  I tell people factual health information - A man who has abused his body with alcohol is likely to experience liver failure in their mid 40's because that is the age the liver stops reproducing itself.  I make sure I build people up and that a relationship with Jesus is the best way to find healing.  I want people to know they are accepted and valued for who they are.  I want people to know there is always hope and I don't stop telling them this.  Even when I've seen men crying and shaking with wretched shame after blowing their entire months wages before they've paid rent or bought shopping, there is still hope!       

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Going FASTER may save your life!

Is relapse just the result of a one off event, a stroke of bad luck or simply an accident?  How do people stay away from addictive behaviour?

One of the most useful 'models' I have ever come across is the FASTER scale and it is primarily used for people who are in 'recovery' from addiction although I think it's use goes wider.  For many people who manage to abstain from their drug of choice (which may change over time) the battle be focused on not relapsing.  The FASTER scale is definitely the simplest model of maintaining recovery but that also means it is memorable, I have written it on numerous cafe napkins.

Couple of comments before I start. This model works neatly alongside the 'cycle of change model', which is a more commonly used 'relapse' model and I'll do a separate blog on it sometime.  You need to know Relapse is a PROCESS not an EVENT.  There are always sequences of behaviour and thought that take place before Relapse.  There may be a final 'event' that can be used as blame for the relapse but there has always been a PROCESS. 

F.A.S.T.E.R. stands for FORGETTING PRIORITIES, ANXIETY, SPEEDING UP, TICKED OFF, EXHAUSTED, RELAPSE.  The process flows from F to R and the process can take place over a few months, weeks or even over the course of a day.  Let me explain.

FORGETTING PRIORITIES - I have coined the phrase 'building blocks of life' and I ask people to tell me what are the parts of the week are providing them strength.  May be a support worker, work, sport, education, reading the bible, going to church.  Other priorities must include housing (paying rent) and food (shopping).  Sometimes this list is very small, which requires a further conversation.  But once a list has been formed, people are aware of what they cannot afford to 'forget' or 'avoid' or 'hide from'.

If someone misses their priorities it leads to ...

ANXIETY - worry about any of the above. Guilt for letting people down.  Bad news can cause further concern.  

If someone is not able to deal with their ANXIETY it leads to ... 

SPEEDING UP - inability to manage eating and sleeping.  Feeling the need to prove to others that you are really OK by being really busy.  Not able to listen or relax. 

This continues on ...

TICKED OFF - irritated over small things or other peoples behaviour, road rage moments.  Tends to lead to isolation as others avoid you.

This continues to ...

EXHAUSTED - nothing left in the tank.  Spiritually, emotionally and physically bankrupt.  No resistance to the next option of returning to the thing you swore you would never do again.

And then there is the inevitable RELAPSE unless there is divine/drastic intervention.

The key to helping people is help people know their priorities and how to keep them.  Secondly it is knowing what to do with ANXIETY.  This model works for many of life's challenges.  Try it!  I've used the model with others for all forms of addiction but also selfishness, anger and even marriage difficulties.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Should I warn the police about the #40days celebration evenings?

It has been an emotionally tough week for me.  Everything I am responsible for has put significant demands on me.  There are normally one or two pressures but this last week feels like they are all pressing in at the same time.  I have found myself getting frustrated in a way that I normally don't - especially towards the cyclist who ignored the red lights when people were crossing!

Some of the pressures are the result of things going well. So for example Lionhearts FC, the football club I manage for children in school years 3-9, continues to grow at a fast rate.  Last weekend at our A vs B league match we had 31 boys, which means 9 boys were a sub.  This puts huge pressure on the managers, Michael and I.  Some boys were going to be disappointed about not playing enough of the match. Amazingly at the start of this season we were asking ourselves would we have enough for 2 teams, we now find ourselves asking if we need 3 teams for the 2012/2013 season! 

In the Jericho Road Project the pressure is as a result of the huge potential of significant life change in many of the people we work with.  We are working with people who are waiting to leave prison to come our housing project, we have many people keen to get key working support, as a team we have upped the expectations with a number of our residents which requires time and wisdom, many people are wanting to volunteer at the Feast, we have new people coming to Alpha this term and we are expecting the biggest ever residential trips to Chepstow in March and then Encounter Camp in June.  In addition plans are progressing well for King's Debt Advice to be started again in March - more details to follow.

