We’ve been here at the heart of the South Bank and Waterloo since 1824, responding to whatever life - and love for our neighbour - requires of us. In 1940 a German firebomb destroyed the nave. Roofless but undaunted, services continued. In 1951, we stepped up to become the church of the Festival of Britain.
Today, we’re reaching out to those whose lives, already challenged by poverty and deprivation, have been made harder still by the pandemic, especially homeless people, young people aged 16-25 and local people needing practical and emotional support to find work.
We call our fast-evolving, many-faceted response programme Waterloo Well. Lockdown has caused us to have to put face-to-face projects on pause but we’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“Waterloo Well is about being there to provide wellbeing support where none exists to people who need it most.”
Susan Blishen, Project Manager, Waterloo Well, St John’s Waterloo
If you are homeless, living in hostels, dependent on day centres, or a young person feeling anxious, alone and hopeless about the future, the fact that yet another organisation is saying it wants to help, is probably not much comfort.
But at St John’s Waterloo we do things differently. Our partner organisation, The Bridge at Waterloo (TBAW) has created Waterloo Well to put the individual centre-stage. We’re listening to what excluded and vulnerable people tell us they want and we’re clearing barriers and providing opportunities to help them navigate to the next phase of their lives. For some that’s accommodation, training, employment or volunteering. For others it’s forming better relationships, escaping violence or just experiencing a sense of community.
We’re not doing this alone. With TBAW we are bringing other organisations across Lambeth and Southwark together to co-create a post-Covid community where no-one feels defeated by “the system”, there are no cracks to fall between and finding your way to the right help isn’t overwhelming.
We’re mapping what provision is already there across the youth sector in Lambeth and Southwark and taking an experimental approach to filling in the gaps and making things work better for homeless people. We believe Waterloo Well will benefit everyone: individuals in need, front-facing staff and volunteers. It’s not about service provision, it’s about rebuilding the relationships between us – all of us.
“We are a community organisation which means we don’t just serve those around us, we facilitate and encourage the art and the act of community. Waterloo Well is powered by community.”
Revd. Canon Giles Goddard
We’ve developed important partnerships with, among others, Coin Street Community Builders, and have started a listening campaign which kicked off with the help of Redthread, a Lambeth charity that works with young people affected by violence. Watch this space for details of the other youth organisations who’ll be taking part. And we’ve been finding out what people at the London City Mission Day Centre, Northcott House and Thames Reach’s Stamford Street hostels in Waterloo would really like the chance to do.
Our projects will evolve as needs change, funding increases and other delivery partners join us but currently Waterloo Well consists of:
Hostel reading group
We introduced national charity The Reader to a homeless hostel in Waterloo where they’ll shortly be running group reading sessions that promote social bonds. This is the only regular activity and the only group activity available to hostel residents and for some it is their only experience of community. We’re setting up a group for other Waterloo residents at St John’s too and look forward to the two groups meeting up at some stage!
Getting mental health therapy is difficult at the best of times, harder still if you’re homeless. As a start to making things easier, we’re sending a therapist to work with support workers and residents in a Lambeth hostel. The therapist will also get to know the homeless people who hang out in our churchyard, to see what kind of support they might welcome, if any.
Here for Work
TBAW has been running employment training for the past five years now and thanks to our strong relationships with the South Bank Employers’ Group and South Bank BID, we’ve been able to send 95% of our students straight to interview and into permanent jobs. We’re now running courses with more emphasis on resilience, in partnership with Big Local, Bermondsey, and with Waterloo hostels. The job market may be more challenging but our networks are stronger than ever. (Read more)
We’re training mentors to provide 12 weeks of 1-1 support to graduates of our Here for Work employment training to help them secure and settle into work.
Journalist Samir Jeraj and local homeless people are recording a podcast series, with support from Morley Radio, that captures the lived experienced of Cardboard City and life on the streets around St John’s over the last 40 years.
We have recruited an artist-in-residence to work in homeless hostels, at St John’s and with our youth and community partners to help people find new creative ways of responding to the times and experience better wellbeing through the arts.
Digital and Music creatives
In partnership with Accumulate, the art school for the homeless, and IKLECTIK, North Lambeth’s experimental, inter-disciplinary arts venue, we’re finding young people with an interest in creative digital skills and offering them the chance to be trained by leading professionals at the Augmented Instruments Lab (part of Queen Mary University's Centre for Digital Music).
We are scoping an accessible ‘street therapy service’, sending a team of psychologists out to work with vulnerable young people on the street and in the places they go to - cafes, parks, McDonald’s!
The wellness and resilience benefits of gardening are well-supported but marginalised groups rarely have an opportunity to experience these effects. Our therapeutic gardening programme visits multiple local hostels every week, transforming their outdoor areas into functional, manageable green spaces. The programme’s focus is on consistent empowerment and support, helping residents take ownership of the spaces so they can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of gardening on their own time and on their own terms.
Revd. Canon Giles Goddard, Vicar of St John’s Waterloo
"We don’t allow ourselves to be limited by our own capabilities or resources or space. We go out and we make things happen with and between others.
We’re unbound by process and unlimited by self-interest. We don’t need to own our projects or make a profit from them. We have no agenda except to act in the best interest of the community."
Susan Blishen, Project Manager
“What’s exciting about Waterloo Well is that we’re embedding therapeutic approaches into our work and equipping everyone involved to access the support they need in the way that they need it.”
Daniel Gregory, Here for Work Manager
“We’re here to help local people struggling to find work in this post-Covid world. Job-searching and making applications starts on the course but that’s only the beginning. We match people with mentors and we stick with them for the long run.”
Euchar Gravina, Artistic Director, St John’s Waterloo
“For me what’s important is that we are bringing young and homeless people together with artists and therapists to devise creative ways of enhancing wellbeing that others will want to be part of.”
Jay Perkins, Child, Adolescent and Family Psychodynamic Pscyhotherapist
“We’re putting an overarching therapeutic and psychological approach in place to help both our community’s most vulnerable members and also the front-line workers who engage and support them.”
Dr Harriet Mills, Clinical Psychologist
“I’m passionate about community psychology and for Waterloo Well I’m working alongside young people and youth groups to co-produce solutions to mental health and social inequality.”
Vicky Moran, Artist-in-residence
''Our society is made up of beautiful diverse people, and every single person deserves to feel seen and heard. Art is a powerful tool to share stories, connect communities, and change the world for the better."
Funders, partners and the future
Thanks to grants from the London Community Response Fund we have enough funds to pilot Waterloo Well with homeless people to find out what works for them and what they’d like us to do in future. Funding from Allchurches Trust will help us test new approaches and find out how best we and our partners can support young people.
By spring 2021, we’ll be running a range of activities shaped by the people we engage with. And we’ll be nurturing new therapeutic-pscyhological practices that improve the mental health of vulnerable individuals and the staff and volunteers who work with them – practices that the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), are ready to help spread.
Waterloo Well will be full steam ahead … depending on further funding. If you think you can help, please get in touch.
Get in touch
We’re always keen to talk to potential new partners, volunteers, donors and sponsors so if you’d like to get in touch, please contact Susan Blishen (firstname.lastname@example.org) our Waterloo Well Project Manager at St John’s Waterloo.