Working in the caravan for 18 months was one of the great privileges of my life so far. Witnessing clients’ personal battles. The courage of human endeavour in the face of disaster and loss. The constraints of thought patterns that keep our thinking and our lives on a narrow painful path. Watching people commit the same crime to themselves week after week. Whatever the crime, the strength of the feelings that kept them ‘re-offending’ was very human, very painful, very hard to change – harder sometimes than living.
Perhaps it was sitting knee to knee, untrained and unbiased with outpatients from some of the surrounding psychiatric wings. Or the Friday concerts in the Church or the walk through Mayfair past designer shops and the galleries of Cork street and the Royal Academy.
So I did this drawing of some of the clients I saw at the Caravan, depicting them as animals. And I drew the Caravan in the woods, which is how it felt sometimes. Though it was in the middle of a market, in the middle of Piccadilly, it often felt we were in the wild woods. The wild woods of the psyche.
The fox represented all the homeless who drifted past. They came into the Caravan occasionally, but they were hard to pin down to a time and place. Surviving on the streets of London for sometimes 10, 15 years. Living on the fringe of society: no bed, in winter, in summer. Some of them had found their way onto the streets because of marriage break ups, mental illness, or an inability to find any other place in society.
The pigeon was a client I saw for most of my 18 months at the caravan. He had a young mental age and really just came to talk. He met his forensic psychiatrist every six months and social services looked after some aspects of his care, so I felt part of a team looking after him. I didn’t like sitting with him, but he spoke so movingly once about not wanting to die and how it upset him to think of not being. He was very alone. He reminded me of a bewildered pigeon.
There was the robin, Client J. The badger, a borderline client, T. And the owl which represents Zak overseeing and supervising this incredible service and thing of beauty, which is a free drop-in centre in a churchyard at St. James’s Piccadilly in the middle of London.
I recall one or two clients who came to the Caravan to pray. They could have gone into the Church, but I guess they wanted to know their prayer was really being heard. These were delicate moments where the clients prayed to God asking for help. I sat in silence, respectful of their faith and their need to be heard.
On my last day at the Caravan, after my last session, I went into the Church and I wrote a note and put it on the prayer board and lit a candle. I wanted to thank the Caravan and the Church of St. James and the market and everyone I had met there for all I had experienced. I am not religious but I believe in the power of altruism and kindness to heal and change the world.
Happy Birthday to The Caravan.