Friday 11 January 2013, 13:48
I’m excited that the Radio 4 St Martin-in-the-Fields Christmas Appeal is set to break its record figure any day now. That represents fantastic generosity from our listeners and supporters. Every donation helps: £10 can cover an in-depth assessment of a rough sleeper’s needs; £100 covers an outreach team to go out on the streets and engage with rough sleepers for an hour, encouraging them to come in and use our services.
A few weeks ago a man came to see me and told me a story. He’d been at college in central London 40 years ago. Each day he’d come and sat in or near St Martin-in-the-Fields and had a coffee, a smoke, or a bite of lunch. He’d moved away, and had never had much income; his profession never yielded much beyond a basic lifestyle. Whenever he was in London he’d pop by St Martin’s as of old; and, just as then, there’d always be people in need, isolated, alone, facing humiliation and bitter cold. ‘But now,’ he said, ‘something unexpected’s happened. I’ve been left a bit of money – out of the blue. After all those years when I’d looked at those people, and to be frank I didn’t have a whole lot more money than them – now I have. I’ve never been able to give to your appeal before, so now I’m going to write you a cheque for all those years I missed. Here it is.’ And he handed me an envelope. And I felt like I’d been handed a gift of gold by one of the three kings.
I realised I was face-to-face with the spirit of the Christmas Appeal. The powerlessness of homelessness face-to-face with the powerlessness of not knowing how to help. And, in between, an 86-year-old tradition of finding ways to give people a chance to get their lives back together. And a habit of remembering: ‘I once needed a bit of help: now I’m a bit steadier, maybe I can help you.’