Creating a home where Autistic people belong

    This week is Autism Acceptance Week. According to the National Autistic Society, there are 700,000 adults and children in the UK who are autistic – roughly 1 in 100. As a spectrum condition that affects how people communicate and interact with the world, autistic people are often misunderstood, which can lead to feelings of being silenced or unwelcome. However, autistic people – like everyone – have strengths and talents to be celebrated. And with more acceptance, understanding and support, we can make the world we live in inclusive for everyone.

    There is a very strong link between autism and homelessness. Research conducted with a number of charities found that the rate of autism in those experiencing homelessness was around 12%, much higher than the national average. Because of this, members of the St Mungo’s team who are autistic have a unique ability to engage with the people we work with. We heard from Michalina Popiolek, one of our Involvement and Inclusion Coordinators about her experience as an autistic person and how this allows her to communicate with the people we support:

    Being Autistic means being and knowing that you are different, and this is the root of the exclusion we experience. Being different is only good when the difference is accepted, celebrated and understood to be a natural, useful and necessary part of society and, most importantly, is accommodated for. In order to create a space of belonging for Autistics we need to create spaces where Autistic experience is recognised and validated; where Autistic expression is the norm and Autistic communication is understood; spaces where Autistics can come and be together.

    Similarly, homelessness is more than just not having access to a physical space we can occupy: homelessness is about exclusion. A home is where the roots, identity, sense of psychological safety and feeling of belonging is. Hence when working alongside homeless people, we need to create spaces where they feel that they belong.

    Because Autism is so prevalent amongst the homeless population, I discovered that working at St. Mungo’s meant working amongst many Autistic people. I could speak with clients directly, we understood each other’s way of showing empathy, I could focus on processing information rather than ‘appropriate eye contact’ – as the eye contact was not required. We shared the same seriousness and the same sense of humour. I could communicate with many people in a way that felt natural to me and to them and this, in turn, created the sense of togetherness and connection. Spending a good portion of my day with other Autistics gave me a sense of belonging that I have not experienced before.

    St Mungo’s is in such a strong position to create a space of belonging for Autistic people. The large proportion of Autistic clients means that many non-Autistic staff at St. Mungo’s have already developed either expertise or professional curiosity concerning Autistic experiences.  We already have the Diversity & Inclusion and Client Involvement strategy and Toolkits, all we have to do now is to recognise and enable the power of Autistic connections to lead the way home.

    New NICE guidelines: recognising that homelessness is a health problem too

    Last week, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published new guidelines on ‘Integrated health and social care for people experiencing homelessness’. In this blog Emma Cookson, our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, explains why these guidelines are so important.

    Homelessness is not just a housing problem, it is also a health problem. Poor health is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness.

    All too frequently we see the devastating result of this, with the average of death for people sleeping rough or living in emergency accommodation just 46 for men and 41 for women. Lives cut horrifyingly young, often from preventable causes which would have been amenable to timely and effective healthcare.

    That’s why the publishing of NICE’s new guidelines on ‘Integrated health and social care for people experiencing homelessness’ matter.

    First, they show an explicit recognition of the intertwined nature of homelessness and poor health, stating that “homelessness and access to appropriate housing is a public health issue”. This is something which lots of individuals and organisations have been stressing for years  — but we need it to become commonly accepted everywhere. These guidelines push that message out to a new audience of mainstream health practitioners, who play a crucial role in supporting people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping.

    Then second, through these guidelines setting out principles and examples of what ‘good’ looks like, they now mean that people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as those supporting them, have something tangible to point to as to how their care should work. It also means that practitioners can no longer say they don’t know what to do, or it isn’t clear.

    That’s why St Mungo’s fed into the development of these guidelines, with people from across the organisation bringing all their various expertise together to send in detailed comments on first the scope of the guidelines, and then the first draft of them last October. We also consulted with the people who know best — those who have lived experience of homelessness and rough sleeping and can therefore say what really works.

