YOU never know what you are going to come across in our
Up in far-flung north Moulsecoomb, just before UPA Brighton
peters out into countryside, there is a little spine of shops which
somehow has survived when other similar neighbourhood rows have
shrivelled and died.
There is Gully's Fish Bar, which has thrown in its lot with the
fortunes of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club (Gully being the
Albion's somewhat pugnacious seagull mascot); there is a funeral
director's, run by Chris, a local lad who grew up on the estate,
and who is, as one of its own, hugely trusted; also a post office,
ruled by another formidable local family who seem to run the only
place in north-east Brighton empowered to renew your car tax. And
then, until recently, there was "Safe and Sorted".
Safe and Sorted was an excellent drop-in centre run by the YMCA,
which catered for young people who had fallen through the cracks of
standard structured youth-care. They were the kids who struggled at
school and struggled at home, often with low self-esteem and real
It was, as the name suggests, a rare place of safety for them,
where they would be welcomed, accepted, and listened to. A couple
of years ago, it featured on the TV programme Secret
Millionaire: the homeless man that they thought was being
filmed for a rehabilitation documentary turned out to be the bearer
of a cheque for £25,000. Niki, the resilient worker who ran the
scheme at the time, promptly burst into tears.
Sadly, some two years later (maybe because after the
programme, ironically, people thought it was safe?), it closed
through lack of funds.
WHAT was formerly Safe and Sorted is now a hairdresser's. But,
hey, any new business in a parish such as ours should be welcomed;
so, intrepidly, I thought I would visit it, and risk a three round
the back and sides, and a spiked-up front. The staff at Monroe's,
as it's called (its logo being the face of the eponymous Marilyn),
were friendly and welcoming.
After chatting for a while, I found that Safe and Sorted was
still making its presence felt: apparently, a few days before I
came in, they were expecting a delivery of hair dye, and, when
they opened the box, instead of peroxide they found dozens of
do-it-yourself testing kits for the STD chlamydia. I suggested that
they branch out, but they did not seem keen.
Then I found out what Monroe's was really here for. The
proprietor cares passionately about the victims of domestic
violence: she deliberately employs beauticians and hairdressers
who try to build up the confidence of survivors who have escaped
abusive relationships, and who are trying to nerve themselves to
get back into the workplace.
In its own way, it is providing a service as valuable as - if
very different from - that of the previous residents of the
premises. I was hugely impressed, and will go back.
As I said, you never know what you are going to come across in
EVERY month for getting on for seven years now, I have gone to
an Alzheimer's Unit to conduct a eucharist. My latest visit was
moving and affecting, even though I was competing with Flog
It! on the television in the adjoining room.
Of the 15 or so residents ranged around me, about five responded
to the service - three of them (from memory, as I had forgotten the
song sheets) singing their hearts out, and one clapping along
(almost) in time to "And did those feet in ancient time". One or
two take communion, but most have blessings.
It is a scene that happens daily, up and down the country, and I
always feel it is one of the most important ways of fulfilling my
MIND you, getting into the unit is always a challenge. I book a
year's worth of dates in advance, and generally try to remember to
phone up in the morning to confirm. Nine times out of ten, though,
the office person is new, and, bless'em, hasn't a clue who I am.
When I say what I am doing, the response is bemused, but I am told
to come anyway.
The time before last, it was I who ended up bemused: I breezed
in, complete with do-it-yourself mass kit (at one time we included
candles and incense as sensory stimulants, but Health and Safety
saw those off), to be met by a nonplussed member of staff who,
despite the phone call, had no idea I was coming.
"Father John," she said forlornly, "I'm afraid you can't do your
service today: we've just organised a teddy bears' picnic." I
smiled sweetly, went home, and had a nice cup of tea. In
retrospect, I suppose I should have stayed and joined in, but I
confess to having been rather thrown. At least I now know where I
come in the occupational-therapy pecking order.
All together, now: "If you go down to the woods today. . ."
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team
Ministry in Brighton.