The SCT Sleep-In by Michele Kirsch

Michele Kirsch, a former New Hanbury Project student wrote this account of our first ever Sponsored Sleep-In held 2 weeks ago today.

A great and engaging writer, Michele has recently had an article published in the Independent!

Derek and Stuart Stride are the sort of brothers who could finish each other’s sentences, and often do, as they tell me about their personal history with SCT during the  recent 50th anniversary sponsored sleepover. Their dad was the vicar of Christ Church Spitalfields, and the sons, then in their teens, were roped in to help out with the shelter for homeless men with drink problems.

“They would drink anything. Meths. Paint stripper, whatever they could get their hands on. East London then was a bomb sight, and we saw some terrible things,” says one of the Stride brothers.

“They would drink anything. Meths. Paint stripper, whatever they could get their hands on. East London then was a bomb sight, and we saw some terrible things,”

They talk about trying to open the door once, but it was blocked by a dead body. “We thought he was just drunk, but he was dead. I wouldn’t say it didn’t bother us, but you just didn’t really think about it. It was just something you saw. You get to a point where nothing really surprises you.”

“It was very cold back then, the Crypt. And we didn’t call them clients or services users or any of the terms they use now.

They were friends, and sometimes they were not friends. Really, like an extended family. Sure, fights broke out, men would try to come in when they were really drunk, banging on the doors, but we managed.

Though they knew we were kids, it didn’t feel like they were thinking, ‘Oh, you are kids, what would you know?

“We knew enough. We tried to help as many as we could but all we could provide at the time was shelter, food, and support.

Now they’ve got activities and therapy and all sorts of treatments. We couldn’t do much, but our dad used to say that each day of life not on the streets could count as a success.”

Tonight we are here celebrating 50 years of success stories, or at least the efforts of SCT over the years to provide the drunk and disenfranchised with shelter, hope, compassion and recovery.

Tonight, people who could be sleeping in their own beds are camping down in the church for the night , to raise funds for SCT. 

Tonight, people who could be sleeping in their own beds are camping down in the church for the night , to raise funds for SCT. 

The Crypt now is unrecognisable to the one the Stride brothers recall. It is warm, has the polished wood air of a new build about it, and “campers” arrive to set up their spaces. Some are simply sleeping bags on the floor.  At least one takes the “glamping”approach.

I wander about, spotting the Tower Hamlets Speaker in all his finery. I also spot Princess Alexandra, who is tall, graceful, and wearing a spiffing velveteen paisley jacket. I am dying to ask her where she got it from, but it doesn’t seem the right opener for meeting Royalty.

 I also spot Princess Alexandra, who is tall, graceful, and wearing a spiffing velveteen paisley jacket. I am dying to ask her where she got it from, but it doesn’t seem the right opener for meeting Royalty.

She moves on and I chat with Micky Pickles. He is sturdy, but I can see emotion brimming in his eyes. He is recalling when he himself was homeless, spending some time in the Salvation Army, then going back to the streets. “I do feel very emotional tonight,” he admits.

“For me, coming back here is like coming home. Now I am working at Acorn House and we’ve come a long way. It’s not just about providing a roof or some food.

There are always things to do, and there is therapy. Nowadays, compared to then, we see drug misuse as well as alcohol, but there is so much support and no judgement.

One  thing that has not changed is a sense of belonging, that we are in a family.”

"One  thing that has not changed is a sense of belonging, that we are in a family.”

As I walk out into the cool night air, I see masses, crushing crowds of people outside the bars and pubs of Shoreditch. They all seem to be in Friday night, let’s get hammered, mode.

I wonder how many, if any, will come to discover, like I did, that getting hammered is not all it’s cracked up to be, and find themselves, eventually, in the healing local community that is SCT.

By Michele Kirsch

Photograph by Vicki Flores

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