Do you ever think about work you have been involved in and wonder if all the effort and investment was worthwhile? Did it make any kind of real, lasting difference to those whose lives you wanted to enhance?
I feel privileged to be in a role at Livability where we do often get to see the difference our contribution has made and I’ve recently been sent the poem below which is an example of that. It was passed on to me by Jacqui Goff – named in the second verse – as a fitting tribute to someone with whom we at Livability continue to have a fruitful relationship and who recently wrote a piece for the Livability blog on dementia. Jacqui had worked for a number of years managing the Methodist Mission Café in Huddersfield. She built on 20 years of homelessness ministry, caring for both customers and staff and developing strong relationships with local charities, the council, and Huddersfield Churches Together. However she struggled to get the churches working together on this important cause of common concern.
Jacqui approached Livability in June 2011 to ask for advice. It’s part of my role to enable projects and organisations to deepen their community engagement, so I met her and we chatted over what she wanted to achieve and how I could help. The result was that together we organized a forum for local churches to hear about homelessness in Huddersfield, and to find common ground to address it. An amazing 60 people attended, all of whom were keen to work together make something happen. And various good things did!
One of these was a pilot project to extend the Mission Café opening to include evenings. The pilot ran on weeknights in winter 2012, thanks to 70 volunteers from 16 local churches. There were on average 49 customers each evening, who enjoyed a simple meal and activities from music and board games, to having a friendly chat or a free haircut. More important though was the personal change that took place in people during those short weeks.
I undertook a thoroughgoing evaluation of the pilot – which is also a service we offer – meeting and interviewing the customers as they gathered each week and following up with a volunteers’ survey and review meeting. What stood out was the way friendships were made between customers and each other, volunteers with other volunteers, and across groups. Customers said they had made new friendships that continued outside the café. They felt less lonely. Having somewhere safe to go in the evenings gave them something to do which made a huge difference to their wellbeing. Volunteers reported a greater understanding of the challenges faced by vulnerable people. They described a new sense of social justice. They wanted to continue working together.
The Evening Café was a great project to work on, but it was just a pilot. Livability’s involvement came to an end. Jacqui and the team were left to build on what had been started. Short term success is no promise of long term impact.
It was great to hear from Jacqui and to know that the Evening Café continues and is as impactful as ever. ‘Impactful’ is jargon used in a world of measurement and monitoring, but it expresses what we want to achieve: that is, to make a difference. Livability’s short term strategic involvement at some key moments has brought long term benefits to its customers and their wellbeing.
This is not an uncommon picture. As a team, we are passionate about helping to facilitate change through people, churches and projects on the ground. Our new logo and branding sums it up: local expertise + Livability’s community engagement experience = a new direction + increased wellbeing for vulnerable people. It all adds up!
The first time I did a session
in the evening café, I got a shock:
I knew a lot of the guests from the day café, from my work,
and from the streets of the town,
and the shock was how different everyone was here, how happy, how much
they enjoyed scrabble and chess,
shelter and company.
Jacqui Goff did it: she saw the need,
she knew the people who were sleeping
rough through the freezing nights,
the people in crisis who didn’t know
where they would eat, live or sleep
on any given day, so
she pushed and pulled and persuaded
and organised and gathered volunteers.
And the volunteers have created a gift,
a complicated one made out of time,
food, company, sympathy, patience,
tolerance, a sense of humour,
acceptance, and just being ordinary
for people with lives of extraordinary pain.
And have received in return
trust, gratitude, lessons
in humility; and reconciliation
after those nights of turmoil
and aggression, the acting out
of hurt and distress.
And the gift of finding
the invisible singers, poets and artists,
designers and comedians,
hearing them talk about the things they love.
And although some of the guests
might not need shelter
or might be able to afford a meal elsewhere,
they have a hunger
for the company, warmth and safety
which the Mission supplies.
And we meet each other
and the Mission workers
and we have all learned
how to work together –
welcoming, cooking, serving food,
sharing meals, cleaning up, listening,
encouraging, and learning again and again
how to lose gracefully
at connect four….