However last nights Feast did not present me with additional pressure despite the following incident happening.  I spotted a new man at the Feast following a girl around and I am instantly involved.  I find out in a short time that the background is one of previous violence between them and he was threatening the girl at the Feast.  I am then trying to quickly build a rapport with the man - it's key to resolving conflict!  The 3 of us agree that it would be better if we all go outside.  As we go to the front of the King's building, the dispute then escalates because another former (violent) boyfriend of the girl has appeared.  The 2 men that start an abusive argument because they both said they could not trust the other not to beat up the girl.  So instead they threatened each other.  When the police arrived both men stopped them in the middle of the street.  Crazy!  The situation then looked even more wild because the police car was blocking Catford Hill, buses couldn't get through, traffic backed up, horns hooted.  Once the police car was moved the situation quickly calmed down! 

At the end of the evening I felt like I do on many Wednesday nights, "this is why I'm alive!"  I felt a level of refreshment and perspective on my week.  In the book of Isaiah there is a promise that when you hear the cry of those in need, God will hear your cry!

However for the Feast team we were not surprised that this incident had happened whilst the #40days celebration at King's Church was taking place (both events take place at the same time in the same building but in different halls!)  I don't think we have called the police since last February when the 40days celebrations last took place and then we called them on 3 or 4 consecutive Wednesdays.  What is the reason?  Well somehow when the people of King's Church gather to pray and worship it stirs up something in the lives of people at the Feast. 

Let's see what happens next week, perhaps I should warn the police that King's Church is meeting to worship and pray!       

Thursday, 19 January 2012

'Arms Wide Open' Hampers 2011 Summary

As part of the King's Church 'Arms Wide Open' Christmas theme I co-ordinated the collection of Hampers and then the distribution to families in need. This is a summary of what happened.  The list of food items for the Hampers included about 15 essential items and 5 Christmas treats and we asked for items to be good quality.  Thanks to Big Yellow Storage Company for donating 150 boxes to be used for putting the food items in.  Thanks to all the volunteers who spent hours sorting and getting the boxes ready to be sent out.

The response from the people of King's Church was remarkable with over 250 hampers being collected, we were preparing for around 100!  The collection Sundays were an amazing picture of a community working together to benefit others.  Whilst the majority were from individuals, families and community groups within King’s Church, there were many schools and companies who also got involved in providing Hampers.  Here is one example,

“The Hampers below are provided by my team at LOCOG Accreditation and Uniforms department. They were so excited to know the great work that Kings is doing. I was overwhelmed by the response.”
The task was then arranging where to distribute all these hampers.  Here is the list of organisations who helped us to make the deliveries to the families in need.  I've added a few comments from the people who handed them out.

Lewisham Family Support and Intervention Service – 150 boxes
“Just wanted to say thanks again for the hampers. I had the privilege of giving out 8 and they were certainly very well received by people struggling and would have made a big difference to their Christmas. I've heard lots of stories of kids being excited to find the chocs!” Children’s Social worker
“Just a little note to let you know that social workers are all very busy delivering the hampers to our very grateful families. We were able to give some Hampers to our colleagues in other services such as Children with disabilities service, Meliot Road family centre and to our no recourse families primarily based in our Referral and Assessment service. So I can assure you the children and families that will benefit from the Hampers cover a whole spectrum of 'children in need' across the borough.” Manager of the team
Honor Oak Family Support team – 10 boxes

“I wanted to let you know how appreciative my work colleagues were about the quality of the food boxes; it gave me lots of opportunity to talk about the project and the church! If we are doing it again health visitors could provide a very extensive list of needy families for you.” Children’s Family support team worker
Lewisham Refugee Network – 30 boxes
"Thanks once again for the hampers you delivered before Christmas. The clients who received them were thrilled – it really made a difference to them."
The Bridge school of English – 6 boxes
Voluntary Care centre – 30 boxes
Jericho Road Project and those known to King’s Church – 20 boxes

I will leave the final comment to a member of King’s who emailed the following comment

“I was so glad that we decided to do this in this way. It made me feel proud to be part of something that is not about shinning glory on ourselves and bigging ourselves up as kind and generous but that truly wants to help those in need regardless of the status or thanks that we receive.”
Brilliant! Well done and Thank you!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mistaken Identity - Being Simon Allen

