May - George Varney, 61 from Woking:
George worked for Shell, the oil company, for 41 years and a health issue in 2016 led to George rethinking life and so took early retirement at the end of 2017. George had become involved in Street Angels in Woking in February 2011 and his early retirement meant he was open to God leading him to look for something different.
George tells his story, “The church I attended was looking at setting up a social enterprise to help the homeless, underprivileged or marginalised members of the community to better integrate into society and particularly, where possible, into the mainstream workforce.
“Buying some wood on the day after I retired I came across a website for the National Community Wood Recycling Project who ran social enterprises across the UK collecting wood from builders yards and inviting people on the margins of society to work in the workshops to gain life and work experience and mentoring.
“I took this idea to one of the church leaders and he set up a steering group, now the board of trustees, and we got up and running with the Useful Wood Company. We started the workshop in September 2019 whilst maturing the rest of the business model and we finally opened officially in February 2020.”
Wood is collected from building sites, sorted and then either sold back to the public, or used in the workshops to make furniture and other items. Unusable wood is sent to be turned into fertiliser so that none of the collected timber ends up in landfill.
However just as the project got going the coronavirus sadly meant the Useful Wood Company had to be put on hold.
Asked about any outstanding stories in the first few months George shared, “We are early into the project and have had mixed success.
“One gentleman had been long term unemployed and in move on accommodation following on from time in the night shelter. His confidence was low when he started but after four months of working with the Useful Wood Company he left us to set up his own business selling Betterware and other catalogue based products door to door.
“It was amazing to see his confidence grow as he worked with the team over the four months.
“Another gentleman who was a chronic alcoholic who was showing such promise and was going from strength to strength. Just before Christmas he had a downturn and just as he was coming through that, the coronavirus hit.
“We have people with long term illness and those from halfway housing. We are able to see people progress and it is amazing how turning bits and pieces of wood into a final product gives people a source of pride and achievement.
George is hoping that the Useful Wood Company can go from strength to strength. He would love to see a fleet of vans and the opportunity to employ some of the volunteers to drive and deliver.
“At one stage, we were almost about to give up because property is so expensive that we couldn’t find a suitable place at an affordable price. Eventually we were given the old Job Centre rent and rate free as it was empty awaiting demolition. The building is very close to the centre of Woking and is well known to our clients.
“Our hope is to build the business up so that when the Job Centre site is ready for redevelopment we can then afford commercial rates.”
George is also involved as a volunteer and trustee of Woking Street Angels.
“Street Angels is great fun! The change in the town is noticeable, Woking had a reputation for fights and was not a nice place to be at 2am, whereas these days we don’t see fights and the police report crime rates have gone down substantially.
“Everyone who is out now recognises us and comes for chats, help and flip-flops. We have very much built up relationships with the night-club community.
“Street Angels was my introduction to the homeless community in Woking and this led me on to volunteer for a regular meal which got me connected with this community and helped me to understand the needs and despair. This has really helped as we set up the Useful Wood Company.”
George encourages people to always talk to those who you are aiming to help so that real needs and not perceived needs are met.
“There is a very real need for more people to volunteer in community and charity organisations.
In these times where people are furloughed and have less pressures on time George encouraged those who are re-evaluating life during this coronavirus lockdown to look at investing into the voluntary sector as this plays such a vital role in our society.
“The work I am involved in is really rewarding and to see lives changed and having fun whilst seeing this is such a privilege."
For more information on Useful Wood Company visit usefulwood.org or for Woking Street Angels visit wokingstreetangels.org.uk
Reading the Bible verse from Isaiah 58:12 that CNI Network has as its vision and purpose:
Your people will rebuild the cities that were destroyed long ago.
And you will build again on the old foundations.
You will be called the one who repairs broken walls.
You will be called the one who makes city streets like new again.
This is a key verse for the time beyond this time! As a Network of local projects we are sharing ideas and thoughts that are and will help put this verse into action for the communities we serve. Together and with others we will:
Rebuild the cities destroyed by this lockdown - believing that businesses of all kinds will reopen and then prosper. Praying for owners, management and workers. Praying that the economy will come back stronger. Standing with our friends in both day and night-time economies and at festivals to help with this rebuild.
Build again on the old foundations - many of our towns and cities (indeed nations) are founded on Biblical dynamics. "Seek the peace and prosperity of places - pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers you too will prosper" and "Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain" are two key ones - as followers of Jesus let us pray and declare these old foundations over your community.