    We were pleased to see that the final guidelines really listened to our submissions, and reflected some of the omissions or concerns we had flagged. The final product is hugely welcome. It sets out clearly and thoroughly the key points we would want to see and provides a helpful template for what health and care services should be providing people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping.

    Some of the main points:

    • People who are experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping often require more targeted approaches to ensure that health and social care is available and accessible. Practical barriers like needing to walk across the other side of town, or having lost of clashing appointments with the tangled web of support services available, can make it difficult for people to access structured and rigid appointments. Equally, other factors such as deep-rooted trauma and a resultant lack of trust, or previous distressing experiences of interacting with health services, can make it difficult for people to engage. The recommendation in the guidelines for flexible opening and appointment times and providing ‘one stop shops’ for multiple services is therefore welcome, as well as expressly saying “do not penalise people experiencing homelessness for missing appointments, for example, by discharging people from the service”. This has historically been a huge problem for our clients, as highlighted in the Knocked Back report, and the need for flexible appointments was one of the recommendations in the Kerslake Commission report.
    • Care should be empathetic, trauma-informed and person-centred. Experience of psychological trauma and adverse childhood events (ACEs) are common in people experiencing homelessness. The guidelines set out practical pointers such as “longer contact times in developing and sustaining trusting relationships”, and “strengths-based approaches to care” (more on that here, but it’s reflected in St Mungo’s Recovery Based Approach which focuses on empowerment), as well as avoiding “unnecessary and potentially distressing repetition of their history if it is already on record”. Person-centred, trauma-informed and psychologically-informed: these should form the base principles for all services – be they housing, health, or welfare.
    • “Commissioners of health, social care and housing services should work together to plan and fund integrated multidisciplinary health and social care services for people experiencing homelessness, and involve commissioners from other sectors, such as criminal justice and domestic abuse, as needed.” This was a central theme of the Kerslake Commission, which stressed that ending rough sleeping requires an integrated, system-wide approach and highlighted joint commissioning as the primary way to do this: bringing all parts of the system around the table to discuss the desired outcome, and collaborating and sharing responsibility for achieving it. People’s problems are not siloed: they experience them in an overlapping and often mutually enforcing way. Services must reflect this.
    • “Take health and social care services to people experiencing homelessness by providing multidisciplinary outreach care in non-traditional settings, such as on the street, hostels or day centres.” As with flexible appointment times, taking services to where people are rather than waiting for them to approach traditional place-based services, makes a significant difference in enabling engagement and establishing trusting relationships. Multidisciplinary teams was highlighted in the Kerslake Commission, which flagged the need to embed specialist workers – such as drug and alcohol and mental health workers – in generic outreach teams.
    • Recognise the value of co-designing and co-delivering services with people with lived experience of homelessness. This is fundamental — not just because it’s the right thing to do — people should be involved in the decisions that affect their lives — but also because it leads to better outcomes through better insights. As these guidelines set out, peers should be integral to all stages of support, from designing how services work, to being peer advocates and helping others navigate services.

    These guidelines are a big step forward, and have the chance to be a really helpful tool for improving the health of people experiencing homelessness — both in making mainstream practitioners more aware of what they should be doing to help, but also in giving individuals the ability to point to something and say ‘this is what standard I should be receiving’.

    There is some real momentum building in this area, with the Levelling Up White Paper mentioning inclusion health (albeit briefly) and tackling the core drivers of health disparities; the NHS’ new Core20PLUS5 initiative to reduce health inequalities; the publication in December of the Government’s 10 year Drugs Strategy which recognised the role that housing has to play; and the Health and Social Care Bill which is just finishing up in the House of Lords and, although unfortunately the amendments on inclusion health were not brought in (which we supported alongside Crisis), this did lead to a significant amount of attention in parliament and more constructive conversations for the future. There is also the promised upcoming White Paper on Health Disparities which we’re looking to next.

    We must all keep working together towards the vision set out in the Kerslake Commission, where all parts of the system — including health — are joined up, and have the individual, whom it is designed to support, at the centre.

    Hackney Half Marathon 2022

    Hackney

    Run East London’s vibrant streets and use your miles to end homelessness.

