Monday, 20 July 2015


A Way Out would not be the organization it is today without willing volunteers.

With this continued support A Way Out has not only been able to develop the work of our projects, but has also developed our volunteer expertise, in fact A Way Out has won awards for delivery of volunteer training and just last month one of our volunteers won an external award for her endeavours in volunteering.
The journey of an A Way Out volunteer often commences with initial contact with the organization either:

·          Via our website or social media
·          By reading our monthly gazette column
·          By attending an event or church service featuring the work of A Way Out
·          Through contact with one of the local universities
·          Or by word of mouth, inspired by an existing volunteer

Potential volunteers are requested to undertake our comprehensive training course, having the option to apply for accreditation via the awarding body ONE AWARDS.
Once trained and DBS checked the volunteer is ready to go! 

They can help out in many ways:
·        work alongside our Women’s team during our drop-in and outreach
·        support our Youth Team at the weekly RELOAD sessions
·        pack food parcels
·        help out on Reception
·        or give a hand in the Cave cafĂ© with the local Sandwich round.

Some volunteers stay with us for a while and then move on, others stay around for much longer…An example of this is one of our Women’s Project volunteers who has now almost completed her medical training, yet still travels from her home in Durham each week to assist the team with evening outreach.  This offers valuable consistency in the lives of the women with whom we work.

There are two amazing gentlemen who arrive like clockwork early on Monday mornings to pack 30-40 food parcels for our drop in for vulnerable women. One of these gentlemen has volunteered with A Way Out for the last 5 years and travels in to Stockton from Sedgefield on public transport each week. 

The dedication of these two gentlemen, along with the rest of our volunteers is so very valuable and goes to prove that – “Volunteers are unpaid – not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless!”

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A Lunch Out with A Way Out

The past few months have been really exciting time for A Way Out. 

On 30th June A Way Out hosted ‘A Lunch Out with A Way Out’, an event attended by many of our major stakeholders and partner organisations.  The event mattered because we wanted to say thank you for all that had gone before, and to let everyone know that A Way Out remains committed to going the extra mile for all of the vulnerable women and young people with whom we work.

At the event, held in the centre of Stockton, we were able to present information about our work; the heart of A Way Out, the heart of our staff and volunteers, and the heart of our Trustees and our heart for continued commitment.  For well over a decade now we have done all we can to bring love, hope and freedom to vulnerable and at risk women, young people and families in Stockton on Tees, striving to see them living healthy, whole and safe lives, free from addiction, poverty and exploitation. And we know how much this matters.

From our guests we received very positive responses to the presentations. ..

“I hadn't realised what a 'substantial and serious organisation', AWO was”
“I knew that A Way Out worked with women but I had no idea how and didn't realise that the organisation worked with youth and families.”
“One of the things I picked up on was the 'quality' of the Senior Management Team, to me this denotes what a professional organisation A Way Out is.”
The ethos of A Way Out was described by one guest as “beautifully sensitive”
We also took the opportunity to talk about our about our heart for the future of the organisation. 
One exceptional and important part of our future journey is our achievement in being one of the winners of the Weston Charity Awards.  This prestigious award makes A Way Out one of only 12 successful organisations across the whole of the North of England working in the areas of youth, welfare and community.  The award will enable A Way Out to work with a team of senior business leaders through the organisation Pilotlight, which has been bringing together top business talent with charities of over ten years.  

The Garfield Weston Foundation’s Director, Philippa Charles, said:
“We’ve had an amazing response from charities across the North which are tackling some of the toughest challenges such as youth unemployment, mental health issues and homelessness. The twelve winning charities are not only doing great work but are ambitious with their plans - we are looking forward to supporting them to achieve their goals.”

Pilotlight’s chief executive, Gillian Murray, says: “Charities are telling us that they need support to plan for the future. Many have been hit by funding cuts and changes in the way their services are being contracted. By bringing together charity chief executives with dynamic business leaders we know these charities will benefit and become more sustainable as a result.”


On a sunny and rather warm Thursday back in April, I was interviewed for the post of Communications Facilitator at A Way Out. Thankfully, and rather obviously given I am writing this, they offered me the job.

Starting anything new brings with it a tangle of nerves, but I’ll be honest that perhaps I came to this with just a hint of smug self-confidence. I believed I could do the job. I know words and can string them together, and I knew quite a bit about A Way Out through some previous interactions with the organisation.

