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House Update – Plaistow

From the house report, written October 2011

This morning a party banner, “Birthday Princess”, festoons the front window of the house.  A year ago, little Maria Alexandra was born.  Mum and Dad, living at the house at the time, arrived street homeless, hoping to kick a drug habit.  Mum was six months pregnant.

The family live now along the road, drug free, and supporting themselves with part-time employment.  Maria Alexandra’s first birthday is a celebration of a big miracle.  Thanks be to God.

Also at the birthday party is Brother Arnold, a brother for sixty years, and on 24 September, 2011 we gave thanks for him being a priest for fifty years.  Indeed, we give thanks for him every day.

At the party is the household: ten adults and three children, who would otherwise be street homeless and destitute.  The children are aged one, three and eleven.  They have been refused help by the local authority, and have been sent to us from the police station.

Alongside the household is Brother Julian, and Jens, from Germany, volunteering with us for a ‘gap year’.  Other volunteers and neighbours join in the party.  We come from most corners of the earth.

Brother Vaughan has come to join us, in his third year of the novitiate.  Much of his time is spent supporting people through some of the bureaucracy and processes associated with benefits, housing, citizenship and health.  This often simply means sharing long periods in waiting rooms, writing letters, or making phone calls.  One day a week he spends with the Franciscan Roman Catholic Brothers of the Renewal at their soup kitchen in Canning Town.  Brother Peter joined us last December.

The house itself has been restored extensively by the stonemasons who care for the royal palaces, and redecorated by Jacek, now established in business, who lived in the house when he was in extreme need.

Today is also the third anniversary of the blessing of the house, shared with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  How blessed we are!

Donald, Edmund and Vaughan, while ‘belonging’ to the house at 42 Balaam Street, live round the corner in Crofton Road.  The front garden patch there is now distinguished by a shed – the ramp a gift from Jacek; the stencilled rabbit from a passer-by.  The shed houses Donald’s new buggy.  This transport  has made him mobile again: Sundays on the bus to St Alban’s, Ilford; round to Balaam Street and elsewhere on weekdays – a most practical solution.  Old friends, ex-prisoners, even youth club members from St Philip’s long ago: all show up from time to time.  It was some fellow veterans from WWII in fact, who just at the right moment, encouraged Donald to apply to the Royal  British Legion for an electric wheelchair, to which at once there was a warm response.

Stephen, the newly appointed Bishop for the Diocese of Chelmsford, home-grown, came by one day for Evensong at Balaam Street.  He blamed Donald squarely for the whole thing.  Donald tried to demur.  But, “No, it really is your fault I’m here: you asked me on a mission to our parish if I’d ever thought of ministry.”

Edmund wanders hopefully, occasionally still helping out at churches east and west of the Lee (which he appreciates a lot), and keeps in touch with a number of folk in need.

Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Praying’ from a collection “Thirst” (in Poems, published by Beacon Press, Boston, 2006) captures the ethos of the house:


It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch


a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway


into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.