Repair the broken walls - this last few weeks has seen a return for many to neighbourhoods - more time at home has meant people helping one another, conversations over the garden walls, going above and beyond to connect and show love and reach out. Many of our projects and church communities have stepped up to be active in local neighbourhoods - helping repair broken walls and seeing a return to communities that look out for one another. As a former Prime Minister said of CNI Network, "people standing up and taking an active role in building the type of community they want to live in"
Makes the city streets like new again - many of our streets are deserted - shops, pubs, clubs and business closed. Schooling and work taking place at home. The fruit of CNI Network and our street, club and festival work over the last 15 years is reduced crime, less anti-social behaviour, change in the atmosphere, partnership working locally and nationally and thousands of people helped and supported. The way we work will need to change over the next few months - the fruit will change as our streets are built up to a new kind of newness. This is a long-haul process but we want both CNI Network and our local projects (and our partners) to be at the heart of this - to be a prophetic voice and action into the new kind of new!
Paul Blakey MBE featured on Premier Christian Radio / Churches Together in England Prayer of Hope on Sunday 26th April. Here is the prayer:
Over 20 local residents and groups who between them give hundreds of hours each week to make a real difference in their community have been recognised and celebrated by the Mayor of Guildford.
The Mayor's 2020 Award for Service to the Community rewards people who were nominated by residents in the borough, and this year's list features musicians, charity fundraisers, homeless shelter volunteers, theatre directors, scout leaders, parish councillors and clerks, school teachers and governors, retail managers, care centre co-ordinators and other community leaders, as well as Guildford Street Angels and the Trustees of Number Five, who both receive collective recognition.
The Mayor of Guildford, Cllr Richard Billington, says: "Everyone receiving an award has been nominated by residents whose lives have been touched by their kindness, generosity of spirit and endless enthusiasm, in some cases over many years. Supporting health in our community has been the theme for my mayoral year and every one of the award recipients have made significant contributions to both the physical and mental health of the borough.
"Their stories are inspiring and confirm the wonderful sense of community that we have in Guildford. I am delighted to be able to recognise the tremendous contribution that they have made to the borough, which feels particularly appropriate in the midst of a pandemic."
Guildford Street Angels, established in 2008 by the churches of Guildford, provide year-round town centre patrols every Friday and Saturday night from 10.30pm until 4am. Their work, in supporting individuals and tidying streets, equates to approximately 25,000 volunteer hours every year. The Number Five homeless shelter, on York Road, this year celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, and the continued dedication and expertise of its Trustees enable it to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers 365 days a year.
Also receiving awards are husband and wife, David and Judith Hunt, who have each worked with the 1st Merrow Scout Group for over 30 years, and in 2019 established the Beating Hearts Merrow Campaign to raise money for three public-access defibrillators.
"We feel surprised and honoured to be receiving these awards," said David and Judith. "We feel they should be shared with so many friends and fellow volunteers, in scouting, Beating Hearts Merrow and St John's Church."
For the last two years, Matt Gaskin has provided a free Christmas dinner for 265 people at St Joseph's Church in Guildford. In leading the initiative, which has gained significant support from individuals and businesses, he has brought extra Christmas cheer to the elderly and vulnerable in his local community.
Mr Gaskin says: "I am extremely honoured and grateful to be receiving such an important award for services to the community. I'm sure every other nominee was as capable, if not more, of winning this award. It would not have been possible without the support of my family and the wonderful local businesses that sponsor and help me to be able to provide the help and support.
"The Christmas day meal we provide every year is only made possible with the amazing support given to us to enable us to cook for people from all walks of society. This is a great chance for people to get together and support each other every year."
All nominations were made and assessed before the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mayor's Award for Service to the Community is kindly sponsored by The County Club, High Street, Guildford.
A presentation ceremony will be held at The County Club as soon as it is safe to do so.
For the full list of winners, see our Mayor's Award for Service to the Community page.
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner MP, joined with Oldham Street Angels who are still operating distributing food and drinks to those who are homeless in Oldham. Here is her Facebook:
Tomorrow should be the London marathon and there is a 2.6 Challenge to 'save the UK's charities'.
We are a relatively small charity with low income (£30,000 last financial year) and expenditure (£45,000 last year) yet, we think, a high impact.
