A common delusion perpetuated by cynicism and a general mistrust directed towards the better-known charitable organisations is that philanthropy is dead. Big business charities funded by government bodies are often caught up in the same political scepticism that, despite the best wishes of those involved, become an unfortunate and inevitable sidekick to the often reprehensible natures of the systems they rely upon. As the wheels of our ‘big society’ collect speed, demanding ever more from us in terms of time and resources, it can be easy to forget that there are many who have been left behind or slipped through the spokes, especially in a city as vast and callous as London.
Fortunately, philanthropy is not dead, and for all its sprawling anonymity, London has become the home to one of the most altruistic grass root projects focused on reaching out to those most in need, despite the often-oppressive restrictions these ventures find themselves combating. This week I was invited to catch a small glimpse into some of the work one of these factions provides; A Three Course Story in association with the North London Action for the Homeless (NLAH), and in turn be allowed the opportunity to discover the sincere and generous efforts these institutes represent.
Hosted by the generous owners of Stoke Newington’s bar and restaurant Oui Madame, the evening acted as a chance to learn the stories behind some of the service users of NLAH and to draw attention to their lifestyles and journeys towards their current situations. More than a fundraising drive or a means of gaining support, it was an eye-opening look into what exactly a service such as the NLAH provides and a way of interacting with workers and volunteers as well as the users.
The main draw of the evening was in uncovering the ethos behind Rosie Spinks’ blog: A Three Course Story. As well as volunteering both the two nights a week that the NLAH provides a three-course meal to those in need, Rosie also takes the time to interview the service users and give a voice to their stories. Selections of those interviews, accompanied by fantastically resonant prints drawn by the talented Lucie Galand (and offering a means to placing a face to the tale in a style reminiscent of the hyper-realistic line style of Quentin Blake or Posie Simmons), were displayed around the downstairs venue of Oui Madame’s cosy and intimate setting. These prints were on offer to patrons as keepsakes of the evening and a lasting reminder of the struggles of London’s vulnerable and frequently ignored.
For a small fee there was a selection of food on offer, provided by the good people at Baking Bridges, tempting hungry guests with paleo and gluten-free baked goods and treats such as paprika and parmesan popcorn, baked curry and sweet potato fries and my personal favourite, the tantalisingly spicy and velvety green chilli cornbread. Baking Bridges share the same charitable mentality as that of the NLAH, offering their profits towards homeless projects as well as funding cooking classes in local primary schools.
In between mingling with the service providers and users, there were also poetry readings and songs inspired by the stories from guest speakers. These recitals pleasantly punctuated the night and captivated the audience’s attentions without crossing the line into ham-fisted sentimentality.
I’d like to personally thank Rosie, Lucie, Grant, Mike and Amy as well as the many volunteers who work with them and the users I met that evening for inviting me to their event, and wish them the best of luck with their tireless endeavours. If you haven’t yet heard of Rosie Spinks’ blog or would like to discover more for yourself, you can follow our links to her website. If you yourself are touched or moved by these stories and want to offer your time as a volunteer, there are opportunities to do so from there, as well as the NLAH website.
Words and photography by Duncan Stevens