"Passionate people...the secret to HARP's success" - HARP Trustee Peter shares his story
Peter Thorn has been a trustee at HARP since its inception, and over the years has had a number of roles on the board.
“At the moment I’m on the Fundraising Committee at HARP, but in the past I’ve been Deputy Chair, Treasurer, just about anything you can think of really!”
Peter’s involvement with homelessness stretches back to before HARP existed.
“I first got involved in the 90s as a member of Serving The Homeless, and as HARP was being formed in around 2001, I was actively involved in a team that brought everyone together to merge the separate Night Shelter and Day Centre services that we had back then”.
Peter remembers a few teething problems during the process.
“When you have two independent charities coming together, inevitably you get a bit of resistance, so it was a challenge. But eventually, once all parties really had time to think about it properly, everyone came around and could see the benefits of merging.”
In the early days, there was a lot of momentum as everyone involved rolled up their sleeves to help establish HARP as a new charity.
“It was exciting - there was a feeling that we were all starting out on an adventure. Serving The Homeless were heavily involved, securing property, and we would all get stuck in, get the paint brushes out and really be involved in the nitty gritty!”
Financially, HARP was on a precarious footing, with a number of short-term and informal leases in place for the property it was able to work from or offer to clients.
“I always thought that owning its own property was the way for HARP to secure its own future. I’m so grateful that the other trustees and our supporters like Serving The Homeless shared this vision, but it was a long way off then!”
Peter has seen a lot of changes and successes over the years at HARP, and he has no doubts as to the reason for HARP’s accomplishments.
“It’s all about the people! We’ve always been so lucky to have staff, volunteers and trustees who are so passionate about homelessness. I’ve never been involved in another charity that has such passionate people, and that is the secret to HARP’s success.”
Like many of HARP’s team, Peter’s motivation to get involved in homelessness comes from personal experience.
“I’ve always been passionate about homelessness. It nearly happened to me once, which I think makes you more aware of the situation.”
Over the years, Peter has met and helped many HARP clients, but one story in particular stands out in his memory.
“There was a woman in the old night shelter, and I got chatting to her and she told me it was her 60th birthday that day. She said she’d never expected to be living like this on her 60th birthday.”
Peter got to know the woman’s situation a bit better, learning more about what led her to become homeless and having to seek HARP’s help.
“Her husband who was disabled sadly died, and he did all of the banking, paid all the bills, and just generally kept them secure financially. When he passed, she just didn’t have the skills to cope and had gotten into debt!”
Having a background in banking, Peter accompanied the woman to the bank and met with a clerk there to see if they could arrange a plan to repay her debts.
“Basically, every time she got her benefit paid in, it was swallowed up by her overdraft, and so she couldn’t access a penny. So I spoke to the clerk and asked if they could rearrange the debt so that the woman could pay it off at £1 a week whilst still having access to her cash. The clerk saw that this was reasonable, phoned her Head Office and pleaded with them to do this. They say sense and agreed, and the woman could then start to rebuilt her finances.”
Having spent time looking back on his time with the charity, Peter is also looking forward to the next chapter in HARP’s development.
“Bluebird is truly exciting, and we have a new Chief Executive joining us, Vanessa, so the next few years at HARP will be really very interesting and I can’t wait to see how the charity grows and adapts to the ever changing homelessness situation in Southend.”
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.
And don't forget - we're not just celebrating the past, we're also looking to the future. You can give blue skies and bright futures to local people experiencing homelessness by supporting our Bluebird Appeal.