    This year, St Mungo’s is proud to be a charity partner for the Hackney Half Marathon for the fourth year running. With the race less than three months away, places have been filling up fast to take part in the challenge.

    Occurring on 22 May, the event is a fantastic opportunity not only to raise vital funds, but for our clients and supporters to achieve something big.

    The route spans some of East London’s best landmarks, cruising down Mare Street though a carnival of sound, past the famous Town Hall, through the historic Broadway Market, then taking in Hackney Wick full of street art.

    Part of the Hackney Moves festival, the race is one of the capital’s highlights, bringing fitness together with entertainment, music and culture.

    Lydia, who ran the Hackney Half with St Mungo’s in 2019 and is currently in training for this year’s race shares her experience:

    “From the moment I crossed the start line, I was swept up in the buzz and excitement. I think I had a massive grin on my face almost the whole way round (though possibly not at mile 11!).

    The atmosphere of the Hackney Half is unique, with supporters lining the route offering encouragement, high fives and witty signage.

    Running for St Mungo’s made the whole experience more meaningful as I knew I was doing something for others at the same time as having fun and achieving a personal goal.”

    Supporting 3,213 people on average each night and with 17 outreach teams helping people of the streets, in choosing to run for us, you are helping to provide a gift of hope for the future.

    Money you raise could help transform the lives of people experiencing homelessness at every stage of recovery.

    So, whether you’re running on the day or going to soak up the buzz, the Hackney Half is one not to be missed!


    Up for the challenge? Join #TeamMungos now. Charity places are filling up fast, so get yours quick! Sign up here.

    Volunteering makes Tuesday a highlight for me

    Role and motivation to volunteer

    I began to volunteer in January 2020 with the Recovery College. My role is life-coaching, specifically in a group setting. I would describe life coaching as software engineering for people! We are all programmed by our past experiences, so sometimes we need to review our software to make sure we are using the right programme for what we want to achieve and that there is nothing misdirecting us. In our group sessions we clarify goals that clients want to achieve, identify obstacles holding them back and then come up with strategies to overcome these obstacles. Every client will set a goal that they want to achieve at the beginning of the course. This could be anything from improving their health, starting a musical project or increasing their self-esteem.  We review our progress in each session, increasing self-awareness through questioning ourselves in a safe and supportive environment. It is less about giving people advice and more about giving people the opportunity to explore themselves. We work on overcoming challenges together. During the sessions, everyone gets a chance to speak and works on their goals outside of the group. This ensures clients remain on track to achieve their goals and the group gives people a chance to reflect and work on their progress.

    I wanted to volunteer with St Mungo’s after meeting a street fund raiser and he explained St Mungo’s cause. I was really moved by this and wanted to contribute in a way other than financially. I thought I could use my skills with the organization, so I contacted the volunteering team at St Mungo’s and things went from there, now here I am!

    The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on volunteering

    When the first lockdown happened we weren’t able to meet up to have the sessions in person, so we quickly adapted and changed to a digital model to deliver the sessions remotely. This was actually a more convenient and effective method to run the course. After some initial technical hitches and getting familiar with working online, it was easier for people to log in remotely rather than travelling to the Recovery College. It also made it more accessible for people, so we were able to offer the course to more clients.

    There have been some challenges in that it is harder to build a rapport remotely rather than in person and there have been some technical issues in getting clients connected, but overall I would say it has made volunteering more accessible and convenient. Everyone has become more familiar and comfortable in the setting. Also, I am currently in Prague and am still able to volunteer so it is great to have this flexibility!  Whilst the pandemic has made volunteering easier, Covid-19 has obviously made life more challenging for everyone.

    The impact of volunteering and highlights of volunteering during a challenging year

    Every Tuesday is a highlight for me. I love to see clients progressing and working towards their goals. Every week we have an opportunity to learn from each other’s journeys and progress as we uncover the answers which lie within ourselves. Seeing clients improving their confidence, decision making skills, assertiveness, changing their life perspective, increasing their self-esteem, and more is really rewarding. Volunteering gives me a real sense of purpose and I really enjoy the energy of the group, helping people to realize their goals is incredibly  satisfying and I really enjoy my volunteering experience!

