It was lunchtime. I was in London and it was raining.
I had been down to the city on one of my special visits and was dashing through Hanover Square, picking my way through the streets to the nearest tube station so that I could head home to rural Suffolk. The rain suddenly came down faster and I was quickly becoming drenched.
A group of office workers took shelter in a large service doorway, a gathering of strangers who were only drawn together because of the weather. I watched them sip their take-away coffees and nibble at their packaged sandwiches. Dressed in dark suits, they stood silently watching the splashes from the cars that passed by. An unexpected place for an unexpected picnic.
Laying down behind them was a man, covered in blankets and scraps of cardboard boxes. His head lay on a pillow made from a plastic bag stuffed with what were probably his clothes. A hood covering his hair and eyes helped retain the remainder of his privacy. While the lunch-break took place in the doorway, he slept in the silence that prevailed. At least I'd hoped he was sleeping. I wouldn't like to think that he was awake. Even worse, I'd hate to think he was dead.
As we go through our busy lives, getting through the challenges that hit us day by day, it is easy to forget those who live differently, in less fortunate circumstances. It's easy to ignore them and turn a blind eye, like the people in the doorway.
When I think of that man and many other socially excluded people like him, I feel glad that it's not me in that situation, or my husband and desperately hope that it won't be my children. However, I also feel bad that I cannot help. I get too embarrassed to offer conversation, respecting the dignity of others as well as worrying about my own guilt and if I offer money for a hot meal, I wonder whether it will be put to good use.
But like many others, I just can't pass by without empathy because somewhere along the line that person I see lying in the streets probably started out with a home, a family, friends and an everyday job. Like you and like me.
So it was with these feelings fresh in my mind I was delighted to have stumbled across the most wonderful organisation, which works hard to balance the needs of this complex jigsaw of the society in which we live. It’s a charity whose business is to recycle the stuff that people like me throw away but whose mission is to generate opportunities for those who are homeless or without jobs, encouraging all to see and to fulfill their own unique potential.
The organisation that comes with this fanfare is Recycling Lives.
Born from a real understanding of and a true commitment to helping the homeless, Recycling Lives was created in 2007 by Steve Jackson. And when you read his personal account and interaction with whom he calls "a man with a pram" you can't help but feel inspired by his passion for social entrepreneurship and desperately hope that he succeeds in his mission.
IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT SLEEPING ROUGH
But it’s not just about the ‘traditional’ view of a homeless person is as a rough sleeper as depicted above.
As Charles Jackson, Chief Executive, of Recycling Lives told me “These days this image can be supplemented by a group of people who have for many years been institutionalised. I am referring to ex-service men and women or ex-offenders. People, who have served their time for their country, or indeed, served their time for their crimes. In the case of the ex-service people, perhaps they have been too well cared for? Perhaps they have had everything done for them? The same questions could be asked about the people who have recently been released from prison."
"Despite the fact that many good programmes are in place to prepare people for life outside their institution, a considerable number appear to fall through the safety net. If only there was a viable and sustainable alternative! It would be interesting to know just how many people are in this situation.”
“We at Recycling Lives feel this is an area where we can help and would be interested to hear from anyone who would be interested in supplying statistics or information relating to homelessness in ex-service personnel or ex-offenders.”
IMPROVING THE ENVIRONMENT & TACKLING WORKLESSNESS
Mr Jackson also explained the relevance of the organisation’s enthusiasm for tackling regeneration and the issue of worklessness.
“We strongly believe that the introduction of a work ethic (subject to the person’s current status and ability) can go a long way to making a person feel useful and increase their self worth and self esteem.”
“Regeneration and an improved environment also contribute to a feeling of well-being for employees and the local community. Tackling both homelessness and worklessness complement and balance each other perfectly. After all giving someone a safe place and a job with security is our mission and sustainability is our target."
What Charles Jackson said struck a chord with me, as having grown up in the Welsh coal-mining valleys, I experienced first hand the effects of the mine closures in the 1980s, hitting the people and the community hard. As soon as I turned 18, I moved away to the bright lights of Nottingham, working hard for a degree to improve my prospects. But my visits home witnessed social change. It was no longer a working class community but an unemployed community, with an increase in shop closures, the emergence of security shutters and reduced self-esteem in many who would rely on the spirit of camaraderie offered by the local pubs.
I truly understand why Charles Jackson and Recycling Lives are passionate about these things and having come from a community where such issues are prevalent I appreciate the company's commitment.
A PERFECT SYNERGY
So from its purpose built facility in Lancashire, Recycling Lives now provides a unique multi-agency approach to addressing the causes of worklessness and homelessness through the provision of a range of opportunities, including employment, skills-training and new business incubation, as well as a professional strategy for reducing landfill waste.
The team believes that everyone deserves a home, a job, and a safe and secure environment in which to live, work and play. Its activities are based on a set of fundamental values, including compassion, equality, fairness, opportunity for all, partnership, dignity and creativity.
I really admire Recycling Lives for this vision and how the organisation channels its experience in waste management to this end. I just love the synergy and the way in which it turns the demand for waste management services into social income that creates opportunities for those hit by poverty in this way.
And it really makes you think! Every time someone in Preston sends stuff off for recycling, whether it is household waste, electronic gadgets, computers, metal scrap or end-of-life vehicles, someone else has the opportunity to have their life turned around. It makes so much sense, doesn't it? And this is how things should be.
What's great is that Recycling Lives' vision is to create 50 sites across the UK, a strategy that could bring local benefits to the people in your area, which is why I would like to support this organisation in more ways than one. I would really like to see them achieve this goal.
However, as well as income from its recycling business, Recycling Lives is a charity that still depends upon the voluntary giving and fundraising of its supporters. So in addition to making a modest personal donation, you'll now see the Recycling Lives logo is taking pride of place on this blog to help raise awareness of how recycling can help others in need.
So please take a look at their website and at the unique profile of its business. It really is worth a visit. Just hop over to www.recyclinglives.co.uk. And if you would like to make a donation, please call 0870 420 2872.
Of course, you too can use recycling opportunities to help those in poverty by doing something that's simple but fun! If you haven't managed to slim your bin yet, why not challenge yourself to a Sponsored Rubbish Diet. That's right, raise money for a good cause while you reduce your waste. You could even get people to double their money if you hit zero. Now there's a great excuse to get started.
If you're up for it try going head-to-head with friends and family, your colleagues at work or other parents at school. Make a big event of it. Just pick your charity and pick your week. Then recycle more and waste less. Finally send your money off to your chosen cause.
Of course I would be delighted if you donated your proceeds to Recycling Lives and I think it would make a wonderful surprise for them too.
Please note all photographs used in this post are copyright Recycling Lives.
This post is part of Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty, where over 9000 bloggers are joining together to raise awareness of poverty. According to the UK Coalition Against Poverty, 20% of the people in the UK are affected by this issue and around half of Britain's families living in poverty today live in a household where an adult is in work. The number of single people living in poverty has increased by 300,000 to 3.9 million since 1996.
Other interesting posts include:
Caring about poverty: at Groves Media
Poverty at Home Drawing at Rachel Creative
How I learned not to be selfish and love the power of porridge at Mission Creep
Focusing on Poverty at My Zero Waste
Poverty and Environmentalism at Tiny Choices