Birthday memories: Val Jeal

thumbnail Val

One25 posted this on 15/05/2020

A ‘heart’ project…


I founded One25 back in 1995 whilst I was working for the Salvation Army. I was running a drop-in for homeless people, but mostly homeless, heavy drinking men came into the drop-in. And I was aware of the female sex workers, but who didn’t come into the project because they didn’t feel comfortable. I talked to a few of them. I took a questionnaire out to twenty five of them and asked them what they wanted.

“What would help them?” And they said “a women only space”. That really got me thinking. Then I had a sabbatical leave, I went off to Chicago to work in a women’s project there , working with the female sex workers. At the end of that, they said to me, “you need to be going back to your home and getting on with it, working with the women”. So I came back, resigned from the Salvation Army and started One25 properly.

To start with I just went out by myself. Mad really, I went out with a rucksack on my back with a flask of hot chocolate, packet of cigarettes in my pocket, some chocolate bars, and I just went around, walked around St. Paul’s in the evenings, approaching the women and saying, “how can we help you if we have a women only project?” They were in a very poor state. At that time in ‘95 they were being pimped. Rather than having partners they had controlling men who were not using drugs; the women were using drugs, but their pimps were not.

I was approached by pimps as well and asked if I would go round the corner and give a cup of hot chocolate to their woman; it was all very odd. They weren’t threatening because they didn’t see me as a threat. I think they just saw me as a slightly mad woman who wanted to give cigarettes and hot chocolate to their women. I wasn’t in any way threatening. I also gave condoms. My husband, bless him, paid for a thousand condoms a month for years because, of course, we had no money. Well, a Catholic priest, Raphael Appleby, he and I used to pray together about the situation in St Pauls, he said, “what do you need?” And I said, “well, I really need a base” and Raphael let me have the basement of his house, which is 125 Cheltenham Road.

So that’s where the name came from and that’s where we started. At that point I also approached Sister Annaliese and Sister Mary and Dorothy Milne who was the recently retired senior consultant from the Milne Centre, the sexual health clinic. So we four women kind of just started meeting in the basement of 125 Cheltenham Road. We were complete novices, all four of us really, with working women.

I offered God a prayer of having a van before the winter, please. Within a week, a man turned up who was the leader, from Cornerstone Ministries with a log book of a Ford Transit van and said, “Am I right in thinking you want a van?” “Yes, I said, but we haven’t got any money”. And he handed over the logbook. If you’ve ever tried insuring a vehicle to work with female sex workers; quite difficult! So it took a couple of months for me to raise money for the insurance.

But once we had that van, we were on the road and the project transformed quickly. We could drive a further distance and invite women into the space if it was raining, it was cold they could come in. We had hot water bottles and all kinds of things, blankets, and they could have more food, sandwiches, as we do now. They loved it. They really loved it. They used to look out for us

The first Christmas that we had the van, a volunteer, actually, gave me 50 pounds to buy some Christmas presents for the women. I bought 50 pink roses and as we went around handing out 50 pink roses, the first woman who came on said, “what are you on? Nobody gives something for nothing.” And then we said, “Well, we just want to just want to give you a gift at Christmas.” This was Christmas Eve. And she cried and we cried and then she got off the van. The as we drove around, we saw all these women standing there with their rose. What did that say to them and what did it say to the punters?
I’ve got so many memories of those women, they changed my life.

I guess I would like to share a very sad memory. And that was the memory of a funeral of a baby.
The mother was in prison when she had the baby. She contacted me and said that the baby had died a cot death and would I support her at the funeral? She arrived handcuffed to a warder. There was a very simple service, it was a burial and there were just for the mourners just the mother, the warder and myself. That memory lives with me. I shall never forget it. But there are also many happy memories.

Christmas, the Christmas celebrations, the parties were wonderful. We used to take the families to the Bristol Old Vic, to the panto and oh, that was very special. The kids loved it and we managed to get them invited up onto the stage and the actors were really quite special with them. Then we’d all go back to One25 for a party in the Grosvenor Centre. It was so joyous.

My hope is that One25 in the future will keep the women in their hearts, that it will be a heart project.

I know that’s difficult. You have to be professional, but that they’ll continue to be a voice on behalf of the women and to help each woman to reach their full potential, because they’ve got so much.
Happy birthday everyone – One25, the volunteers, the staff, especially the women. I wish you all a very Happy 25th Birthday and lots and lots of love from me. Thank you.

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