Chief Executive Lisa Lewis’s Report to the Doorway AGM

(This report, written by Lisa, was read at the AGM by Doorway Administrator Sian, in the  absence of Lisa, who was unfortunately unavailable through sickness).

Lisa being interviewed by Mark Horvath July 2012

Chief Executive Report to the Doorway Wiltshire Ltd AGM
21st November 2012

As you are all aware, we regularly invite our guests to provide feedback to us so that we can both monitor the effectiveness of our service and also look at ways in which we can further develop the work that we do. The following was written by a guest a couple of months ago and this really sums up why we, at Doorway, do what we do…:

“I have recently started using Doorway after being made homeless, after feeling suicidal and depressed I felt alone and lost. After 5 weeks of visiting Doorway Lisa, Mike and all the team at Doorway I have been given a huge amount of support including legal advice, food, emotional support, clothing. I have come to realise that I am not useless, I know for a fact that without this service and support I would surely not be alive today. My deepest respect to staff and volunteers for a life saving service.”

Now life at Doorway is never dull, and I have mentioned before that working at Doorway is very much like riding a very fast emotional rollercoaster. I will happily admit that there are times, when I question why we put ourselves through the stresses and frustrations of the day to day running of our organisation.

Why? Because of the results that we regularly achieve. Because we make life just a little bit better for our guests. Because we do actually save lives. And because when we speak out on behalf of those who are most excluded in our local community, we are now starting to be heard both locally and nationally.

Over the last 18 months we have written and published three significant, and very topical, reports that have received very good feedback from organisations throughout the country.

– “The Devil in Cider” report was written by Martin, one of our volunteers after we conducted a survey on white cider, superstrength lagers and minimum alcohol pricing

– “The Face of Homelessness” report was based on the conclusions of the in depth guest survey that was carried out in 2010, and suggests that the state and society are failing to deal with the interconnected issues faced by the homeless.

– “The Welfare Reforms & Agency” report was based on data taken from the 2012 guest survey, and assumes that in an ideal society there should be the concept of effective agency; ie that people should be autonomous and in control of their lives. The report concludes that our guests’ lives are being greatly affected by the current welfare reforms and that their experiences of this should be recorded, and therefore their voices heard.

Doorway has also been regularly featured in both local and national publications including:
• The Gazette and Herald newspaper, whose support for us has been phenomenal over the last few years.
• Inside Housing magazine which is known to be the leading national publication for the housing sector.
• Homeless Link’s Connect Magazine which published our article on rural homelessness, small charities, and engaging with the local community.
• Channel Four News producers and presenters also met with me with the intention of featuring ex service homeless personnel on an extended news programme. Unfortunately, after the meeting I decided that it wasn’t in the best interests of our guests to be portrayed on national television on this occasion.
• Doorway has also been mentioned, very recently, in “Talk of the Town” and the “Chippenham Advertiser” and we have just had an article (written by a volunteer) published in Wiltshire Life
• BBC Radio Wiltshire has contacted me on numerous occasions (often with very little notice) for my opinion on breaking news items if they are relevant to the work that we do.

The fact that we are regularly being approached in order to provide quotes or articles confirms that even though we are a small rural organisation, we are gaining credibility throughout the sector on a national level.

This was further reinforced in June this year when Mark Horvath visited a drop-in session. I have built up a good Twitter relationship with Mark over the last couple of years and it was his work with that inspired me to both set up our community blog and utilise the power of social media in order to relay the stories of our guests to a wide audience. Mark undertook a 10-day UK road trip (sponsored by British Airways) in order to learn more about homelessness over this side of the pond. Due to the rather vocal nature of my arguments around the issue of rural homelessness being very different to that which occurs in the bigger cities, Mark decided to visit Doorway as his only excursion to an organisation outside of London.

To put his visit into some sort of perspective, the US Huffington Post named Mark one of 11 Twitter activists everyone should follow. YouTube gave InvisiblePeople.TV unprecedented exposure allowing Horvath to curate YouTube’s homepage for a day.

