Tuesday, 15 September 2015

A day in the office

As I write this, it’s coming up to lunchtime on a Monday. I want to tell you about my morning.

I came into A Way Out first thing and was greeted by the smell of paint. On closer inspection I discovered that one of our incredible volunteers had spent his weekend bringing a new lease of life to a previously underused room in our building.

This person then came back early today, and along with another amazing individual, had packed up 40 food parcels ready to give out at our afternoon drop-in.

Throughout the morning, as I tapped away at my computer and scoured the internet for recent statistics on poverty, I heard the comings and goings of our staff and those who we support. At one point I was aware of a staff member giving practical advice to someone about accessing their much-needed benefits, and at another point I could hear weeping.

I don’t know why she was crying, but I was glad to know that A Way Out staff were there to offer comfort and support to this broken-hearted woman.

In the office next to my desk, other staff discussed funding bids we need to develop so we can continue with our projects and arranged meetings so we can work better with others to reach and engage more vulnerable women, families and young people.

Throughout the morning there were conversations to finalise the plan for a trip to London later this week, with young people who have not yet had the opportunity to leave this area, let alone visit the capital, and as lunchtime neared the smell of food wafted towards me as the women’s team prepared a hot meal for those who will come to our drop-in this afternoon.

As I reflect on this morning – on the food parcels carefully prepared and desperately needed, on the tears of that woman, on the plans being made, on the devastating statistics I discovered (22.3% of children in Stockton are living in poverty to name just one) – I realise again how much A Way Out is needed.

We are here to offer love, compassion and practical support to vulnerable women, and give hope and possibility to young people and families, and we will strive to do this as much as we can, for as long as we are able.

Please help us if you can. Consider volunteering for us, become a regular giver, or help us raise funds and awareness by organising an event. 




Wednesday, 26 August 2015

SkyDiving for A Way Out

A Way Out is always so grateful for our incredible supporters – you all do such amazing things, some of which are even a bit mad! Like Karla, who in a couple of weeks’ time, will be leaping from a plane to raise money for A Way Out.
Our Communications Facilitator Amy caught up with Karla to ask her a few questions about what she’s doing and why…
A: Hi Karla, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
K: Absolutely! I live in Roseworth with my partner and my cat, and I’m saving up to get married abroad in a few years.  I wanted to make a change this year, to make better life choices with work and food and to start helping others – I just became a vegetarian and I love it!

A: How did you find out about A Way Out?
K: One of my good friends worked for A Way Out a while ago, so I knew about the charity, but then I saw it was being promoted by Stockton Town Football Club as the charity they wanted to support this year.

A: What made you want to fundraise for A Way Out?
K: I’d heard a lot about you and the things you do to help people in need. The team sounds amazing. I’ve wanted to support the charity for so long but up until now there’s always been something in the way.

A: Why a sky dive?!
K: I'm a thrill seeker and have always wanted to skydive. My partner Carl said he would pay for me to skydive for my 25th birthday, but I wanted to do it to raise money as well and I knew that A Way Out was the one I wanted to do it for.

A: How do you feel about it?
K: I can't wait! It's going to be so exciting – but scary at the same time.

A: Tell us a bit about the event Stockton Town Football Club are planning for A Way Out.
K: There’s a fundraising night on Saturday 19th September from 7.30pm at the clubhouse. There’s a great singer booked and there’ll be a raffle and loads of fun – tickets are just £3!

A: What would your advice be to someone who wants to help A Way Out, or any local charity?
K: If anyone was thinking about helping this fantastic charity I would say, 'why wait?!' I waited long enough to do something and wish I had done it sooner. It's so easy to help, just email, phone or pop down to A Way Out and ask what you can do to help. They always welcome things for food parcels and people to raise money for the charity. Like me :)

A: Thanks so much Karla! We are so grateful for what you’re doing and hope your skydive is a fantastic experience.

You can sponsor Karla for her courageous sky dive here

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Together: Everyone Achieves More

Some catchphrases stick with you.
For me, there is something the leader of my gap year team would say repeatedly, so much so that the whole team learned to parrot the phrase - even if one of us just mentioned the very first word, everyone else would jump in to complete the saying.
It stayed with me and even now, fourteen years later, I can still remember how he would constantly remind us that we were a team, and in a team--
Together: Everyone Achieves More  
We've seen this at A Way Out, both within our internal team of staff and volunteers, but also through the strong partnerships we have with other organisations and individuals - and in this we discover the wonderful synergy of teamwork, when the combined effort is greater than the sum of collective parts.
Recently, A Way Out was recognised in the Lloyds Bank Foundation Charity Achievement Awards, which acknowledge life-changing work being done by charities nationwide and had almost 1000 applicants. A Way Out achieved Highly Commended in the North East for 'Enterprising Collaboration'. We are proud to be distinguished in this way, as a charity that values collaboration and seeks to do this creatively and intentionally.
Within these collaborative structures, there are wonderful moments of connection as we seek to make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable individuals.
Part of our youth project is a schools-based mentoring programme, and within this we are able to offer feedback to the school from our expertise and experience. We are so pleased that the school welcomes our feedback and recently one teacher shared with our youthworker how encouraged they were by one young person's progress - so much so that they were acting on our feedback to change their teaching approach, in order to better engage the young person in the classroom.
The teacher's openness and desire to collaborate was deeply beneficial to the young person, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to work in partnership with such committed and caring professionals, learning from one another as we go.
Again and again, we see the truth in that phrase, that as a team--
Together: Everyone Achieves More.
Our great team couldn't function without the hard work and dedication of many wonderful volunteers. If you have a few hours free each month or week and share our heart to reach vulnerable women and young people, get in touch with us on 01642 655071 or send us an email.
With your help and support, perhaps we'll be able to achieve even more.

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.
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