'Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think'

We never shut Build on Belief services. Never. We are open every weekend of the year across London, the only exception being if Xmas falls over a weekend, and only then because there is no public transport and the volunteers cannot get to their respective projects. We pride ourselves on always being there; the one constant in the lives of people for whom chaos is so often the normal. Yet here we are, closed for the first time in our history. It’s like losing a limb.

I think one of the staff summed it up best when the said, ‘I can’t believe it. All those years of addiction and living on the streets, our battles through recovery and getting a job with BoB, and we get taken down by a sodding virus. It’s like living in the War of the Worlds.’

It’s strange how you can run into the law of unintended consequences by sticking to your ethical guns. We have always been intensely proud of the fact that everyone employed by Build on Belief volunteered for the charity first. That we recruit internally. That for half of our staff this is their first experience of paid employment. When it became obvious that the coronavirus was going to be more than an inconvenience, we dug in the medical histories of our staff. Sixty percent of us fell into the vulnerable category, of being at serious risk were we to contract the coronavirus. The same weekend, we had a look at our volunteers. It was even worse. We were faced with a choice, knowing we had no choice. We were going to have to close.

Many of the staff and volunteers didn’t want to. No one raised the issue of their own health or the potential risk they would be taking by staying open. Instead they came up with a raft of sweet, if impractical suggestions. ‘What if we only let people in for ten minutes at a time?’ ‘Couldn’t we limit the numbers, so everyone stayed six feet apart?’ ‘Perhaps we could organise a rota a let people come in as small groups for half an hour each?’ All unworkable, but you had to admire their spirit. They wanted to continue working.

All the staff were willing to go and help our local service providers stay open if they could not run their own services, although for many either underlying health conditions, and a lack of transport made it impossible. They wanted to be busy, to be doing something useful.

With a third of us in self-isolation, and the rest stuck at home, what we feel most right now is guilt. What about our homeless clients? Those whose substance use means they are still living in a whirlwind of chaos and daily uncertainty? The socially awkward and isolated who leave the house just once a week to visit us? Those living in bedsits and trapped in a single room for the foreseeable future? Those without access to the internet and Netflix to alleviate the boredom of being home all day? We have staff who want to do outreach; staff who want to set up a new foodbank, and the answer is always the same. No. Its’ heart breaking really. We are the staff and volunteers of Build on Belief. We’re not used to feeling powerless. We’re used to finding solutions and getting stuck into a problem, not staring out of a window and watching it pass us by. We’ve managed to keep our two-existing food-banks open, but it’s hard to know for how long.

We’ve set up WhatsApp groups for volunteer teams and the staff (the staff one is hilarious) and are trying to muddle our way through the technicalities of Microsoft Team and Zoom so that we can communicate face to face and do some on-line training. We update our Facebook and Instagram feeds daily and are working on recovery stories and tips to post on our website. We are going to join the digital world as best we can and continue to look after each other.

Today we are glad it’s called Build on Belief. We believe we will get through this. We believe things will get better. We believe that before too long we will get back to doing what we do best – helping those who need it most. Build on Belief. It does what it says on the tin.

Tim Sampey

Chief Executive

Build on Belief