2012 is the 30th Anniversary of the Caravan at St James’s Church, Piccadilly – a unique drop-in and counselling centre situated in the courtyard of St. James’s that offers crisis listening, emotional and psychological support and counselling on a voluntary donation basis.
Since 1982, when it opened as a Help and Advice Centre, the Caravan has been helping the disadvantaged seeking refuge and support at St James’s Church. Set up originally as part of the vision of the Revd. Donald Reeves for a holistic Centre for Health and Healing, the Caravan has evolved into a vital counselling service, open seven days a week.
It is manned by 21 volunteer students, mostly training at the CCPE – the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education – which runs the service, with St James’s providing the infrastructure. Some visitors have come regularly for years; others may visit only once in a life crisis situation.
The Caravan, according to Nigel Hamilton, Director of the CCPE, is a special place for all who use it. “Possibly because it expresses love and care at the edge of a society itself struggling to develop values, stability and mental health. Because the Caravan appears so temporary, vulnerable, and transient, it is a reminder to us all of the fragility and impermanence amidst the splendour and buzz of Piccadilly.”
30th Anniversary Celebrations
The Caravan marked its three decades at St James’s with a garden party on the afternoon of 21st September 2012 to celebrate the past, present and future of the Caravan.
With drinks, nibbles and speeches from the people who’ve supported and sustained the Caravan, the highlight of the event was the unveiling of a new Shepherds Hut, which replaces the old green Caravan.
The new facility is sturdy, practical and far more spacious. The comfortable, furnished room is fit for purpose, giving clients an improved counselling experience and a better working environment for the counsellors. More attractive yet retaining its approachability, the overall offer can only encourage more clients to drop by.
The Revd. Lucy Winkett, introducing the new Caravan, said: “The new Shepherd’s Hut ticks all the boxes. It’s more fit for purpose, aesthetically pleasing and harmonious with its surroundings.”
Caravan Co-ordinator Zak Waterman said the new facilities would allow the space for even more people with low self-esteem and low self-worth to feel better about themselves. He added: “The challenge is to keep the specialness, accessibility and informality of the Caravan, while also providing a broader and professional counselling service. There is also lots of scope for referrals from other agencies and we want to continue to develop the training offered to the volunteers.
Delivery company UPS, which helped fund the new Shepherds Hut, handed over a cheque to Caravan Co-ordinator Zak Waterman. Frank Becker, Director of HR at UPS, said: “We’re on a mission to give back to all the communities that we deliver to. It’s the least we can do as a worldwide company. Though I have to admit that, as HR director, my office can sometimes feel like a counselling room!”
After receiving the cheque, Zak added: “UPS has enabled us to look at something more ambitious than just an upgrade for the old ‘Van, and our new Hut is fit for purpose. It is home, heart and hearth. There is something welcoming, warming and hospitable about it. We’re giving a message to all disenfranchised people that you’re worth it and you’re worth taking care of, and there’s a place for you here.”
CCPE supervisor Richard Stewart – who did a counselling placement at the Caravan between 1994 and 1997 – said: “This is a safe space that honours the essence of the people who come to the ‘Van for help. The new Shepherds Hut is consonant with the kind of work we’re doing. The old ‘Van had its place, but this makes it more solid and shows our commitment.”
Nigel Hamilton, director of the CCPE, said: “In listening to people in trouble, a heart space is provided, and that’s crucial for living in the city. In providing a refuge for that person at that point, the spirit of life can be rekindled.”
For photos and more interviews from the 30th birthday celebrations, check out the Caravan’s Facebook page.