Like they said, my name is Sister Annaliese. I’m a member of the community of the Sisters of the Church and I was very honoured to be in a meeting where Val Jeal stood up and said “I feel a great calling to serve these women who are on our streets” and they were literally standing along the streets on Ashley Road and all around. Val was very clear, she had a clear calling. There was this great passion and charism and I just knew I had to join her.
Val had a God given calling which was contagious. You know, it was just wonderful to be involved right from the beginning; and it moved and so it was really rewarding. There were struggles, but it was obviously meant to be. It was a lot of slog in the beginning you know; we had to get registered as a charity, we had to be registered as a limited company, we had to get premises, we had to get a van , we had to get a volunteer team to work, we had to have some health and safety. It was a lot of ground work and it was done very thoroughly. For me personally, it’s about the love of God and sharing that and reaching out. I think the great richness was whereas some of us came from committed Christian backgrounds, others of us had not come from a church background, and we worked so well together and it was like – the breadth of One25.
All of us together, we had an energy far more than our parts, we had a strength of vision. We had to starting that from nothing. We had a management team pretty early on, I think I was off sick and I got a phone call from Dorothy and she says, “we’ve decided you’ll be chairman. Is that all right?” I said, I will not be chairman; I’ll be a chairperson or chairwoman but I’m not going to be a chairman. I remember that, so I was chair of the management team at the beginning, but only for a couple of years.
That was the… the meetings. But we needed to be out there, we had to get that groundwork.
First of all, it was for outreach and it was a drop-in centre on Cheltenham Road. Then it was getting a van, you know, just going out on these cronky old vans. They were held together with string and a prayer some of them. I was thinking,” how many different vans have we had?” I don’t know, they must have kept count somewhere.
But at the beginning, ones you couldn’t stand up I’d make tea and hot chocolate on my knee. They knew us – the yellow van. They knew us. And, you know, they’d be jumping in the middle of the road to wave us down. Very, very early on, it was clear this was what the women needed and wanted. You know, the most chaotic women, are starved of ordinary relationships. They would want to ask us about our families, they asked me about my dad. They would ask about our families because they wanted to know about normal lives.
I remember when we were on Portland Square, and oh, these youths coming to try and tip the van over, we were rocking from side to side. I remember going down Badminton Road and it was firework night and they were sending the fireworks under the van. Good grief I was thinking, we could blow up or something, we’ve been in some pretty tricky situations.
But there was always fun as well, it was always a laugh because the women didn’t just want pity. They wanted acceptance, they wanted love, they wanted some fun as well, I think. You can have a joke with them sometimes. You know, they didn’t just. Then what is something beyond what they were living.
I remember Val said at the beginning, “what shall we call this project ?” and she asked the women. They said “One25” because we were at that point at 125 Cheltenham Road.
I think it’s important that we believe in the women, but it’s important that our hope for them doesn’t become a burden. That they feel they could live up to our hope because it’s got to come from them, not from us. But by believing in them we believe in them, whatever they’re doing, wherever they are. Not just I believe in you and you’re going to get out of this, because they might not get out of it and they might die on the streets. But you believe in them you believe in them at that moment because they’re who they are. And I think that is absolutely paramount, it mustn’t be conditional on our hopes or our plans and what we think will be really good if they did this, that and the other, of course it would be great if they got out of it – absolutely.
But we can’t burden them, it’s about believing in the women for who they are, where they are now. It’s nurturing. They would want homemade cakes. I don’t know if they still get home made cakes. I think they do from various people. That is something so different because they didn’t get anything from a shop, if it bears that love, it says you are important, you matter. It’s so fantastic how One25 has grown and it’s stabilised and we’re continuing to reach out to so many women. I really salute their courage because I think they’ve ended up through life circumstances in the most dreadful situations.
They’re gutsy women, somehow they’re out there surviving. It’s a huge honour to be with them and to be with women who have had so much taken from them and to meet the resilience. Ok we saw the despair and the brokenness and it’s still there. We also meet the fire and the resilience and the, and the, humour and the definite beauty. We meet so many beautiful women. Who I think “how have you survived ?”
They let us in, it’s so important not to take love for granted. It’s holy ground. It really is.
There was a lot more drug dealing and violence, and particularly in the nineties. And a lot more women on the streets. Then we go out and then there would be that and against that backdrop there would be these beautiful women, I think this was one of the greatest honours of my life. So to everyone – to all the women, to all the staff and volunteers, a really Happy Birthday One25, I’m so delighted that One25 has reached this amazing milestone.