Helping Hands is a charity which works with people in need in the Newham area, especially those who are homeless, the elderly and those with mental health issues.
On entering the house located just off Barking Road, you immediately feel a sense of quiet and familiarity: people chatting over a cup of tea in the conservatory looking out onto a peaceful garden –the centre of all the activities during the summer. Helping Hands provides food to people in need and is one of only three organisations in London that offers a place to sleep for free, up to 11 people can stay here as long as they need.
Helping Hands also has another mission: building bridges between people, creating a sense of community and belonging, allowing people to feel part of something, to feel that they are not only helped, but they are also the ones that can help. When the charity was founded almost 30 years ago, Brother Julian and the other brothers and sisters went around knocking on people’s doors to spread the word, and what they first asked was not “What do you need?” but rather “How can you contribute to the community?”. The same philosophy, the idea of focusing on what everyone can give, remains in place today. Helping Hands is a place where people can pop in if they need food, or if they want to see a friendly face, but also to contribute.
The organisation is run by volunteers, who are mostly people living in the community and many have gone through a difficult time themselves. The residents help out with different tasks inside and outside the house, from taking care of the garden, to collecting food to be distributed. Working on a common project, residents and volunteers develop friendships and build a community. Helping Hands fights the isolation and the disconnection typical of big cities in general and of Newham where the mobility of the population makes it very difficult to maintain relationships with those living nearby. People who are all too often left at the margins, for whom it is particularly difficult to find a place in contemporary society, such as migrants, the elderly, the unemployed or the homeless, can find a role at Helping Hands.
In the web of the relationships developed between volunteers, brothers and residents the distinction between who helps and who is helped becomes blurry. In this way, everyone have a chance to conceive themselves differently, to think of themselves as valuable members of a community.
Helping Hands plays an invaluable role in Newham, providing food and a home to those in need. However, what is most distinctive about Helping Hands is the focus on the contribution that everyone can make, on relationships among people, and its commitment to overcoming loneliness, isolation and hopelessness.
In Brother Julian’s words: Helping Hands is about being there and fighting for each other.