I was in town today. There’s a sloping wall that takes you round from the car park to Argos, and as I walked past, I noticed a familiar face. It was a particularly windy and cold day and a lady was sat on the floor wearing a fleece. As I got closer I recognised her. I’ve never seen her out begging before – I’ve often seen her sex-working, but not begging. It shocked me when I saw her, as I didn’t expect her to be there begging…, she must be feeling quite desperate.
She said hello to me, and then I went off to do my shopping. When I came back, I stopped and knelt down next to her and asked her ‘why are you here?’ . I knew really – but I just wanted to check with her that she was OK. ‘I need the money, Lyndsey’. I said ‘you’re not sitting on the pavement are you’. She said ‘No, I’m sat on my bag’. I asked her to come to the Drop-in tomorrow and she did.
Last Thursday, after coming for a few weeks, she came back in again for the Drop-In. We were all around the tables, we’d had something to eat and she stood up and said ‘ I really feel part of this group now, it feels like home and it’s taken me 5 years to get here, and get through the door’.
That’s how it is, it can take people 5 years to get through our door. You don’t give up, we don’t give up, you keep supporting them on the street – signposting them, giving them information and advice. To actually see someone after all that time come through the door is great and particularly when they realise it’s not as scary a process as they perceived. They’re asked to come through doors all of their life and its places where they don’t want to go. Places where they’re forced to go, like probation, court, solicitor’s offices, benefits offices etc, which often are not nice experiences. She soon realised that we were not demanding anything of her, we are here for her, our service is tailored for them.
At the Drop-In a few weeks ago the ladies choir practice was taking place, in preparation for the concert we’re hosting at the Cathedral in October. She sat there while we were practicing….and then out of the blue, she stood up and began to sing. And honestly, I was astonished – she could easily hold her own on the X-Factor, her pitch and tone were perfect, and she was then giving tips to the other ladies – how to hold a note, what pitch they should be singing in…truly amazing. It blew me away.
When you meet women on the street who are street sex-workers you’ll often just see what’s in front of you, it’s not always possible to peel back the layers to see the talent that is often hidden deep within. These women haven’t always had the best life chances or opportunities.
The other ladies were as surprised as me when this beautiful voice came out. She doesn’t look the like a glamorous singer, but we all had goose-bumps.
It was clear that our response to her, made her feel valued, which is why she then came back again and again.
I still see her out on the streets at night, It will be a long hard road for her however, she said something to me, which has stuck with me ‘One thing I can say I’ve never harmed anyone else, I’ve only harmed myself’ – that’s how she saw it, and she said it with pride.