Fringe Box



Guildford Action: Helping People One Step At A Time

Published on: 10 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 10 Jun, 2021

Grace Eakin is an undergraduate studying for a degree in philosophy at the University of Reading, who also has links with Guildford. Here she takes a look at the important work undertaken by Guildford Action, a refuge for people who’ve fallen through the net, or out of everyday society.

In the 40th year of Guildford Action what can those who have worked, volunteered and had their lives changed here have to say about this long-standing charity?

The number of rough sleepers has been rising in this country since 2005. To get a sense of how dramatic the increase has been, in 2010 there were around 3,975 rough sleepers in the London area. Ten years on this has tripled to 10,726. What is worse, a sharp increase was recorded during the pandemic, despite the government’s claim that 90% of rough sleepers had been taken off the streets.

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of overwhelming statistics like these. It is not always obvious what society can do to make a lasting change. So many do not understand the causes of homelessness, let alone the battles someone sleeping rough might face. How often do people view homelessness simply in terms of statistics, or a rough sleeper as a problem to be solved instead of a valuable human individual?

Pictured from left at Guildford Action: Jo, Sonya, Mandy, Dick (a regular user of the centre), Jo and Tommy.

In Guildford there is an organisation that manage to do this. Guildford Action works to support struggling families and those sleeping rough with their team of support workers and volunteers.

On my walk to their building in Haydon Place, I pictured a team of welfare superheroes, equipped with an array of magic powers to cure homelessness and mend the broken hearted.

Although not dissimilar to my initial envisions of a superhuman homelessness fighting charity, the team I met were distinctly unpretentious and down to earth. Each person I interviewed spoke with total unaffected humility.

Interestingly, in each separate interview, they expressed the same attitude towards the work; none of them believed they were trying to save the world. They worked to take the people they supported along their journey one step at a time.

The joy with which every small victory is celebrated was genuine and emphatic. They see the people who need support, as people, not as projects. No one who comes to them is put in a box.

Jo has worked at Guildford action for six years. She always wanted to work in some way with the disadvantaged and had heard of Guildford Action’s outstanding reputation.

She said: “I love it. I learnt so much about other people and about how society works. I always thought I was not judgemental, but we actually are. This job strips away your judgments, you have to be open minded to everything”.

Jo’s authenticity shone through when she described a highlight of her career that had occurred just that morning, when she went to visit a couple who have been receiving their support.

After struggling with drug abuse and homelessness they were now set up together in their own permanent residence and thriving.

Jo showed me a picture and gushed at how proud she was of them both. Their situation had been so dire at times that she was often expecting to receive a call that one of them was no longer with us. Now seeing them happy and stable was a victory celebrated by everyone.

For Tommy, a support worker of eight years, it is getting to walk with people as they progress that makes the work meaningful.

The couple Jo has been working with experienced a massive win when they were set up somewhere stable. For another person, a win may be taking even the smallest most trivial step in the right direction.

Tommy said: “Sometimes a victory is just getting someone through the door to sit down and have a cup of tea.”

He expressed this requires a good deal of patience and can be the only way you can get to really see the person and understand what their needs are.

Tommy added: “No one is just a box to tick. It takes so much more than just sticking them in a flat. It is really about putting our need to just get the job sorted and behind us and just having patience.”

One of the most striking conversations I had was with Sonya and Mandy. Sonya’s heart was originally in a career working for families. It was the family outreach programme that brought her to work at Guildford Action.

Perhaps this is what has compelled her to stay for 19 years (the longest of anyone I interviewed).

Sonya was sat chatting with Mandy, a woman who first received help from Guildford Action 16 years ago when her husband passed away. She was left alone with a baby and three girls. There was no family nearby to support her as she struggled to pay bills and raise a family, all while grieving.

How would any of us cope in such a situation? It was Sonya, and the team at Guildford Action, that ensured she was not left helpless. I was particularly touched by how they walked with her through even seemingly trivial things such as sorting out the birth certificate for the baby.

Mandy pointed out to me that there are different types of poverty people struggle through.

Technological poverty (a lack of access to or knowledge about computers or phones) is widespread. Effects of technological poverty have been magnified by Covid; we rely on technology now more than ever. Yet not having access to wi fi or a smartphone is not what we immediately think of when we use the word poverty.

What is even less considered is how this can leave a person with little mode of communication, especially during a lockdown.

It was freedom from isolation that Mandy expressed the most gratitude for. She said: “During Covid we had the kids indoors for months on end. It was just having that phone call and chat that was important”.

The rapport between Sonya and Mandy was obvious as we spoke. There was something very genuine there that had been built up over the last decade and a half. Proof that real relationship is what changes lives.

There is no need to feel helpless or unqualified when it comes to the work done at Guildford Action. Everyone can have an impact.

Sign up to their social media to get involved with fundraisers and events. Become a volunteer and commit to as little as a couple of hours a week.

Sitting in their kitchen and playing cards is a small thing. But it is here that conversations begin, and we get to the person, behind the statistic.

It is clear that this is the mission and ethos held by every worker and volunteer at Guildford Action.

Click here for Guildford Action’s website.

Click here for Guildford Action’s Facebook page.

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