Our income comes from individuals, local projects, businesses and church donations and we are thankful that those will continue. However a significant amount of income is from talks and book donations (£6333 last financial year) and our work at festivals (£4450) most of which is likely to not happen (we had 10 talks booked April and May!)
We have had no success recently at grant funding (except one to increase the hours of our Yorkshire coordinator) as a lot of grants don't fund national bodies such as CNI Network.
Every small UK charity is likely to be in the same situation but we are asking our friends, supporters, local projects and those who like what we do to consider making a one off donation to CNI Network to help make up the shortfall. If every Facebook / Twitter friend gave £2.60 that would make up a significant amount - cnietwork.org/donate for ways to give.
Thanks to those who do invest in what we do - your support means a lot.
Several events online over the next month:
26 April - 2pm Paul is speaking on Gateway Church Kendal Facebook Live
28, 29, 30 April - 7.30 - 9pm supporting people through bereavement in these difficult times - to book email firstname.lastname@example.org
2 May - 10.30am Angels Coffee and Chat on Zoom (bring your own coffee, opportunity to catch up with other volunteers for a chat and catch up!)
6 May - 7pm Vulnerability Training (helping those who are vulnerable) hosted by Nighttimeeconomy.com - to book email email@example.com
8 May - 3pm Zoom Prayer Gathering (this is a Bank Holiday to hopefully allow those who work to join us)
14 May - 2.30pm Zoom Project Catch-Up
18 May - 3pm Zoom Prayer Gathering
26 May - 2.30pm Zoom Project Catch-Up
More events and training will be added throughout the month! Watch our Facebook page for details of the links.
Free training course (3 consecutive sessions) available online on Tuesday 28th, Wednesday 29th, and Thursday 30th April, 7.30 - 9pm to help you support people through bereavement in these difficult times, when grief is more complicated and traumatic. Some Street Angel projects are currently providing listening services by phone, and when we get back out on the streets, we expect people will need to talk about their experiences during lockdown, including sadly, bereavement. Led by Frances Novillo, Lead Chaplain of Watford Town Centre Chaplaincy (including Watford Street Angels), based on training she received from Professor Stephen Regel of the Centre for Trauma, Resilience, and Growth in Nottingham. To register or find out more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
A Christian group which works to reduce alcohol-related violence has warned that boredom during the UK coronavirus lockdown is triggering higher-alcohol consumption.
The Christian Nightlife Initiatives (CNI) Network echoes research released from Alcohol Change UK which found one in five adults who drink alcohol are drinking more often since lockdown began on 23 March - around 8.6 million people.
Paul Blakey, CEO of CNI Network told Premier he's not surprised by the statistics.
"Having seen the empty shells of alcohol a few weeks ago as a lockdown came in my local supermarket, and increasingly empty shelves since, you realise that one of the things that people do in a time of crisis like this is drink alcohol.
"If we're all isolated, we're all in lockdown, then it's very easy to kind of open the bottle of wine, open the can of beer very early.
"There's not much else to do once you've done your daily walk and you've been to the supermarket once or twice a week. There's not much on TV, you kind of sit down and relax and drink alcohol.
"Most people are doing it sensibly. But of course there will be those few, as the survey says that overindulge. That kind of increase comes all sorts of problems, which is very sad."
The research also found 1 in 14 people - roughly 3.5 million adults - are living in households where alcohol is leading to greater tension or conflict. 1 in 7 people with children under 18 reported that alcohol had increased tension in the household.
The research follows figures from global data analytics company Nielsen which suggest that the sale of alcohol has increased by 291 per cent during the pandemic.
Blakey told Premier people who drink should put healthy habits in place such as having non-alcohol days and also having mixed alcoholic drinks instead of fully alcoholic drinks.
"Also just ask family members to kind of be aware of amount that you're drinking," he said.
"It's very easy just to kind of fall into that trap."
Blakey expects there to be a spike in people enjoying nightlife when the country ends social distancing measures and said CNI Network is preparing on how to respond to that.
He said the charity is also working on how to help those who work in the industry.
"It's obviously a very volatile environment, anywhere that relies on weekends and peaks to keep going, especially the night-time economy. So we're thinking, what will the effect be and we're aiming to support those that we know who work within this industry to offer them our prayers, opportunity to chat, opportunity to get alongside them, and hopefully just to kind of weather the storm."
Listen to the full interview here:
Donate to the work of CNI Network here
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