Battling homelessness – one rucksack at a time

Businessman Mathew White set up the Rucksack Project because he wanted to do something without reward instead of getting caught up in the commercialism of Christmas.

The idea is simple – fill a rucksack with items listed on the project website or Facebook page and give it to a homeless person. No money changes hands, the project deals with donated goods (hat, gloves, scarf, sleeping bag, etc) often bought from charity shops.

Mathew White, founder of the Rucksack Project
Matthew White, founder of the rucksack project

Mr White explains how he had the idea: “As I came out of the underpass, I saw a stark image of a forlorn homeless guy. I did not speak to that guy but that afternoon I bought a rucksack.

I went to the local YMCA in Nailsea, Bristol, and told them what I wanted to do. They were very generous with the pricing and a disabled lady paid for two fleeces. I paid £18 for two rucksacks (including the contents).

“The homeless man I saw before had gone but two others were there. I gave them the two rucksacks and they were so grateful. It’s nice to do something for charity but don’t brag about it.

“I set up the Facebook page that afternoon in November 2009 and 87 people liked my page, I was chuffed to bits, I thought I may get five likes. I never envisioned this.”

Over seven years, Mr White estimates that 100,000 rucksacks have been given out.

Mr White is concerned that big charities operate with a massive surplus and get away with it while people are dying on the streets. He said: “I really like working with smaller charities which gives them some exposure.”

Mr White’s next challenge is to raise £5,000 through Indiegogo’s crowd funding website within 60 days to develop an automated website with a database.

Indebted to the local organisers who are volunteers and to Facebook, he said he wants them to take the credit in their areas.

Cassie Evans with Claire Pimenta and Simon Rigler

Rucksack Project Brighton

Cassie Evans co-ordinated the project for Brighton and Hove on Facebook and held an event for people to drop off rucksacks on Saturday (12 December).

She said: “The rucksack project is a gentle social media nudge in the right direction, giving people the opportunity to do something. People generally want to help. They just need the means to do it.”

Ms Evans said that one homeless man cried because he was carrying all his things in plastic bags. He couldn’t believe the whole rucksack was for him.

Donor Claire Pimenta said: “I am really grateful to Cassie who has organised such a great event. It is nice for the stuff to go to a good home actually.”

Many people did not want publicity, they just wanted to give something to the homeless at Christmas.

Maria Garrett helped Ms Evans distribute the rucksacks and leads Opsafe Brighton which is a grassroots activist network. Ms Garrett puts together survival packs for the homeless and those most in need in society.

She said about the rucksacks: “People have put in poetry, cards, they have made things. People have gone out of their way to put in personal extras. All donations have come through our own community. That’s really beautiful.

“Social attitudes towards homelessness are changing. The campaigns are working. The government is not stepping up to the mark. The system is designed to fail so change has to come from within the local community.

“There is strict, statutory criteria about who the council can help. If you haven’t got a local connection, you don’t get any help.”

Ms Garrett was homeless herself from the age of 14 to 26 and said: “There is nothing good about being homeless.”

She wants to work together with others to eradicate rough sleeping all together.

Robin O’Fay, who is currently homeless, collected his rucksack on Sunday (13 December). He said: “The rucksack is brilliant. It has everything we need. Everything is useful – socks, hats, gloves, even the book. The new rucksack itself is very useful.”

Glen has been running a campaign to get himself off the streets by using Facebook, twitter and online crowd funding. He has raised £15,000 and has found a boat to buy in Menorca. He has now applied for a passport and is raising money for the mooring fees. He will stay in Menorca until he has paid the fees and then meet a friend in Barcelona who will help him sail the boat back to England.

This article is reproduced in full here but was first published in Brighton and Hove News on 14 December.

Map of rucksack project events

Hove residents oppose high rise “Sackville tower” on seafront

Hove residents gathered in force tonight (Monday 7 December) to express concern about a proposal to build a 17-storey tower containing 107 flats on the corner of Sackville Gardens and Kingsway.

Angelique Henderson, chair of the No To Sackville Tower campaign group, said: “We have only known about the plans for a couple of weeks and already more than 300 people have joined our campaign on Facebook.

