The Storehouse building in Southend is an intriguing place, to me anyway. After spending part of my child hood climbing on its roof I got to know the building well. A few years later at the age of 15 I attended a so called youth centre that opened and closed within perhaps a few months. I remember the grand open evening with the delivery of a wobbly pool table under the gaze of flickering light bulbs that hung loosely by the door, and it wasn’t Christmas. It seemed that someone had made an effort to add light to the place, at last! In my late teens and early twenties I attended a wedding, two birthday parties and a Buff club celebration, and then it closed again. Throughout the years that building has opened and closed more times than I care to remember. The building, I guess, is about 50 years old and looks older. I on the other hand was born a few years earlier in 1960, just a few hundred yards away from this rather shabby old building.
Having been born in the area, I have over the years become familiar with most of the church halls, community projects and landmark buildings in the area. As a local urbanite I am interested in simple, and at times pointless buildings that appear to have limited purpose. Sad hobby maybe, but most would agree nevertheless that local buildings can hold sway if they are within reach of our own culture, and this Storehouse building is part of mine. Many other buildings in the area that were once gripped by my grubby finger prints have been demolished, like the old Greyhound Track and the sweet factory that were both a favourite haunt for any youthful sprout. The building which is now the Storehouse however, of course still stands. Hardly a land mark building, but to me it has a history having climbed over it, walked around it and through it a million times and over the years prior to my urbanite view point taking over I would have, like most people, hardly given the old place a second glance. Nevertheless, my interest has been reignited, particularly over the last few years. The lights have been switched on again and someone is definitely in. The place is busy, and to begin with I was sceptical, because it has never been busy before, not for long anyway. To be sure, all previous attempts to make the building a success have failed dismally. That building had never been a success in any way shape or form so why wouldn’t I think, “here we go again”. Ask the local council for evidence and you will be shown a list dating back decades of half-hearted attempts to add life to the old place. It has always been a white elephant, or mouse perhaps, in the local area. Okay, before starting this blog I found time out to research! “the storehouse”. About ten minutes to be precise.
After typing into my Google search bar “the storehouse” many website options are listed from restaurants and hotels to small community workshops that are attached to various churches. Watford and Skegness Storehouses are in 2nd and 3rd place, and in that highly rated position as the first website on page 1 is “The Southend Storehouse”. What on earth have they done to achieve such an accolade, I really have no idea? Actually, thinking again, I’m not sure being at the top of page 1 after searching ‘the storehouse’ on Google is an accolade at all. Nevertheless, after clicking the top link and viewing their website storehouse.org.uk we can see that they detail very simply what they do and who would benefit. The website tells us that they “give out free tea, coffee, breakfasts, lunches, food bags, clothes and signpost people to relevant services that work within the Storehouse during opening times. The service is available to those who are vulnerable, in need of support or anyone experiencing a crisis like homelessness, unemployment, benefit delay amongst others”. storehouse.org.uk/home. All the above in that old building doesn’t seem possible?
After travelling around the world for a good few years I found myself once again living in a pleasant high rise flat not too far from the new Storehouse building. One day a gentleman knocked on my door and explained that he was from the Vineyard Church and was asking local people about needs and concerns that they may have. He mentioned the old building by Coleman street and to be honest I didn’t give him too much time, and although I thought his idea was good and that there was something about this fellow, like he was a little peculiar but quite wholesome in many ways, I never felt quite needy enough to be of any benefit to him and his Godly ideals. Ego is a real hitch sometimes. In fact, I got a little angry after seeing him once again outside the high rise block discussing with others about his intentions to open a homeless centre in the vacant property. Apparently, a deal was set with the council and the boards came off and the old place was given a blast from a defibrillator, or light bulb perhaps, and new life was restored. Within the first year the impact was evident. Homeless people were travelling from around a good few miles away to pick up food and clothing that was free, and in good condition too. Sainsbury and a few other large stores got involved. The local Echo ran a report and so I thought I’d visit the place to see what was going on. By this time I had been baptized into the faith and was ready to hand out my new found spirit to anyone who would listen, particularly those hard up who were queuing for their food. On arriving, due to the log in my own eye had within twenty minutes or so turned into tree trunk, I left quite sharpish, (and sheepish). I found it difficult to cope with some of the people that were there. They were too similar to what I used to be like. My new found faith lacked maturity. After taking a 3 month long deep breath I went back once again and got chatting to a volunteer who explained how he had found his faith after spending years working in a highly paid job in the City, and how he lost everything, became homeless and found faith after being introduced to the Storehouse. I shared personal details with some drunks who were destined to die or get well. One or the other will happen for sure. I met people who blatantly refused to give up the grog and shrugged when approached about such matters. On the outside they are brazen, and yet inside they are dying. For these types the only warmth they get is when standing next to Christians who persevere. Perhaps, I thought, they would hold their hands out like coming home to a log fire on a winters night, to feel that the spiritual glow is very real.
