Robert Gwynne’s bushy beard was one of his defining characteristics amongst the homeless and vulnerable who find comfort, shelter and kindness at The Bradbury Centre in Southend.
A beard to be proud of, it had taken him eight months to grow but in the name of HARP, Southend’s only independent homeless charity, it was time to shave it off.
By way of a thank you for all the acts of kindness Robert has experienced from caring HARP staff, he set his heart on the idea of a sponsored shave off with the aim of buying a bench or garden furniture for the Centre’s service users.
Robert, 57, a security officer for 38 years who became homeless after his marriage broke up said: “I don’t know where I would be without HARP. I sometimes sleep rough but HARP always helps me with a meal and clothes and when I come to the Day Centre I have company. HARP as an organization is wonderful, I would say it has saved my life. Without HARP I wouldn’t be here. ”
Now with the pledge of £150 from volunteers and their families Bob’s bushy beard is no more.
Talking in The Bradbury Centre garden Robert said: “ I stay at a friend’s some nights and at this time of year I don’t mind being outside waking to the sound of birdsong but it is a hard life and I never give up and HARP is always there to help me.”
The Bradbury Centre in York Road, Southend, is the only Emergency Night Shelter for the homeless in Southed. It opened last year in the refurbished Darnley Hotel offering accommodation in 18 single rooms. Funded largely by public donations and philanthropy, it not only offers accommodation but a full service network of support workers offering advice on housing prevention, medical and financial matters. Service users can access showers, clean clothes and food. For many vulnerable people on the journey to pick up the threads of their lives a Meaningful Activity Programme can also give them a sense of worth.
Robert was encouraged in his sponsored shave by Collette Hallett HARP’s Volunteer Co-ordinator : “ This has been quite a talking point for Robert. He was very keen to find a way to give something back to HARP, something which the service users could benefit from in the garden.”
Gareth Evans, Meaningful Activities programme co-ordinator has organized a group of service users to paint fences and food and clothes store sheds in the garden.
Gareth said: “ This gives our service users a sense of achievement. Robert is very proud to have raised money for the Centre. It has made a big difference to him and given him a sense of purpose.”
Chief Executive Gill Garwood said : “ We try to create a homely atmosphere at The Bradbury Centre. The homeless need support, accommodation and Meaningful Activity to give purpose to their lives.”
“Our mission is to End Rough Sleeping by 2018 and with the help of the public we will do it.
“Nobody should be alone on the streets. We want to send out a message that someone cares.”
HARP’s campaign to End Rough Sleeping by 2018 gains pace this summer with the opening of a specialist supported 11 bedroom hostel to help long term rough sleepers get back on their feet.
HARP is the only service provider in the town with the expertise and experience of working with the vulnerable long term homeless.
Mental health issues and drug or alcohol misuse are often associated with long term homelessness.