But on my second day something happened.
Having had my HR introduction and sorted out all things technical (I have an email address, surely I was ready to roll?), I trotted along to my first staff breakfast to meet the team and hear a run-down of the recent goings on.

Within a few minutes it was clear I had overlooked an important factor: I may have known the practicalities, been aware of the programme and read through the procedures – but I had missed the heart.

One of our women’s team shared honestly about finding out a young woman had tragically lost her life, and how she had wept tears of grief over the loss of this precious individual. But then she explained that later the same day she had cried again, although this time with tears of joy at hearing about positive steps another young woman had taken towards a healthy and whole future.

Tears of sorrow, tears of joy. Both extremes of emotion in just a few hours. This is the reality.

It is all very well knowing what I need to know and being equipped with the skills I need to have, but I realised that in order to honestly communicate anything at all I also needed to feel it.

A Way Out is about people, not numbers or statistics, but rather lives that truly matter. Faces that are downcast, tummies that are hungry, hearts that are broken. Our goal is to reach them, help them, feed them and love them.

We always need your help and are so grateful for your support, whether it is a donation of food or toiletries, a financial gift or the offer of your time as a volunteer. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

An invisible moment...

During a recent visit to Paris I used the underground Metro travelling from one landmark to the next alongside the population of the city in their everyday life.  The train had standing room only.  As it accelerated into the depths of the city, I noticed passengers moving apart as if to allow an invisible person to pass by.  Slowly the invisible person came into view - on the floor of the carriage was a man moving through the dust and grime pulling himself along using his hands, he had no legs, around his neck hung a piece of card explaining he had children to support. 

He looked up searching to connect with the eyes of each passenger as he dragged himself through the dirt of the carriage walkway.  His hands sought a safe route between the feet and baggage.  Each passenger moved their feet, and their gaze to avoid him, acknowledging his physical presence, whilst at the same time not wanting to look him in the eye or offer help.

I absorbed the shock of this unexpected encounter and felt my heart break.   This was his existence, shuffling along the floor, between the feet, begging for money.  Tears welled in my eyes, unable to muster courage to break away from the status quo, I let him pass by, denying his plea.

Later I was once again rushing through the labyrinth of the underground Metro.  Hot and thirsty, with aching feet, my stomach was telling me it was time to search for a cafe.  Floating through the multicultural voices, I picked up a distant sound.  Musical notes drifted through the air.  A man was playing a saxophone, the sound was beautiful and completely filled the walkway.  I forgot about being hot, I forgot about my aches and hunger, my spirits lifted.  As I passed by I threw a couple of Euros into the tin beside the musician, looking into his eyes I silently thanked him for lifting my mood.

Boarding the train the image of the man dragging himself along the floor came to mind – once more my heart broke - why had it been so easy to give money to the musician and so hard to even look into the face of the man on the floor of the carriage.

It is uncomfortable to re-tell this experience.  I am charitable and compassionate and I regret my decision to be influenced by those around me, I regret letting the moment pass.

A Way Out could be your opportunity, your moment, to help vulnerable women and young people in Stockton.  Could you support us by volunteering your time, donating food for our food parcels, or supporting us financially?   Don't let this moment pass you by.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Food for thought...

I love “people watching” and thinking about what lies behind the different ways we behave and interact.  Despite the variations and similarities in our humanness, we are all amazingly unique individuals.

Some of us are thinkers and strategic planners, weighing up the benefits against the disadvantages, planning ahead and aiming for victorious outcomes.  Others enjoy being on the front line, deep in the trenches of the battlefield of life, experiencing the mud and grime alongside the adrenalin rush of going head on into battle.  

Yet still there are those whose compassion lies in ministering to the wounded and battle weary, like the Stretcher Bearers of the First World War; weapon-less and marked only by a Red Cross on their sleeve, they would venture directly into the battle field to retrieve the wounded, coming to the rescue, just at the right time. Some of those stretcher-bearers had alternative beliefs about war and, although not able to fight themselves, were still willing to care for those who were equipped to do battle.

Here at A Way Out we benefit from a whole range of amazingly unique individuals.  Gifted strategists amongst our Trustees and Management, dedicated and courageous front line project staff and compassionate volunteers and supporters.  

Whenever we need to make a request for help, be it Christmas gifts or chocolate eggs,  bedding or furniture, or even toiletries and sanitary towels, the staff of A Way Out are constantly astounded by the army of compassionate supporters who come to the aid of those in need - those families and individuals who are battle weary, who feel, for a while, like they are surviving in the trenches of their existence.  

