The winter shelter at St Thomas’ Church, Charlton still needs you

IMG_2425If you’re a member of the congregation of St Luke’s or St Thomas’ churches, you’ll already know this, but it came as a surprise to some of us: there’s a winter shelter for homeless people in St Thomas’ hall, and still has another six weeks left to run.

The weather can be cruel at the start of the year and while you may see more campaigns around Christmas, the need for shelter is just as pressing now.

Seven churches across Greenwich borough take part in the night shelter project, run by volunteers, with each church opening their doors one night of the week.

St Thomas’, working together with the congregation of St Luke’s, welcomes its guests on Fridays. They arrive at 7pm, are offered showers and a hot meal, breakfast the next morning and a packed lunch to take with them. The hall can hold 15 people and most of these places are usually taken, with between 12 and 15 people normally sheltering for the night.  

Most guests are now regulars, and the volunteers have got to know them well.

We asked James Kinsella, a volunteer at the shelter, to describe the experience of running the shelter in one word, and he chose “humbling”.  

He says volunteers have found the project rewarding and that they have been made “more aware of the plight of the homeless in London”. James says his attitude to homeless people has changed:

I am more aware of the homeless that are on the street in this cold weather, and if I give them some money I don’t cast judgement on how they spend it: if I was out in this cold weather I may need some alcohol to numb the pain

Asked how he thought guests found the shelter, James says he hopes they have found the church hall “a very warm and welcoming place where they are treated with dignity and kindness”.

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If you’d like to support the valuable work that St Thomas’ Church is doing this winter, while there are enough volunteers, the team woud be very grateful for donations.

You can donate food to the shelter by leaving it at the church after 4pm on a Friday, or you can donate money.  The church has a good relationship with its local community and already receives a good amount of food, but it also needs to pay for heating, fresh food and lighting, so money is – if anything – more welcome.  

Cheques should be made out to St Thomas’ PCC and can also be dropped off at the church – the volunteers can give you a written acknowledgement of your donation if they know your name.

Hustings round-up – and how was it for you?

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The panel listens to a question from the audience at the Woolwich Riverside hustings.

The hustings for Charlton and Woolwich Riverside wards have come and gone, and there wasn’t one fist fight to report – barely even a cross word. A good amount of people turned out for both evenings, and those that stayed around to chat at the end seemed on both nights to think that the Charlton Society’s experiment in access to local democracy had been worthwhile. Discussions were civil – audience members had a chance to put to the candidates the local issues that were really bothering them, and candidates responded thoughtfully.

Questions put to the panels ranged widely across local topics: how to tackle youth crime, road safety, air quality, the council’s responsibility for public health and even the future of the Woolwich Ferry were all mentioned. Perhaps you couldn’t make it and you’d like to catch up? If you’re in Woolwich Riverside, and you’d like to find out:

  • why Labour’s Jackie Smith thought maybe one day Woolwich could be like Berlin,
  • which of the candidates had to admit to not having heard of Windrush School or
  • which of the candidates agree with rent control and landlord registration

there’s much much more detail to be found in this collection of recordings and tweets: Woolwich Riverside Hustings.

Or you’re in Charlton ward, and you’d like to know:

  • whose reaction to being shown around cycling infrastructure in the borough was ‘Christ, are these the good bits?’
  • who thinks that the treatment of Charlton House shows Charlton to be ‘an unwanted child’
  • or what the panel as a whole thought that councils should do with their new public health responsibilities

then, likewise, there’s much more for you to take in here:  Charlton Hustings.

In both meetings, one party’s candidates declined the invitation to appear: in Charlton, no Conservative candidates joined the meeting while in Woolwich Riverside none of the Liberal Democrat candidates appeared. In both cases, the Greenwich borough parties offered to send a substitute speaker, but the Charlton Society felt that the meetings would only keep their integrity as local hustings if only the candidates from that ward were on the panel.

It’s probably fair to say that many of the attendees were not entirely new to local politics, and in both meetings the hosts didn’t make a point of asking those submitting questions to declare interests or introduce themselves. It’s probably worth thinking about this for the next time we do something similar in Charlton. At both meetings, questions were asked by people active in party politics and the process might be more transparent if everybody knew who was asking what.

Did you go to one of the meetings? Were you happy with the way the candidates answered? Did you get out of the meeting what you hoped for? If you had anything to suggest to the organisers, what would it be? Let us know in the comments below.

UPDATE – 14th May

The organisers of the hustings meetings have been in touch to offer a correction:

To say “the Charlton Society felt that the meetings would only keep their integrity as local hustings if only the candidates from that ward were on the panel.”  isn’t accurate.

After it became clear that the three Riverside Lib Dems were unable to attend, the organisers went to some considerable effort to include Lib Dem candidates from the next door and nearby wards in the interests of providing as wide a range of views as possible on the night.  However, this was not considered acceptable by other attending candidates, and the organisers agreed that this was not an unreasonable position for them to take.  Consequently, it became impossible to reach a compromise with out-of-ward candidates from the Conservative party for the next night. The organisers were disappointed that in each case major parties were not represented during the discussions but hope that now a precedent has been set for running fair, well moderated and unbiased hustings events, all those seeking election for the future will be keen to attend and make their case in front of the voters.

Apologies to the Charlton Society for the initial error.

Meet the candidates: hustings for Charlton and Riverside wards

CharltonHustings_Poster_v4Local council elections will soon be upon us – they’re due to take place on the 22nd May – and now Charlton residents will have the opportunity to put questions to the candidates at two hustings for the Charlton and Riverside wards organised by the Charlton Society. Do you have questions for local candidates about how they’re going to make a difference in Charlton? Do you want to ask the parties what their priorities are?  This is your chance to make your voice heard.  All candidates for election have been invited to join the panel, and these events should be a good opportunity to understand more about the people that hope to represent us.  The Charlton Society write:

RiversideHustings_Poster_v2Please come along and hear what our prospective councillors have to say about the vital local issues facing our area in the next four years.

Each of the parties will make a brief opening statement, followed by questions from the floor.  These are free events supported by the Charlton Society and St Thomas Church.  All welcome.

  “These are the first ever Hustings to take place in Charlton and Woolwich Riverside.  We’re breaking new ground.  We anticipate that these will be two interesting and exciting evenings of debate on the future of our communities and the area we live in.  Charlton and Woolwich Riverside have an awful lot happening at the moment.  It’s an exciting place to be, with a great future if we get it right.”        Roden Richardson – Secretary, Charlton Society

Woolwich Riverside Ward Hustings – 7:30pm to 9pm on Sunday 11th May 2014 at St Thomas Church Hall, Woodland Terrace, SE7.

Charlton Hustings – 8pm to 9:30pm on Monday 12th May 2014 at Charlton House, SE7

Thinking of coming along? Going to give it a miss? Any thoughts on the format of the debate? Let us know in the comments below. You can also keep up with the Charlton Society on twitter (@TheCharltonSoc), and the Woolwich Riverside hustings has its own account there too (@RiversideWard14)