    Supporting people through a lonely time of year

    During the winter there’s less opportunity for people to go out and so the people we support can isolate themselves which can have a negative impact on their mental health. Here, Ben, a Housing First Caseworker in Westminster shares how our teams are focusing on arranging activities for the people we support to ensure they don’t feel lonely this time of the year. 

    Housing First is a service that moves people into accommodation first and then work with them around that to help them support their tenancy. I think it’s really important that we work in this way as I think it’s easy to get someone into accommodation and then to lose them as they’ll get into somewhere and they find themselves isolated and by themselves and they don’t know what to do and they can sometimes develop depression because they’re feeling so alone. It’s not something many people would expect for someone who has just been given their own home but because they’re not used to being on their own all the time it’s difficult for them.

    When you’ve housed people who have been living on the streets during the winter time it’s hard to persuade them to come out in the cold and wet weather. So it’s important that we offer them something new, and we try to give them a new experience, whether that’s a museum visit or going out for a Chinese so that they feel part of society and their community.

    I was speaking with someone today who had been on the streets for 14 years and now they’re in the flat they can’t give it up for anything, the home is everything they have and since he’s moved into accommodation he has regressed and hidden himself away because he’s never had the opportunity to do that before. It becomes harder during the winter months to keep our clients engaged and to get them out of their houses and taking part in activities. I also recognise the fact that none of us do particularly well during the winter, it’s not a great time of year for most people so there’s definitely  a change of mood. It’s making sure that I’m having daily check ins with my clients to see how they’re coping and to make sure they’re ok and what support they need.

    Christmas is a bit of a taboo subject as if you’ve had very traumatic experience, Christmas is not a fun loving or pleasant time for them. They see people around them that are off doing their Christmas shopping, meeting with their friends and being able to spend time with their family and loved ones and it can add to the isolation people feel. Just because they’re in their own accommodation it doesn’t get any easier for them and it can sometimes bring up period of their life where they are reflecting on the past and they realise they are alone for Christmas. It’s a real struggle and I think it is a bit of a taboo subject, as the reality of it is that it is a really tough time for a lot of people.

    A lot of the things that we do around Housing First, is to make sure all our clients have food hampers over Christmas and we individualise each of our clients Christmas packages as much as we can which I Think makes a real difference. Making sure that our clients are aware of the extra support that is available to them over the winter time. As a team we work for the majority of Christmas and we make sure that staff are available to support clients when they need them and they’ll receive daily check-ins and phone calls and we share the work load a lot as sometimes people do need to be off, we also take on other teams clients when they’re off on leave to make sure that everyone is still supported during the break.

    I do go out and buy my clients their very own mini Christmas tree and a few decorations so they have something to look forward to. I think it’s also a nice reminder that if they do start to feel lonely at Christmas and if they are on their own then they can look at the tree and know that someone does care about them and hopefully it will remind them of a happier moment.

    I think it’s really important that people show that they care at this time of year, however they do that. There are parts of Christmas that I don’t enjoy and I think sharing these experiences and my own feeling helps my clients to see that they’re not alone, and that not everyone is having a jolly festive time, regardless of their situation.

    I’ve been working with someone with very complex mental health. At the beginning the only way he would feel comfortable talking to me was if he was in his bed under a duvet. He wouldn’t come out to see me and he wasn’t looking after himself very well. Six months later, we now meet up three times a week and get a cup of coffee at a local café and he’s beginning to trust me which is amazing. He’s now on a mental health pathway within St Mungo’s and is moving to additional support, he said “I can’t believe you’ve listened to me and you’ve made it happen”. He was so happy. I think it goes to show that there isn’t a perfect scenario for people experiencing homelessness and your options are always limited when you’re in the system, but being able to find him a space that’s more calming environment and less chaotic is really great for me. To see the growth in someone is the reason why I do this job.

    Find out more about our Housing First service here.

