Govia Thameslink Railway, the country’s largest rail network which operates services through East Croydon, South Croydon, Selhurst and Norwood Junction stations on Southern and Thameslink routes, will join forces once with a variety of its regional charity partners again this Christmas to provide support for the homeless as the winter frost takes hold and the covid-19 pandemic continues to make the homelessness crisis worse.
The Great Sock Appeal campaign launched this week in a bid to support those that need it the most. In 2019, 4,172 pairs of socks were donated by passengers and colleagues to seven different partnerships across the GTR network.
This year, the campaign is particularly poignant for GTR. A GTR staff member, Allen Howe, has spoken out for the first time about his experience of being homeless, in the hope that he can end the stigma associated with homelessness and to encourage more people across the country to get behind the campaign, donate and support their local community.
Howe is a senior contracts manager at Govia Thameslink Railway, working across the Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express networks.
“I know all too well the hardship and danger facing homeless people this winter, having spent many months on the streets myself after suffering abuse as a child and being forced out by my stepmother soon after my 16th birthday,” he said.
“Although I could’ve easily just given up, I knew I had to keep on pushing to try and get myself out of the situation. I went on to spend 14 and a half years working for the local council developing initiatives to support the homeless, as well as later working for the NHS before moving to GTR.
“I have turned my life around and now have two daughters that I absolutely adore.
“Don’t be too proud to ask for help – there are ways to get you out of whatever situation you may be facing.”
GTR is again rallying its passengers and employees to support those most in need ahead of the worst of the winter weather. This year’s collection will move to a virtual format, in recognition of the reduced number of passengers currently travelling due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of physical donations hubs, GTR is asking customers and staff to donate via its fundraising page, and has set its sights on matching last year’s donations to raise £8,344 – equivalent to 4,172 pairs of socks, with any additional donations to be split equally between the participating partners. The appeal runs until Friday December 11.
In Croydon, GTR is partnering with charity Spires, whose primary aim is to help people move from a life on the streets to a viable, independent life with sustainable work.
“There’s a huge stigma around being homeless,” Howe said.
“People often think it’s related to drugs or alcohol – or that you’ve done something to get yourself there. The average person doesn’t realise that if you miss just three mortgage payments, you too could find yourself on the streets.
“There were many times I felt like giving up, but if you do then you’ll never experience the positive side of life.”
GTR’s chief operating officer Steve White said: “Through our work last year with our regional charity partners we’ve learnt just how much difference it makes to provide a new pair of socks and keep feet warm and dry.
“Christmas is a time for giving, and all it takes is one pair of socks, less than the price of a coffee, to improve the life of a homeless person this winter. We want to thank our customers, colleagues and local communities for their wonderful support for those in need.”
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