#OpSafeWinter Bournemouth ” This story will melt your heart”.

Scrooged was the first film I ever saw at the pictures and it inspired me massively at at the tender age of 10. The famous speech Bill Murray gave about the Christmas miracle always got me. To this day I have never been able to sing along to it because I’m always crying.
When I heard about opsafewinter organised by Anonymous this year, I knew I wanted to get involved.

So on the 21st December I packed up some sandwiches and mince pies, found some blankets that I don’t use anymore and was ready. Except outside the weather was awful. And when I say awful, I mean torrential rain and gale force winds. The children and I got dressed up in our ski jackets and wellies, hats, scarves and gloves and we set out to the town rendezvous.

My heart was beating when we got there. The three of us got out of the car and gasped as a massive gust blasted us with rain. ‘This is a stupid idea’ I thought.

There were some smiling faces greeting me from the car park. As I approached I beamed my biggest smile, waved hello and cautiously shouted through the howling wind ‘not to put a downer on things, but will anyone even be out in this weather? Will they be in their usual spots?’ Surely not.

We all walked to the group that were stood huddled in the doorway of Bournemouth pier where the organisers suggested we try Westover Road. ‘There’s a bit of a cover there, they might be some people there we should try first.’

So we walked through the howling wind and rain, got onto Westover Road which was packed with cinema goers and Christmas shoppers.

I have to admit it, I gasped and stopped in my tracks when I noticed a man sat on the street, huddled with his knees tucked in, staring at the floor. The group hurried towards him. A frightened face looked up, not knowing what was going on as this small crowd of men women and children looked at him with smiles.

‘Hello mate, can I give you a blanket and some food?’ one woman said as I stood there a little bit dumb struck. He was given a coat, pairs of socks, a hat, blanket and a packed lunch. He pointed up the road stating there were more. He smiled, said thank you and shook our hands. He was soaking wet, so cold when he shook my hand, his hands were swollen with cold and were a purple colour.
Just up the road, we met a Big Issue seller dressed up in a Santa outfit. He was rather speechless when we approached. I said ‘Merry Christmas! Can we get you some food and a blanket?’ He was a lovely man, a big smile. He was huddled in a doorway for shelter selling his magazines.

I had stupidly thought no one would be out in the cold weather. Like they had a choice. A part of me really believed that when things got really bad, there would always be somewhere for them to go to get out of the freezing weather. Yet here this man was, selling magazines in weather that was making me shiver in my thermals, just so he could survive.

My children said hello and introduced themselves. The man in the Santa suit asked them what they wanted for Christmas. I really couldn’t believe it. These are the people we pass every day on the street. Not even noticing.

My children were looking as humble as I was. I thought my four year old would complain she was tired or thirsty or hungry or cold. She complains at the short walk home from school in the sunshine normally. But she didn’t today. By now she was looking around. ‘Mummy, there’s a man sat on the floor over there’ and pulled my coat to move faster.

We went on. The next man was curled up so tight we almost missed him. One of the women shouted ‘over here!’ he was in the rain sat by the Slug and Lettuce bar. It was absolutely packed and people were stood next to him having a cigarette. They didn’t even know he was there. The first thing I noticed were his shoes. Or lack of them. He had old office shoes on that were full of holes that were clearly too small for him. The back of the heels were squashed down because his foot was too big and they looked a bit like slip on shoes from a distance. His socks were sodden through. He was soaked from head to foot and I could see him shivering really strongly. I can’t even imagine how cold he must have been.
Everyone wrapped blankets around him, gave him a sleeping bag. ‘What else can we get for you?’ came a voice from behind an Anon mask. ‘Do you have any shoes? Size 8?’ We didn’t have any shoes. I would have given him the shoes off my feet if I were a size 8.
He looked dazed and confused. We did our best to huddle him up and make him comfortable. He kept saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’.

 After going everywhere we could think of in town, it was suggested we call it a day. ‘I know of people down by the Asda car park in town’ I said. The amount of times I had passed these people and the amount of times I had felt guilty for being too nervous to approach them.

What was I scared of? It is so simple! ‘What can I do to help? What do you need? HERE!’ and just do something. How hard is that? It’s the simplest and humblest thing I can think of.

We got to Asda and there they were.

The skin and bone of a man in the wheel chair and the woman who looked after him, sat in the lower car park, in the dark, huddled together.

The man was hunched over, staring at the floor. He raised his head slowly when we approached, like he didn’t have the energy to move any faster. It broke my heart.

The woman was quite young but the streets had aged her beyond her years. She was so friendly and talked to all the children. She beamed at them and asked them their names. My little girl gave her a hug.
They had nothing with them but a bottle of juice. We gave them food, hats, gloves and blankets.

All in all, we gave food, blankets and clothing to around 12 people around the centre of Bournemouth. It was an incredibly humbling experience and one I am eager to repeat in the future. Believe it or not, homeless people genuinely have no place to go, even in torrential rain and gale force winds in winter. I’m sat here writing this blog, looking at my Christmas tree and the roof over our heads and feeling so very grateful beyond words.

My son wants to get his school involved in donating supplies for the next event. My little girl upon coming home, who was cold and wet herself ran into her bedroom and got out our camping sleeping bag.

 She laid it out in the hall and began processing what she had learned the only way a four year old can. Through play. She made herself a little area in the hall way, got into her sleeping bag and started singing to herself. As for me. I have left it far too long. I wanted to do this years ago. I am glad to have made a start. That’s the thing. It’s never to late to start. I will be going back in the new year once I have my therapy room so I can work with them one to one to help them out of whatever hell that got them where they are now.

  3 comments for “#OpSafeWinter Bournemouth ” This story will melt your heart”.

  1. avatar
    anonymous Nick
    December 22, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    You and your childrens journey really moved me. Having been homeless this year I know how much this counts to every one you helped. Thank you.

  2. avatar
    January 2, 2014 at 12:42 am

    I would just like to say I applaud you, when I first heard of #OpSafeWinter I wondered whether it would reach our not-so-sunny shores or whether it would stay in the states as many things seem to, and when I saw not only has it hit in our country, but so close to my Hometown of Poole I will admit I was humbled, I constantly sit here thinking about those homeless or less fortunate than myself and wish to help them, but I’m always so busy I’ve never found the time, seeing this project and hearing of others so close doing what sounds like absolutely amazing work, I would like to say that from now on I will follow in your footsteps, after all, what is £5 to me but a bit of spare change, when to someone who’s homeless, it’s food for a day…. Your story really has opened my eyes as to just how easy it is, and just how much of a difference it makes… Thankyou

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