    Experiencing homelessness at Christmas

    Nathaniel is a former client and a member of our Client Involvement Working Group. Here, he shares his experiences of homelessness at Christmas and the message he wants people to know.

    I was adopted from birth and grew up with my family in Bounds Green, North London. I used to spend Christmas at home and celebrate with my mother and our extended family but since I became homeless I’m on my own.

    I became homeless after I started to experience voices in my head which was mentally and physically debilitating. I was in dire straits and my mum didn’t understand what was happening and couldn’t look after me.

    I spent my first Christmas in supported accommodation and it was very lonely. We didn’t have any festivities and, at the time, I was experiencing negative voices which also caused me pain and physical manifestations. It really affected my mental health and I was physically and mentally debilitated. I couldn’t do anything so I spend Christmas day alone in bed drinking soup, trying to fight my way out of something that was really dark and difficult to get out of. It was a really tough time.

    Since then I’ve taken part in a lot of client involvement projects with St Mungo’s and I volunteered at the StreetLink service. At StreetLink they were really supportive and gave me my role responsibilities in stages, to make sure I had jobs that I felt comfortable in doing. My first role was inputting information into the computer and then, as my confidence grew, I worked up to taking phone calls and assisting people in that way. I felt happy, content and valued for the work I was doing and I felt that I was part of the team.

    I also joined the Outside In network and started to get involved in some client involvement projects. The work I’ve been doing has definitely been life changing for me. Being able to do things and support with activities has definitely helped me keep my mind free and I’ve been able to talk to other people who have experienced homelessness and hear their stories which has been really educational.

    This Christmas I would like people to open their hearts and minds and be able to connect to others and to the issues and plights of people around them. Homelessness is something that is so common that we don’t really see it anymore. Homelessness has been around since recorded history and I want to encourage people to educate themselves about homelessness and to open up the dialog that will bring about action, understanding, and education and will hopefully inspire people to change the systems and policies in place. Homelessness is something that together, in unity with organisations, the public and policy makers we need to eradicate.

    Keeping us safer: support for women’s homelessness

    Today, 10 December, marks Human Rights Day and brings to a close the 16 days of action against gender-based violence. To mark the day we share how we’re supporting our colleagues, and other staff within the homelessness and women’s sector, to provide the best support for females who are also survivors of domestic abuse and violence.

    Earlier this year, in partnership with Standing Together, we created our Keeping us Safer guidance. This guidance aims to provide staff within the homelessness and women’s sector with the skills and confidence to be able to support female clients who are also survivors of domestic abuse.

    The guidance was created in collaboration with 16 women from our services who have experienced homelessness, abuse and violence. As part of the project the women were asked to share what strategies they used to keep themselves safe. One service user explained what she did when she felt unsafe, she said; “if I don’t feel safe, for example at night on the streets, I go to McDonald’s and eat my dinner very late, around 11pm or 12am. There you can stay inside and be warm and you’re okay.” Another client shared what it was like visiting a night shelter which had majority male occupancy, “(Night shelters are) better than the street but I could feel the look of the men on me … I could feel the sexual pressure and I was like, ‘Okay, I have to make a decent decision. I’ll stay here for two hours and then go.’” Some of the other strategies shared included sleeping in hidden locations or public places, constantly keeping on the move, and dressing as a male to avoid harm.

    Our Keeping us Safer guidance aims to build a strong foundation from which professionals can better support women. The guide encourages you to think about and integrate different approaches which support women’s needs and help to build supportive relationships. The guidance also includes examples of challenges professionals face when supporting women; barriers you may come across within your service; ways to look after your own wellbeing when working with someone with trauma; and suggestions on how to overcome these barriers to best support your female client and create a safe and secure environment.

    Jillian Thursby, Regional Head and Women and Domestic Abuse Lead, worked on the guidance and said; “We know that women experience homelessness differently from men and it’s our job to improve our support offer to fit their needs. The Keeping us Safer guidance has taken the perspectives of women experiencing homelessness, violence, and abuse and created an approach which encourages staff to consider these experiences in order to improve the support offered. The guidance was piloted in three St Mungo’s Services – an outreach team, mixed gender hostel, and women’s only hostel – and staff fed back that the guidance gave them new ways to discuss violence and safety with both clients and partner agencies.”