The media coverage that we subsequently got from this visit was phenomenal. Not only did the article that Mark wrote on his visit to Doorway get published on Huffington Post US and UK but also was featured on the Guardian website. There was a very strange moment in the world of Twitter when one of his tweets about Doorway was retweeted (in the US) over 250 times in the space of just a couple of minutes. The fall out from this was that my phone nearly died from the overload of beeping.

Fundraising is one of those aspects of our organisation that has developed, over the course of the last year, in ways that I never imagined was possible.Not only have we proved that a higher percentage of donations have come from the local community than ever before but the range of activities, events and organisations that are supporting us has become more diverse and more ‘outside the box’ for example members of the public have:
• Walked the 184 mile Thames Path
• Run marathons, half marathons and 10k races
• Cycled from John O’ Groats to Lands End
• One of our volunteers got married and asked for donations instead of wedding presents
• Local businesses such as Barclays, John Lewis and Wadworth have organised gig nights, coffee mornings, balls and dinner dances,
• Community fundraising schemes have taken place through stores such as Costcutter, Waitrose and Esso
• The MOD Corsham, the Churches, local Rotary Clubs, Schools and other local organisations such as Hermann Miller and C&P Medical Training have all donated generously to support Doorway over the last financial year.
• The newly rejuvenated Friends of Doorway have been extremely successful in their active fundraising over the last year including the now legendary January SleepOut, the Spring Fair, Flash Mob, street collections in all the local major towns, and various other appearances around the area including the local Art in The Park event.

Raising our profile in the local community and highlighting the issues surrounding homelessness has also been made possible over the last year with appearances at award ceremonies.
• Doorway was nominated for two awards at the 2011 Wiltshire Health & Wellbeing Awards ceremony in Salisbury. We were shortlisted for the ‘Reducing smoking prevalence and/or preventing alcohol & drug abuse in children, young people and adults’, which we won last year; and we won a Highly Commended award for our contribution to ‘Improving mental health and wellbeing’. This means that we have now won awards for both of the categories in which we work and
• Last month we were shortlisted for an award at the Wiltshire Council & NHS Wiltshire Voluntary and Community Awards ceremony. I am incredibly proud that, although we didn’t win our category for “Improving Quality of Life”, we were up against two incredibly large and influential organisations – 1. The Wiltshire Links Scheme which has 1600 volunteers and 2. Age UK Wiltshire & Age UK Salisbury.
However, we cannot be complacent. I predict that 2013 will be an incredibly challenging year for both our organisation and our guests. The DWP’s Welfare Reform Bill will be introduced from April and this will have devastating consequences on the lives of our guests. Reducing housing benefit for under 25’s; introduction of the bedroom tax; changes to the DLA system; cap on benefits; non dependant deductions and the new universal credit system will have a serious impact on the lives of both our current and our future guests. Doorway needs to be ready for the increased demand on our services.

So, to sum up, it has been a rather extraordinary year in the life of Doorway. However, none of this has been achieved without the strong, cohesive and highly committed team of staff, volunteers and trustees. I would like to thank you all for the time, effort and commitment that you have given to Doorway over the last year. I am incredibly grateful to every one of you, for enabling us to continue to provide an exemplary service to our local community.

And so to finish on another quote, this time by Al Summers who facilitates our monthly music sessions:
“It is impossible to measure the knock-on effect of what Doorway does is. I know of several people for whom it has dramatically transformed their lives, sometimes practically, often in important but less obvious ways – such as self-esteem and hope for the future. I particularly notice the social effect: marginalised people with little or no sense of self-worth mutually supporting each other, caring for and about other people.
Doorway’s value to society is impossible to estimate [but very easy to underestimate]. I also work with police personnel and nurses: those who know about Doorway tell me they recognise that its work saves the NHS and Police services vast amounts of money and resources.”

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