Thursday 18 November 2010, 10:00
Editor's note. You can make a donation to this year's Radio 4 Christmas Appeal on the St Martin-in-the-Fields web site - SB
The service at St Martin-in-the-Fields for homeless people who have died in the past year never fails to move me. During the service the names of those who have died are read out, today it was 156 names, the names are interspersed with prayers, poems and music. It was after this service back in 2006 that I first met Dave McKane.
Dave had been rough sleeping for over 20 years and afterwards over tea and sandwiches we talked. He became part of that year's Radio 4 Christmas Appeal - Received with Thanks programme, which reports on how the money from the appeal is spent. He told me: "they say that homelessness is easy to get used to, it's not, it's bloody hard work. You think you can survive but a lot don't." A reference I felt to the service we had both just sat through.
Dave was described as an entrenched rough sleeper, someone who it is really hard to move off the streets. I remember we chatted easily in the clothing stall - Dave selecting and describing the way to dress in layers to survive a winter on the streets, but he also talked about his darker moments when he would throw his rucksack in the Thames in anger or despair - or perhaps both.
Move forward two years - it's Autumn 2008 and as I start the recordings for the Christmas Appeal, staff at The Connection tell me I must interview Dave again - he's moved off the streets into a hostel. Dave poses for some photos, standing on the steps of the hostel recalling how when he first arrived the worker said "take that rucksack off" and how "to get the rucksack off was a relief". He proudly showed me his room and admitted that for the first week he slept in his sleeping bag on the floor, he was so unused to a bed. When he did finally 'hop into the bed' he slept for 23 hours. It was great to be able to tell Dave's story in the programme, to show that donations really could make a difference.
I've done the recordings for this year's programme and a theme that has emerged is that staff feel they must never give up on clients, even when those clients try to push them away, "they feel they're not worthy, we know they are". The work is painstaking, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, it takes patience. As I leave the church, after this year's service for those who died homeless, I pause to chat to one of the priests, then look behind me to see a tall man, smartly dressed in a dark suit with a black tie and yes it's Dave. He greets me with a hug, asks after my family and then tells me how he has moved into a flat now. I comment on how well he looks - he laughs and tells me he's looking after himself now. He loves cooking and where others might hate the trip to Tesco to get some supper, he 'could spend all day in there'! I ask if I can take his photo on the church portico.
We're now in the countdown to this year's appeal, over the next 3 weeks we'll be promoting it on air, on the Radio 4 website, on the Radio 4 facebook page and then on the 5th December we'll open the phone lines and hold our breath for that first call. Last year we raised almost £900,000 none of us know how that comes from this small 3 minute appeal - it's a bit of a minor miracle but I'm heartened by my chance meeting with Dave maybe he's a good omen for this year...
Sally Flatman is Producer of the Radio 4 Appeal
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Wednesday 17 November 2010, 17:53
Friday 19 November 2010, 11:14