    “I am grateful also to St Mungo’s… they never give up. They are always coming to see me and check if I’m okay which is keeping me in contact with my reality, otherwise I would be lost.” – Service user

    Ultimately, we hope this approach will contribute to changing attitudes and improve support for women in all their diversity, whether they are rough sleeping, hidden homeless, or living in homelessness support services.

    Having difficult conversations about grief and loss

    This National Grief Awareness Week, Catherine our Bereavement Support Coordinator explains her role in helping our staff and the people we support through our Bereavement Support Service.

    Bereavement is cited in the top 10 reasons that contribute to homelessness. This is why it’s so important to be with the people we support as they process their loss as well as ensure that staff are properly equipped to help them with all the difficult emotions that grief can bring up. Our Bereavement Support Service is available across all St Mungo’s services and aims to do just that – provide a range of bereavement support to those in services and the staff supporting them.

    While each person’s story is unique, there can be factors that can contribute to why people find themselves facing homelessness. Sometimes this is having an unstable environment in childhood or traumatic life experiences such as losing loved ones. In my role as Bereavement Care Coordinator, I offer emotional support to people in St Mungo’s services, with the aim to offer a calm presence in a non-judgemental space for them to discuss their loss and feelings, either face to face or over the phone.

    People who experience homelessness can face chronic health problems and, the sad reality is that without support, people on the streets face a much shorter life expectancy. This is why my role equally focuses on supporting staff members who work in our services and closely with people who are experiencing homelessness to help them process their feelings of loss if someone they have been supporting passes away.

    Whether the individual has passed away under tragic circumstances or due to prolonged ill health, staff can often be caught between the need to remain professional but being personally impact by the person’s death. It’s important to offer reassurance and promote the need for self-care and space for them to reflect about what has happened – to try and normalise the grieving process. But this can be hard and there is often an incredible sadness of feeling like a life has been cut short. Cruelly in most cases, staff will have seen the people we support start to make changes, improve drinking habits and get onto a path of recovery but this can’t always be maintained.

    With time we work with staff about the need to pre-empt the potential outcome of individuals passing away in their services – our Palliative Care Service is crucial in this. But despite coming into their jobs to make a difference and to bring hope in ending homelessness, staff do often say they still need to mentally prepare themselves for seeing people they interact with every day approaching the end of life. Nevertheless, I am always struck by the bond that staff have with the people they support and the ‘family’ type feeling they have for each other.

    Find out more about National Grief Awareness Week run by the Good Grief Trust here.

    Volunteering to support people with their mental health

    We take a holistic approach to mental and physical health, addressing these issues alongside each other. Volunteers play a crucial role in helping us to achieve this. Here, Amie shares her experiences of volunteering to support people who’ve experienced homelessness with their mental health.

    My journey with St Mungo’s began in September 2019, I had graduated from University and knew that I wanted to get into the charity sector. I applied for the role of a Mental Health Volunteer at St Mungo’s via their website which I was successful for. I then went through the training with the St Mungo’s Volunteer Services staff. My first role with St Mungo’s was doing the ‘Women’s Morning’ with a mental health service in Bristol which I really enjoyed.

    During lockdown the ‘Women’s Morning’ stopped due to Covid-19 and I was put on furlough from my day job. I then got an email from the Volunteer Services about the emergency hotels and from there I started my second volunteering role as an Emergency Hotel Volunteer which was a unique service to be a part of. I managed to network with a whole range of staff members as the team at the hotel was made up of different services from around the Bristol hub.

    I then went through the locum application whilst volunteering and I picked up a locum shift at a Women’s Services. I had only been there for a month, but I ended up staying there for a year because I loved it so much! I loved trying something new and challenging. I was there for about a year, and then a vacancy came up for the place I’m at now which is a mixed hostel. The role involves more incident and crisis management which I’m also really enjoying.