And yet the battle rages on... Each week we hold a ‘drop-in’ and, amongst other services we provide, we aim to offer a food parcel for each person who attends.  Every week we constantly push forward to acquire enough food to fill each bag, here’s where we need to ‘rally the troops’! If you feel that it's time to be 'called up' to help, A Way Out Needs You!  We are short of non perishable foods in tins and packets… and every little helps.  For more information check this page:

Wednesday, 25 March 2015


Some words can be both confusing and inspiring.  The meaning of one simple, single word has the ability to transform depending upon the context in which it is perceived… take the word ‘stuff’ for example.

We all have ‘stuff’  -  general, unspecified, essential and nonessential  possessions that we class as our very own.  Stuff can have personal value, or be worthless, but it’s still our stuff. 

We can have a trolley stuffed full of shopping and consume a delicious meal and feel stuffed.  Then there’s the priceless stuff that can’t actually be physically held in our hands, but more in our heads – the person who really knows their stuff,  or the stuff that dreams are made of …and yet at the other end of the scale, when you really, really don’t care… you “don’t give a stuff!”

At A Way Out, ‘stuff,’ in its many guises matters a lot to us.   

When worldly possession are 4 black plastic bags that need to remain safe while time is taken away from society to get yourself sorted – we’ll keep the stuff safe.

Each week we aim to stuff to the brim a food parcel for each vulnerable woman who visits our regular drop in.  Can you help with this? Follow this link for more information.

When a head is so packed full of stuff that life feels unbearable, our therapeutic counsellors help to unpack and make things manageable.

Our project workers and trained volunteers not only know their stuff in terms of professional knowledge, but are also an essential part of helping to make dreams come true – turning situations around, making real changes to lives… part of the journey for as long as it takes to make the stuff of  dreams a reality.

For all of this to happen we have to “give a stuff!!” 

Daily we give thanks for the dedication of our staff, volunteers and supporters – without you the work of A Way Out would not be possible… (we would be stuffed!) 

Isn’t it great to be part of something really good?  … and just a little can go a long, long way.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

I believe in volunteering

I really do.

It’s the most beautiful expression of compassion; when you do something for someone else without expectation of personal gain.

With that said, those who volunteer with this heart and motivation gain far more than they give.

For some it’s that feel good feeling, and for others it fills their spare time so that they can feel valuable. Still for others, it provides a work experience opportunity that they would never have had otherwise, and in its most simple form, volunteering helps people to realise the value of what they actually have and what is truly important in their own lives.

In my job role as Volunteer Coordinator, I match our volunteers with appropriate tasks and ensure that they are trained and ready to serve the most vulnerable within the community. This often means a few weeks of evening training classes, and even some accredited training so that they are prepared for what they will be doing.

Our incredible volunteers support us in many areas, with some giving their time to pack food parcels, and others distributing them to our most vulnerable women who often cannot afford to feed themselves or their families. Some of our volunteers join our women’s team on ‘outreach’ encountering women who are trapped in sexual exploitation, and others work with vulnerable young people out in the local estates showing them that there is another way. We have volunteers who cover our Reception whilst staff have team meetings, or go out and about on family visits, and others come in to support with admin tasks which are hugely valuable to our busy staff team.

For a long time, people all over the country have asked “What they can do?”.  If they don’t live nearby, it’s difficult for them to do something truly beneficial and worthwhile for the organisation.
If that is you, I would like to introduce a solution!... “Stand2Change”.

Stand2Change gives you the opportunity to do something that makes a difference directly where it matters most.  By participating in a thrillseeker challenge, or a home event, you and your friends could raise essential  funds to see A Way Out continue to reach out the most vulnerable and at risk in Stockton-on-Tees.

A Way Out firmly believes that people deserve our time, not just for a few sessions, but for as long as it takes. We are all on a journey, and our service users are no different. They work with us for anywhere up to 10 years, knowing that when they need support that they can get it.

You can be a part of their journey, and raise funds to support those individuals who really need our help.

Signing up for Stand2Change enables us to help you run your own event or plan your challenge. You could do a fun run, a bungee jump, a sponsored walk or a craft fair. Whatever it is, we can help you be the one that makes a difference.

If you want more information about volunteering or about Stand2Change, you can contact me at

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