What a year it has been. Who would have thought we’d be where we are today?
It has been unbelievably tough for everyone and our instinct has been ‘survival’ and I don’t use that word lightly; trying our hardest to survive by avoiding any chance of catching the virus; if we have been unfortunate and caught it, then praying that our immune system is strong enough to tackle it and get us through the other side; and if we have lost someone close because of it (my step-father was taken far to early) then trying our hardest to emotionally deal with such tragic loss is all part of our instinct to survive.
I’ve never known so many people have their emotional and mental health tested to such a level over the last 12 months.
And then there is the business and financial side of things.
There are millions of people who ran or who were part of decent stable businesses who have battled hard to survive the last year.
Things must and should change
Many good businesses run by passionate, hard-working people have already gone to the wall and unfortunately it looks like many more will follow.
Our instinct to survive could easily be seen as a selfish act, looking after number one, putting your family before anyone else’s.
But actually, what I’ve seen through 2020 is the complete opposite.
In contrast to political indecision (in some cases incompetence) and a globalised system that is bordering on being dysfunctional, I have seen thousands of acts of incredible kindness and empathy over the past year from amazing people who really care.
It made me realise very early on in the pandemic that our survival cannot be a selfish act, but it needs to be a self-less act of working together and caring together.
That is what is going to get us through this.
Helping and supporting everyone around us, not just close family and friends, but those beyond our bubble.
Working and caring together
An example of this and one of the highlights of my year in 2020 was one of the greatest acts of working together and caring together I’ve ever seen.
A few years ago I was asked to become a patron for a homeless charity, based in North Tyneside, called North East Homeless. It was set up by an extraordinary couple called Brian and Emma. Hardworking, humble people who were growing tired of seeing so many people homeless in the region they cared for so much they decided to do something about it.
As north-eastern grafters they are the sort of people who don’t just talk about doing something, they get off their backsides and do it!
What they have achieved in just a few short years is nothing short of being a minor miracle. They have built the most amazing team of volunteers who give so much and expect nothing in return.
Thankfully our country is full of hero’s like this, battling against a system that should do more, care more and function better.
Brian and Emma took on an old industrial unit to be the ‘home’ of North East Homeless. Through a staggering amount of hardwork they transformed the unit into a safe space for anyone that needs help and support.
A generous sign
They’ve even got the most fantastic ‘SOCIAL SUPERMARKET’, with the most generous sign that reads “Take what you need, leave what you can”.
Individuals and companies give so much produce that it’s a joy to see the supermarket is very well stocked. It’s all displayed front of house in the hub. The shop is an important part of a ‘home’ that is open and welcoming to everyone and it is helping to feed people.
There are no prices on any of the produce. If you can afford to pay a decent price, then do so and all of that money goes back into the hub. If you can’t afford to pay and you’re really struggling, then take what you need.
You don’t have to pay a penny and nobody would be any the wiser because the volunteers are incredibly sensitive to how shameful poverty can feel, so they are discreet and helpful with anyone who may need to fill a bag for free.
Social and class barriers disappear in this space. Stigma and shame are avoided. It’s simply a space to work together and care for those in need.
A bit cold indoors though
Ironically the HUB had a one big problem. It was bloody freezing as they had no heating!
Not great for a homeless charity to have a ‘home’ that was freezing cold. It doesn’t make it welcoming for anyone and it was painful for the volunteers working during the winter months wearing hats, scarfs and gloves indoors!
Brain called and asked if I could help. I asked him what budget that had for kit and the installation of a brand new heating system and his reply was “we have nothing”.
Now there’s a challenge!
Any new installation had to be as sustainable as possible. Not only because going green is the right thing to do, but because the charity needs the highest levels of comfort and the most competitive long term running costs.
We need the charity to be ‘sustainable’ environmentally, but also ‘sustainable’ economically over the long term.
We desperately needed help and we got it in abundance from my friends at Mitsubishi Electric.
They gifted all of their Ecodan Air-Source Heat Pump kit to give us the flying start we needed.
We then managed to have the installation gifted by Engenera and a brilliant guy called Darren Reay from Heat-Air Ltd, who gave everything to get the heating system up and running before Christmas.
I can’t thank everyone enough for the kindness, generosity and warmth (literally!).
Making this happen has genuinely transformed the ability of North East Homeless to help those desperately in need, at a time when the number of homeless is increasing due to the poverty crisis caused directly by the pandemic.
Exceptional and unique
Now, I’m not saying everyone should give everything for free. That’s not going to work for the economy! What we did at the North East Homeless Hub was an exceptional and unique act of kindness from so many.
But, I do think working together, caring together and doing the right thing works on a local, national and global scale.
Greed, inequality and the frightening ability of so many to not care has caused enormous problems across the planet and we have begun to realise the detrimental effects our actions as a species have had on the Earth.
Things must and should change.
At last, the green economy is now at forefront of global conversations and in 2021 we have a chance to make a real difference. But, the world cannot continue to just talk about these massive problems.
Like Brian and Emma at North East Homeless the world needs to get off its backside and do something about it and fast.
The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on the 1st - 12th November.
After the most horrendous year many of us have ever seen, what we have achieved at North East Homeless is a tiny beacon of light and hope during the darkest of times.
COP26 is an opportunity for individuals, organisations, regions, countries and governments to work together AND care together to do the right thing and transform the planet from being a destructive, gas guzzling oven, into being the green, balanced ecosystem it once was.
Every day I live in hope.
George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter