Making a difference

jw2-1John with a fellow volunteer in Walthamstow

There’s a team of dedicated Wanstead folk working on a daily basis to help local rough sleepers and those less fortunate than many of us. Could you help them? Samantha Earl reports

John Wagstaff of Petty Son and Prestwich is one of these dedicated folk who can often be found sorting, organising and distributing various donations to different shelters and food banks. And until recently, John was helping out Wanstead charity worker Frank Charles and T-Space’s Jason Harris every Friday by giving out clothes, sleeping bags and other much-needed items at the Stratford Centre.

Every week, John, Frank and Jason would arrive at the Stratford Centre at 6am – early because those sleeping rough are moved on by security. But out of sight shouldn’t ever be out of mind, so the team arrived with a large estate SUV full to the brim with bags of donations, generously provided by the amazing Wanstead community. Frank brought a huge bag of food to hand out, while John and Jason set up a large table of the clothes.

The team encountered 20 to 40 rough sleepers each week, and one in 10 were female. In the team’s experience, these people were often timid but always grateful, only taking as much as was essential, often commenting that “someone else might need it more.”

Seeing faces light up momentarily when handed a warm hoodie and something to eat drives this team to keep doing what they do. But once fed and briefly warmed up, these people then have to move on as there is nowhere for them to go in Newham, certainly not in Stratford. There are no washing facilities for those whose home is the Stratford Centre, no public toilets and very few shelters that open during the day. It’s a dire, desperate situation, and whilst it was once worse with rows and rows of tents lined up under the flyover (Tent City), which have thankfully now gone, there is still a long way to go.

Frank, John and Jason look out for those who literally have nothing. Frank knows the streets, and his experience and knowledge can point these desperate people towards the very few places available.

As Frank continues with his breakfast trips to Stratford, John has more recently started helping Waltham Forest Feet on the Streets. ”This takes place on Thursday evenings alongside the Christian Kitchen in Mission Grove car park, Walthamstow. We accompany Mags Drummond and her volunteers, who bring coffee and tea, with our large selection of clothes. Mags is extremely active within the homeless community and sees those without a home as an extended family. She is incredibly inspirational,” said John.

And while food and warm clothes go a long way, a little humour, kindness and time goes even further. A handshake, an exchange of names and a friendly chat can leave them with the one thing that could make a difference: hope. Hope that could help them through another week.

For more information, call 020 8989 2091