On approaching the building I was flooded with childhood memories, and on entering recoiled slightly at how small the building actually was inside compared to how I remembered it. After a brief chat with two volunteers my historical accounts faded. The place was busy and within ten minutes everything I thought the Storehouse would be was obliterated from my mind. I am negative at times, and those running the show were positive and loving enough to swing me round to their thinking. It wasn’t the same flimsy reed offering that I had experienced before. What was going on here and now was real and had substance. No political agenda, just Spirit. I wondered, what is it that sustains such a project? What do those involved have that differs from previous communal failed attempts in the very same building? From nurseries, a youth centre, Buffs club, to many other community projects that have lasted from only a few months, to not more than a year or so.
What then sustains the Storehouse project? What energy has both out lasted earlier projects, and provided such a service to those maladjusted and marginalized people in society? Is it psychology where a bunch of really clever people have thrown together a system that works? No, I seriously doubt that. Are they a bunch of good people that simply stumbled together bllions of years after the Big Bang to begin a project to help others, well hardly. According to science that is a 7 x trillion to 1 chance happening. Are they a bunch of social workers who are funded by the local council? Certainly not. Is it the buildings position amongst high rise flats where the project is situated? I doubt that very much too. What makes this goodness work in a place that has never been successful before? How can a small group of people take such an old building and make such a big difference in the lives of those who are perhaps temporarily marginalized in society? Let’s ponder for a while!
My first memory of the Storehouse building was climbing on its roof in 1974, I was 13 years old. I suppose there are some flickering earlier memories but like an old black and white film they are not clear. Two years after my first climb, a small group of hippy revolutionaries (social workers) were given the keys after being directed by the local council to open up a youth centre. It lasted around six months if I remember correctly, and when the hippy gents left, who were splendid fellows, they blamed the local council for its closure. “They withdrew the Funding” was the reason. When my young friends and I were told this, I was the one who understood the language of who “they” were, and what “funding” meant. Having 3 older brothers and 3 older sisters who were also a part for the hippy movement, as such, blaming those capitalist bastards (they) was right up my young socialist street. The pleasant hippy social working gents got away with it. They could close up and move on unhindered by their brittle stance and broken promises. All they needed to do was blame those that they believed held the financial keys to the kingdom of our youth. Something that was rightfully ours therefore, had been taken away by political scrooges. To counteract this closure there was not one stand or regrouping by the so called revolutionaries to sort it out. The closure was final and to call upon a union would have been a waste of time, because there wasn’t one. There were no arms linked or banners raised by our elders. It was no big deal. Nevertheless, larger conglomerates couldn’t get away with it, not in the 1970’s pre-Thatcher years, so why should the local council get away with picking on us young folk? My friends and I took action. After pulling on dark balaclavas on a winter’s night, and a few splashes of spray paint on the wall, we gave up after hearing a far away siren. We ran off and spent the night at Roy’s house because he had a stereo, and his mum let us smoke. A few months later with summer approaching, the hippy gents moved back in town and claimed some land outside an old Greyhound stadium, which was just down the road. They set up an adventure playground and the same thing happened, after one summer with the same financial excuses, they were gone again. “Those capitalist bastards withdrew the funding” I told my older brothers and sisters.
By this time, around 1975, the building had been revamped not long after the youth centre had closed, and was now a Buffs Club for the working men to dress up in heavily adorned lanyards. The bar remained open for a short period, how long I can’t quite remember. It seemed that with all that alcohol between a flimsy door and a Doctor Martin boot they had no choice but to close. Vandalism was rife. I had heard that there was an attempt to break in almost every night of the week. Closure was once again the only option. The building was yet again left with boards over the windows until some bright spark had yet another good idea and opened a hall, reception, disco, wedding, party room for functions and the like. I do remember during this time my friend’s mother, an Asian lady, used to meet up with her small group of other Asian ladies every Saturday morning, and guess what, it closed again. Years went by and every time I walked by that building there was either boards covering the windows or new placards proclaiming yet another grand idea for the old place. Finally, it seemed that the building had been given its last rights. The hand of fate rolled over the windows closing them shut for the last time, perhaps due to dilapidation. The old gaff was finally ready for demolition. A cheap chip wood coffin was placed over its tired old eyes and down it went tick boxed to the dark depths of the council’s lowest filing cabinet as another condemned building. It was all over.
