Dear Friends of Street Talk,
I hope that this year which is drawing towards the time of celebration has been a good one for you all and for your families. Street Talk is still here, thanks to your support. Sometimes just still being here together is something to celebrate.
It has been a tough year for vulnerable people in many parts of this earth. Here the government does not tread softly on our dreams, and there is ever less mercy, even for children travelling all by themselves without family. If the government gets its way it will be possible to hold migrant children arriving in our land all alone, indefinitely in custody, the most vulnerable treated as we treat criminals. But we keep going just as our women do, encouraged by your generosity. We have sheltered the women who have found their way to us this year, as best we can from all they have fled from, as well as from hostility encountered on our own doorstep. Thank you for everything you have done to enable us to do this work for another year. Each day we are witness to the infinite beauty of the human spirit, the women who overcome unimaginable suffering, yet still love life, still forgive and dream of working to help others who are suffering. Let me give you a glimpse of that joy, a little light in these darkening winter days.
Xia, a young Chinese woman, carrying her whole world in a rucksack on her back, wandered into a Street Talk photography workshop that was running at day centre for migrant women. Xia had fled from nightmarish abuse at the hands of her father and stepmother in China, injuries still visible on her face. She was sleeping in the tent she carried on her back, had no recourse to public funds, acutely unwell with a psychosis, but too scared to go to hospital for fear of being arrested. In spite of her kitbag of troubles, Xia managed to join in with the photography group, at first coming just to use the camera, but along the way beginning to trust the Street Talk photographer who led the group, saying she had never felt trust before because everyone she had ever known had hurt her. Xia now sees a Street Talk art therapist one-to-one, tenderly and patiently working together to heal a lifetime of hurt. Xia was granted leave to remain earlier this year, so the giant rucksack has gone and, free from fear for the first time in her life, her dreams are turning towards art school. If you get the chance to see the Street Talk exhibition at Resource for London on Holloway Road, on until the end of January, you will see some of Xia’s work.
Some years ago Naomi came to us straight from prison after serving five years for something she hadn’t done. All she cared about that day was getting her little boy back home, and she was beside herself because the prison had released her to a hostel where children weren’t allowed. Thankfully we found a place where the two could be together again. Just as on that first day, the only thing Naomi has cared about over the years is her son, determined he will live a good life and not get into trouble. It has been tough. She went to university to study business while working the 5am shift as a chambermaid. We were overwhelmed with pride when she got her degree and thought life would improve for her, but instead it got harder. Her criminal record was a cruel ball and chain and no matter how many jobs she applied for there was always an excuse why she wasn’t given a chance. I would have given up, but Naomi didn’t, applying for every kind of job, year in year out, determined to show her son that you keep trying. It has been a long time coming, ten years have passed since that day we met her from prison but this year Naomi got the job of her dreams working for a prison reform charity.
The dream of Street Talk came from Ken Loach’s film Cathy Come Home which I watched with my Nanna in the 1960s, the story of a young mother who had her children taken from her because she was homeless. One of our women, Chloe, became pregnant earlier this year; social services were considering taking the baby into care, because she is vulnerable, she grew up in care and has been horribly exploited in the past. Throughout her pregnancy, a Street Talk therapist has accompanied Chloe closely and together they have done such careful, thoughtful work, that social services have now stepped away, trusting that Chloe can take good care of her baby and herself.
This work which never goes in a straight line, sometimes takes a happy turn. Happiness for Chloe, for her child who will grow up loved, and hopefully down the years for her child’s children who will grow up loved.
These are a few of the women who have come to Street Talk this year, from the street, from prison, from immigration detention centre, some trafficked, others migrants who have survived perilous journeys. They are not alone, we are with them and you are with us. Street Talk is a tiny charity, we only reach small numbers of women. We work under the long shadow cast by all those women who don’t find their way to us because they are in prison, or held captive or too scared to come forward, the ones we cannot see but don’t forget. We hold those women in the light too this Christmas.
The team at Street Talk, the gifted people who do this work so tenderly and patiently, Alison, Amanda, Beata, Catriona, Charlotte, Karl, Laura, Oliver, Rose, Sandy, Shirley and Vera join me to thank you and to wish you a happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.
Thank you for the friendship,
The names of our women have been changed in this letter.