Last week, I was chatting to one of our residents. He proudly told me that he had not been in prison for two months. This might not sound like much – but what he did not say, and a staff member told me later, was that this was a five year record for him. He was under an anti-social behaviour order, and when he got drunk he was in breach of the order and so was sent back to prison. Once out of prison, he would drink again, and so the cycle would continue.
This year, the Society of St James celebrates forty years of helping people to break cycles of destructive behaviour. SSJ has changed hugely from its early days, when it provided a night shelter to 15 homeless men in a large dormitory.
Now we provide a wide range of service across Southampton and into Hampshire, including homelessness services, supported accommodation for people with mental health problems, drugs support services, a residential care home, and even a computer recycling social enterprise. The Society has gone from a team of committed volunteers to a professional organisation of 170 staff members, plus over 50 equally professional volunteers.
2012 is also a personal anniversary for me, as I will have been with the Society for 20 years in the autumn. I have seen a lot of change during that time. As the Chief Executive, I sometimes wonder what my predecessors would think of the Society today. Do we still engage with poverty and homelessness, addiction and suffering in the way that they used to? Or have we allowed Health and Safety and policies and procedures to get in the way and turn the Society into something more corporate and less powerful than before?
Chatting with our residents gives me a chance to see that the Society is still transforming lives, one step at a time. The original aims of the Society have not been lost along the way. And because of your support, I am confident that, in 40 years’ time, this will still be the case.