For you to become more familiar with the beneficiaries of our charity raffle and auction at the anniversary event, we’ve invited Gwen and Mahua to tell us about Bede House!
Hi, you two! We’re excited that you agreed to do this interview! Could you please tell me a bit about who you are and who the organisation is for?
Bede helps people in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe to help themselves and each other. We support people with learning disabilities, local young people and survivors of domestic abuse, and there are lots of opportunities for local people to volunteer and work in the local community. We provide the space for people to make friends in a supportive atmosphere, learn new skills and develop their confidence to do whatever they want to do – to find freedom, safety and independence.
Wow, this is really great! You are really touching upon so many important aspects vital for people and struggling families. How would you say that your work impacts the community around you and the people living in it?
Having someone to walk alongside you during an important or challenging time can create a butterfly effect influencing several future generations. We have been going since 1938 and have deep roots in the local area, and we see that happen in practice over the years.
There is no doubt that you have several things to be proud of in your work, but what are you most proud about when you think about Bede House?
Oh, that’s a difficult one! As you say, there are so many positive things about Bede. It is probably the idea that we can play a part in helping people discover and value their whole selves, in so many different ways. With a bit of support, people can do things that they never thought possible, and it is a privilege to be part of their support network.
We have people that have joined us as young people in a youth club, who have gone on to train and work for us as experienced members of staff. Clients often come to our domestic abuse team having spent more than 10 years in an abusive relationship, and they have lost touch with their family, friends, and even their sense of themselves. It is wonderful to see when they move on confidently with new friends, careers and hope! Clients with learning disabilities will provide volunteer support to local householders, and for some this is the first time that they have seen themselves as someone who can be the helper rather than the person that needs help. This is a really simple but powerful thing that Bede does.
This is moving. How did the pandemic affect you and your services? Were you able to keep offering the services, or how did you handle that?
The need for our services exploded during the pandemic, especially for our domestic abuse service – just at the point where we were most restricted in what we could provide. Our teams all worked hard to keep our services going. We closed for the minimum possible time because we realised how important face-to-face contact is in the work we do. Having said that, we did use Zoom very successfully to connect people during the lockdown and to run sessions. One staff member live-streamed her dog walking and getting lost in the woods, which was very popular! We even had new clients join us on Zoom during the lockdown, who have now become members of our in-person community.
Many of our clients were isolated and shielding. Our amazing staff worked tirelessly to make sure people stayed upbeat and connected. For Easter 2020, our staff went out wearing facemasks and Easter bunny ears, knocking on people’s doors, delivering Easter eggs and dancing on the doorstep! Having that tiny spark of joy and fun was so important.
It’s really great that you were able to keep your services open and find alternatives ways of delivering them during that time, especially with those experiencing domestic abuse. We’ve talked a lot about positive and joyful things, but what are some of the challenges you face?
The most pressing challenge is the economics of running a community charity, in a community that is deprived even though it borders central London. The pressure on local people’s budgets is vast. Even before the pandemic, there were cuts to local authority budgets, which directly impact the groups we work with. It makes everything more complex for families already facing difficulties.
The new Bede Centre is on the horizon. Please tell us more about why you’re building it and how and what your aspirations for it are.
We want to become even more accessible and be there for many future generations. For this to happen, we need to upgrade from the space we currently have. We are working with Southwark Council to design and build a brand-new, fully-accessible community centre, which will site within the refurbished Abbeyfield Estate next to our current centre. Bede will have the space for 125 years, which is more than double even our long life to date.
We want the centre to be welcoming and well-used by the whole community, and to evolve as the community changes over the next hundred years. As well as many multi-purpose spaces, it will have a fully wheelchair-accessible training kitchen and a community café open to the public. We are delighted that the council plans include a new gateway into the beautiful Southwark Park, making this part of our back garden!
To best explore Bede’s planned move, we recommend watching this video created by Director/Producer of TV, film and theatre and Bede supporter Chris Haydon.
Finally, could both of you answer with the first thing popping up in your heads to these quick questions?
If you should describe Bede House with one word, which would it be? Can we have two? They would be Steadfast (Gwen) and Joyful (Mahua)
If you had three wishes to use for Bede House, what would they be?
That we can meet the needs of anyone who comes through our doors or make sure they find someone that can. We always aim to do this, but can only ever meet a small fraction of the need that is out in our local community.
That we could help people find new ways of connecting with experiences and opportunities they wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves.
That we had the regular funding to ensure our dedicated staff could know their jobs were secure. For a client that is building up the courage over years to leave an abusive relationship or one that is slowly developing the confidence to find their way in the world, it’s vital to know that we will be there for them when they need us.
When do you feel you’ve done successful work?
When somebody doesn’t need our support anymore – but still wants to be part of the Bede community.
Thank you very much for giving NBCC and our members some more insight into your organisation! We are really looking forward to having you with us at the 115th-anniversary event on the 31st of March ☺