One of the oddest parts of my pre-Christmas rush was a conversation with a lady who phoned me because she wanted to find out how Simon Allen was.  She had seen my photo and name in the newspaper, had then called the Caring Christmas Trees phone line who passed the call to me.  For a few minutes I spoke to her desperately trying to remember who this lady was and not wanting to come across rude that I had forgotten her.  She asked about my family and how I was etc.  She found out quite a lot while I tried to work out who she was.  However it was when she asked me "was I travelling to Germany again before Christmas" that I realised that she was speaking to the wrong Simon Allen (I've never been to Germany).  When I told her that I was not the Simon Allen she wanted she commented that 'when I saw the photo in the paper I thought you had changed a lot'.  In fact this lady wanted to contact a Simon Allen who lives very close to me.  I have met him because we have mutual friends -  it was a slightly strange experience meeting another Simon Allen!. 

In fact the first time I knew there was another Simon Allen who lived close by was when my Doctor read out the wrong medical history to me.  I am now careful when I go to the Doctors to explain which Simon Allen I am.

Within a day or two of this phone call, I then received a small parcel addressed to Simon Allen from the 2012 Olympic torchbearer offering me congratulations for being successful in the final selection to carry the Olympic torch.  I was delighted but a little confused.  I had been nominated months before (Thanks Kemi!) and had made it pass the first cut off, however on the day of the announcement in December I was told I was unsuccessful in making the final 10,000, and yet now I had a document informing me that Simon Allen was successful.  I read on, before I allowed myself to dream too much about my moment carrying the Olympic torch, to find that Simon Allen was successful because I was a 'true fighter against a devastating illness'  Ahhhhhhhhhh - that's not me!!!!  Somehow they has got the wrong person again - perhaps it was the other Simon Allen again.

I laughed lots at the mistaken identity on the phone call but I felt gutted about the second one.  It would have been an honour to carry the Olympic torch but ultimately I am a Simon Allen who knows I have my identity in Christ Jesus and He is never confused about who I am! Thankfully!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Never start back to work on a Wednesday!

I returned to work yesterday (Wednesday) and following a quiet and restful Christmas/ New Year period I was hoping to ease myself back in gentle.  I quickly discovered - Never on a Wednesday!

My reflection on the Autumn term 2011 was that I worked harder and more effectively than ever before.  It was a term that marked the 10 year milestone of the JRP as well as co-ordinating the Arms Wide Open Hampers.  I also took on greater responsibility on the Catford site of King's Church.  In fact the very last moment of 2011 in the office was handling an angry resident venting what he thought about the project (it was not very positive feedback in case you are interested!).  In fact in 20 years of working in this field, I have similar memories of the final moments before going on holiday - I remember evenings at the Nightshelter on nights before holiday when I would not be able to leave on time because someone caused a disturbance.  Some things do not change!

But after an almost complete break from the Project I returned hoping that I would have space to plan ahead and catch up on things I have not got to recently.

However Wednesday means the Feast and yesterday was also a very busy day in our office.  It meant there were often 7 people in the room and our office is not very big.  Plus I am getting a few weeks news in a few hours.

And it was the realities of the people's lives that caused me to feel out of my depth - A lady who we have helped for many years is now in HMP Holloway; met a new man who has just arrived back out of prison; a new couple who are squatting; there were 2 mums with newborn babies at the Feast  (one mum's fridge stopped working 5 days ago); another girl in ICU barely alive in a coma following a drug overdose; rumours of the winter shelter in Deptford being shut due to a window being smashed, people who have wasted their rent money on ... well you can guess what!   The news kept coming (not all the stories can be written here) but perhaps you can see the extent of the emotional challenge.    

I think it took me to the end of today (Thursday) before I started feeling like I had any control of it all. I have not yet been able to structure my to-do list but there is some order established.  Thanks to the great team I work with - Andy and Dave. Interviews have been set, we have decided to buy a fridge for the mum who has no fridge and probably most importantly Dave, Andy & myself have time booked in next week where we will get together out of the office and plan ahead for 2012.  There are some key challenges to making the residential scheme work effectively, the one I can mention here is the need to get suitable move-on accommodation for the residents who are doing well.

So perhaps the answer is to start back on a different day but perhaps it reflects that I have had a really good break.  Or is it exactly as I would want it!  I am always so excited that we are genuinely involved in the realities of the lives of people in need!  I sometimes forget the level of involvement and trust we have with the people involved in the JRP.  So perhaps I wouldn't want it any other way - Wednesday is the best day to be reminded!