A few weeks ago I was contacted by Mark Abrahams, head of the Saints Foundation and asked if I, along with a couple of my colleagues and a couple of the Saints4Sport service users, would like to attend a Winter Reception event at the House of Lords.
Mark informed me that the Saints Foundation had, along with U Support (another Southampton based Charity), been invited to the House of Lords by the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Langrish, the seventieth Lord Bishop of Exeter.
I did not need to be told what a honour this was and what a wonderful opportunity it was for the Society of St James and for the Saints4Sport project. Understandably we jumped at the chance and I won’t pretend that there wasn’t a minor in-house scuffle as to which SSJ staff members would get to go.
In the end we were able to take three members of staff (Dean Latona – Drug service supervisor and main organiser of the Saints4Sport project, Mike Taylor – Operations Director for the SSJ drug services, and me [Sam Perry - fundraising manager]) along with Carl and Martin (two service users).
On the day of the event we all met at 2pm at the Saints football stadium to get the coach up to London together.
There was a strict dress code for the House of Lords and us gents had to wear shirts, ties and jackets. For those of you that know SSJ well you will know that dressing in this type of attire is somewhat alien to us however, I think we surprised everyone by scrubbing up pretty well. Carl clearly won the prize of best turned out and commented that “I could pass for someone posh until I open my mouth” to which we all laughed.
Before the evening reception and presentation we were fortunate enough to have a guided tour of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords which was fascinating and well worth visiting if ever you get chance.
After our tour we all met up with around 220 supporters, Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen and had a glass of wine or two whilst the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Langrish introduced us and started the proceedings.
Mr Nicola Cortese – Executive Chairman of Southampton F.C was next to talk and told us of his vision for the Saints Foundation and how vital it was for Football clubs to support charity and the local community.
Mark Abrahams was next up to talk about the great work that the Saints Foundation has been doing over the past 12 months which focused on their partnership with the Society of St James and our joint project Saints4Sport. At the end of Marks presentation he showed the video below about Carl’s journey and how the Saints4Sports project has helped him.
At this point Carl was feeling fairly embaressed and had turned a rather fetching shade of red however, after the presentation a number of people sought him out with kind words for his honesty and for the strength that he has had to change his life.
Carl was over the moon with how well the event went and told me:
“If you had told me last year that I would be drug free and going to the House of Lords I would have thought you were mad. I can’t believe it.”
Mr Cortese also came and spoke with us and said:
“When I joined the Saints we were in the relegation zone of league 1 with minus 10 points. As a club we are trying to get back into the premiership. Carl has beaten us though. He was in league 1 with minus 10 points but has already made it back to the premiership.”
It was a real honour to get invited to this event and to represent such a fantastic charity that does such amazing work (even if I am a little biased).