“It’s not just residents of Sackville Gardens who are opposed to the tower – people from across Brighton and Hove have told us how worried they are.

“The council’s own planning guidance on tall buildings is based on a detailed independent study which categorically excludes Sackville Gardens conservation area as a zone appropriate for a high rise.

“We ask that whatever is proposed is of high architectural quality to enhance the area.

“The No To Sackville Tower committee would be fully behind a proposal of suitable height and design by an architectural firm with a track record in producing award-winning buildings.

Hove Labour MP Peter Kyle backs the residents’ campaign and said he feared that the apartments would be too expensive and that the flats would be bought mainly by property speculators from abroad which would price yet more local residents out of the market.

Westbourne ward councillors Denise Cobb and Tom Bewick also feel the proposed tower is out of keeping with the neighbourhood.

Mrs Henderson and Valerie Paynter from Save Hove have started a petition which they hope to take to Brighton and Hove City Council when the full council meets on Thursday 17 December. They are petitioning for a planning brief – the rules of engagement for a particular site.

There is broad agreement that the site needs to be developed but residents want to limit the height of any new-build which they maintain should be no higher than the existing buildings.

The full article was first published on Monday 7 December in Brighton and Hove News.

Cyclists arrive soaked to the skin but exhilarated in their fight to save the planet

Soaking cyclists, wet but exhilarated, huddled into the Brighthelm Centre after braving the elements on their first leg of a four-day journey to Paris. Together they will cycle 25,000 miles.

Cyclists of all ages and from all corners of the country met in London – they came from Bristol, Cambridge and Scotland – and rode through snow and at night all week to reach Brighton yesterday (Sunday 6 December).

Duncan Blinkhorn, who chairs Brighton’s Climate Action Network and Time to Cycle and who is colloquially known as “Mr Bike Train” said: “It was a tough ride, the longest of all the days (from London to Brighton). The wind was against us all the way. It was drizzling or raining and quite a test for a lot of people.”

Brighton activists, Duncan Blinkhorn, Rebecca Webb and Andy Newsham
Brighton activists, Duncan Blinkhorn, Rebecca Webb and Andy Newsham

The team will have flags and a sound system as well as a slide show of images projecting photographic messages on to buildings when they arrive in Paris.

Rebecca Webb said: “It’s great, that feeling of doing something together. Everyone is smiling. When somebody’s tyre went flat or when a horse stopped, everyone stopped.”

Mr Blinkhorn said: “As a collective, there is a power and resilience. On your own, you would be very miserable because of the weather.”

He said that environmentalists have been engaged in this struggle and campaign for climate change for 20 years.

Cyclists arriving at the Brighthelm

The cyclists were greeted by Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion.

She said: “It is wonderful to feel the energy and excitement in the room. It is sheeting down with rain and the cyclists are taking inspiration from each other.

“We need to wake up and shift to a zero-carbon world. Whatever you do, you think it is not enough. Small differences make a difference. Be empowered to have a conversation.

“Instal solar panels, eat less meat, recognise the need for public transport. There is value in all of those options.

“Do what you can. Don’t do nothing. You can’t do everything.

“I feel overawed by the task at hand and it can be easy to be disempowered.”

When asked about the talks under way at the Climate Change Summit in Paris, Caroline Lucas said: “There is no binding agreement to keep the temperature below at least two degrees, no commitment on finance and no compensation to poorer countries.

“But we are nearer at this summit in Paris than before during the climate change talks in Copenhagen.”

The Reverend Alex Mabbs, minister of the Brighthelm Centre with a specific responsibility for climate change, welcomed everyone including a team of cyclists from Edinburgh and said that a couple had cycled all the way to Paris from Vietnam.

He said: “Who needs a third runway at Heathrow when we have a bike? We choose co-operation and peace. There is a depth of community here that we didn’t know was possible.

We bring a little bit of tomorrow, today, with every turn of the wheel.”

Close up of cyclists arriving at the Brighthelm

First published in Brighton and Hove News on Monday 7 December, read the full article here.