    At my current role, we’re getting more volunteers into the services which means I’m going to be a supervisor, so I’ve come full circle in such a short space of time!

    Inspiration for why I got involved in volunteering

    I was inspired to start volunteering when I was in my final year of university, I had a bad mental health crisis. This crisis made me realise that I wanted to help and support those who have gone through similar mental health issues. My role as a Mental Health Volunteer at St Mungo’s made me re-evaluate everything of what’s important in life.

    St Mungo’s appealed a lot because there’s great structure for volunteers and they have great training for volunteers. They even paid for me to be a mental health first aider whilst I was a volunteer. I also chose St Mungo’s because of their locum scheme which I think is a great way to inspire volunteers to continue their career into the homeless sector. The volunteer team really make you feel valued as a volunteer.

    The rewards and challenges of volunteering the impact it can have:

    It was quite challenging when I first started in the ‘Women’s Morning’ because I had never worked with people who’ve experienced homelessness before so it was a massive learning curb. At the beginning communication with the people we were supporting was tough and there were some difficult situations. But once you’ve experienced those situations more and more, you feel much more confident. And it was very rewarding, I got to go and do something that I truly enjoyed every day.

    Volunteers play such a crucial role in helping St Mungo’s staff members with support areas such an art therapy, gardening and cooking as the charity can’t have many specialised staff full time for these activities. The volunteers are integral to the people St Mungo’s support and their progression in moving away from the streets as full time staff might not have time to do certain activities and having volunteers come up with ideas for the sessions and planning these sessions is something that’s valuable.

    A moment that still stands out whilst volunteering at St Mungo’s was when I was at the women’s services. I drove someone who had been staying at the service over to their new flat and helped them set up their belongings and home. Seeing them turn their whole life around I’d supported them every step of the way was an emotional but rewarding experience!

    Find out more about current volunteering vacancies here.

    What Black History Month means to me

    This month, as we continue to celebrate Black History Month (BHM), Esther from our Learning and Development team shares what Black history means to her, the importance of diversity and how her mother supported her community despite the odds.

    Blackness, history and tomorrow

    Someone recently asked me what Black History Month means to me and I struggled to answer this because one month out of twelve isn’t enough to celebrate oneself, and others. Yes, Black History Month can lead to a glance back at people who having done great things in the world, have impacted another generation. However, we should always use October (in the UK) and February (in the USA and Canada), to turn up the volume of our blackness and celebrate our history.  My roots are deeper than the skin I wear to work, to church or to school. This BHM, I celebrate what makes me different and how I was created in God’s image.

    Darwin, in his escapist mentality, gave the world an image of a monkey to depict evolution. Unfortunately, there have been many occasions when that image has been used as a distorted representation of black people, who apparently refused to move from all fours to the erect posture of hunter-gatherer. That is why positive representation of black people from all walks of life, not only during this month but throughout the year, is very important. Some people who wish to deny the accurate history of Black people, run to the theory of confusion by using negative labels and descriptors to break our spirit. However, BHM continues to affirm that we have a stake on earth— look at the size of Africa before and after earth-splitting environmental changes.

    Diversity provides the world with access to grow into its full potential in terms of commerce and freedoms that other species lack. For example, a lion has no need to prove its origins or intelligence to the tiger. They both belong to the “Big Cat” family. I strongly believe that the world (metaphorically) still has one tree which gives birth to its kind. But there is potential for it to yield a progressed kind, where a guava tree produces passion, apples and mangos because diversity has bridged the historical, cancerous division between the branches.

    My mother: an example of unity and perseverance

    This month I celebrate my mother Rachel, a Black-African woman, who only studied up to year three of primary school. Due to colonialism, she was separated from her parents at fifteen, to work the land in the Rift Valley while they returned home to Murang’a, near Nairobi, Kenya. She went through an extremely difficult time but continued to work hard to raise us and to put my brothers and I through school.  For years, she has supported her community so others could stand too. And although we complain about her excessive giving, at 85, she has shown us how historical wrongs turned on their head can expel divisions between people.

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