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“It’s about transforming lives for good” - Jo’s Story of Supporting HARP for 20 Years

Laura and Dy

As we continue to celebrate our joint 20th anniversary with CHESS Homeless in Chelmsford, we spoke with Jo Ronan of Serving The Homeless, who have supported homelessness causes in Southend since before HARP existed, and have been amazing supporters of our charity since its inception.

Serving The Homeless (STH) is a well-established ecumenical charity based in Southend-on-Sea, meaning that they represent and comprise of members of a number of different Christian churches in the area, who are united in the mission to help alleviate local homelessness.

“We started Serving The Homeless in 1989 as a cross-church Charity comprising of Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches in Leigh-on-Sea, that would work together to support single homeless people in the area. We knew that families with children who were homeless could get help from the Council, but there was no statuary right to Council or government assistance for single people.” There were a number of fledgling homelessness services in the town in the late 80s, responding to the growing needs of people affected by poverty in Southend. “At that time there was a Day Centre in Valkyrie Road and a Night Shelter in York Road. They were separate entities, and we worked closely with both to provide volunteers, and to raise funds through events to help pay for their services.” Due to the housing crash of the early 90s, STH spotted an opportunity to purchase property for use by homeless people. “We organised around six events per year to raise funds - things like quizzes, sleep outs, jazz nights, wine tastings - so many different, varied events to raise as much money as we could. We then used this money to purchase property which would be lived in by local people experiencing homelessness”. Throughout the 90s, this plan worked well while property prices remained low. “We bought two flats for £20k each, and then our first big contribution was to purchase a six-bed property in Station Road. Between 1990 and 2000 we’d acquired 13 bed spaces in total.” In 2002, recognising that the separate Night Shelter and Day Centre wasn’t the best use of resources, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, as it was then known, called a meeting to suggest the merging of the two organisations. “We were invited along and it was suggested that a new charity called Homeless Action Resource Project (now known simply as HARP) be formed to manage both the Day and Night services, and to develop homelessness services in the town. STH agreed that this was a great idea and we supported the transition.” HARP was formed in 2002 and in the early days found it difficult to attract significant funding. One of HARP’s Trustees, Peter Thorn, told Jo and STH that he felt that if HARP could begin to own its own properties it would enable it to attract more funding.

“We decided to get to work raising money to help get HARP off the ground. We focussed all our energy on this for three years, and in January 2006 we presented a cheque for £70,000 to HARP at our service of Praise and Thanksgiving at St Clements Church, Leigh!” This donation, and the purchase of the freehold of the church in Valkyrie Road that it enabled, really kickstarted HARP, and was one of the first major events which led to HARP eventually being a charity that is able to support around 1,000 people every year and house over 230 people every night. “Eventually, we handed ownership of the 13 properties that we owned over to HARP too. We recognised that we didn’t have the expertise nor did we really want to be the ones providing the support that people often need to maintain their tenancy, so it made sense for us to handover the properties to the experts at HARP, whilst we concentrated on fundraising.” STH continue to actively and passionately support HARP and other homelessness organisations in Southend. “We donate at least £3,500 per year as a cash donation to help fund various HARP projects, we donate food every week, we’ve supported the Trees For Life project where HARP clients go to Scotland to work in the woods, we’ve supported the HARP football Meaningful Activity project, and we even provide turkeys for Christmas dinners!" Jo has seen lots of changes of the years that STH have supported HARP. “So much has changed, it’s so professional now and the range of services to suit different people and their needs is truly impressive, from people with complex needs through to young people who don’t have that family support.” There’s one thing that hasn’t changed though, and that is HARP’s commitment to help people turn their lives around, rather than just provide temporary relief.

“We’re so happy to help HARP in any way we can because we have always agreed with their mission - it’s not just about food, or shelter, it’s about transforming lives for good. That’s always been the case and it still the case now!”

We’re so grateful to Jo, Serving The Homeless, and of all our supporters. Without you, we couldn’t do what we do - thank you.


This is part of our series Two Charities, 20 Years, 20 Stories, celebrating the joint 20th anniversaries of Essex homelessness charities - HARP in Southend and CHESS Homeless in Chelmsford. To read more, visit the Two Charities, 20 Years, 20 Stories Hub.


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