What impressed me most of all was the clear difference between Christians and those that do good. Christians are steadfast and have a one-step-forwardness without reproach attitude. Politics does not get in the way of true Christianity, only resides on its foundation stone. No one can get in the way, unlike my hippy social working friends who frequented the building many years ago, who gave up at the first hurdle. Christians are not enriched due to the level of finances offered to them by politicians. The societal situation of being successful with money and failure without does not materialize within the realms of faith. Christian work is often completed with or without the need to people please any local council. Christians seem to hang on regardless. There is an energy that is fed by a powerful togetherness and group prayer that entails them to do so, carry on regardless. Some may argue that the project being situated between four high rise blocks of flats that have a reputation they certainly don’t deserve, has helped. Although the flats are well built, secure with a view of the River Thames they do have an, at times, undeserved reputation. Place them in private hands and they would sell for a fortune. Having lived in one for 17 years I could go on about the positive aspects but I will leave my attitude for another Post about challenging societal dogma and what not. The fact is the flats are well maintained by the local council and have recently been refurbished to a high standard with new kitchens, windows and bathrooms. Having said this, within all that newness lay a low percentage of substance abusing residents and visitors. Depression is also high on some resident’s sick list, and many other mental deficiencies that can cause an array of problems for both the individual and those around them are evident. It is true to suggest that no amount of refurb can solve mental instabilities. External material things have no bearing on combatting inner turmoil, I can vouch for that. One poor chap tried to leap out of his tenth floor window, only to be stopped by door crunching life-saving police. Including my neighbour who tried to kill himself, it seemed to me that a few other residents were handed a flat by a social working postmodern psychologists who were connected in some way to the Local Council. Those professionals who completed the council house forms for the so called marginalized assumed that their struggling maladjustments would be undone by presenting them with a new home. Were these maladjusted ‘clients’ ready for main stream society? It seemed quite evident that they were not. On the other hand regarding my flat, I was happy to live there, as many of my old neighbours still are. There are those nevertheless who are simply not happy no matter where they live because they always seem to plod along wrapped up in some kind of self-obsessed behaviour. Others simply can’t cope and need guidance, like the rest of us. These types need to be approached because many of them lack the ability to approach others to ask for help and guidance. Some are ill, and still others just can’t, or won’t, take the escape route through faith that is so blindingly obvious. There are those however who have had enough and want out of the brigade of self will and addiction, and are desperate to find a place where a new way of living can be had. These types often fall into the Storehouse and can reshape their lives quite quickly. The Storehouse is welcoming to such folk.
The Storehouse has been open for a few years now (not sure how long) and my own personal calling to be a part of the work that goes on there hasn’t materialized. Never mind, maybe one day I will become part of it all, only God knows. My hope for the Storehouse is that it remains as clear and precise evidence that the Holy Spirit works for those who seek Him, and I pray further that any new psychologists who venture that way, and who have an opinion on how it “really works” as some kind of good person syndrome that can do it without that silly old scripture, then they must think again. I have listened to one person recently who seemed to think what goes on in the Storehouse building is put together by a few good people that could do it without their loving faith in Jesus, when they couldn’t. My prayers concerning the Storehouse are also about the council who may still have other ideas, now that they see the building as successful and after having a meeting in the town hall, they may come up with a solution to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. I have seen good people, like the hippy social workers mentioned earlier, give it their best shot and fail. These people were intelligent, cared but failed. They failed because they could not see further than the council’s financial purse strings, which was a God like final say to those good chaps. The Council said close, and they closed, it’s that simple when politics is in charge. To succeed they needed to see Higher, to have more faith in what they were doing. I have seen business groups try and fail and I have seen the Council time and time again try to do something constructive and with all that money behind them nothing has ever been done, not that has lasted anyway.
Just a quick note. Richard Dawkins, the infamous atheist, has jettisoned his thoughts across You Tube media suggesting that being a good person is enough to venture humanity forward, when it clearly is not. The God economy is different, perplex and appears awkward without sense, but it works. The effort it takes to get the food and clothes ready for use appears, at times, incomprehensible, but it works. There are many people that were once worse for wear and since visiting the Storehouse on Coleman Street in Southend, have now been restored Amen. Good people maybe, but without the Holy Spirit running the show the place would close again, until the next time it opens. God bless The Storehouse Southend and those who are involved. And above all, God bless those who leave it alone.
To read more see my book The god Idea by the Rambling Bricklayer