‘The one thing they lacked was choice...‘

Back left, Father Bob White and, front left, then Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Frank Jonas with people from the groups that benefited from the voucher collectrion in 2012
Back left, Father Bob White and, front left, then Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Frank Jonas with people from the groups that benefited from the voucher collectrion in 2012
30 Battery 16 Regiment Royal Artillery lead the annual St Georges Day parade through Emsworth town centre. Picture Ian Hargreaves (180463-23)

IN PICTURES: St George’s Day parade in Emsworth

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WITH two days until the end of The News’ Comfort and Joy Christmas campaign, Reverend Canon Bob White has recalled the 16-year history of the voucher scheme.

He said it began in 2001 when the Portsmouth Housing Association invited people from local churches and those working with the homeless to meet and see what they could do together.

Rev White said: ‘The early meetings quickly developed into the formation of the group now known as Church Homeless Action with the title reflecting the work of the group which was to provide an informal network to share information and raise awareness of the issues.’

Along with Carole Damper from the Roberts Centre, Rev Bob talked about one of the main issues faced was the ‘dehumanising’ of those who were on the margins.

Rev White, vicar of St Mary’s Church in Fratton, said: ‘They easily became an anonymous ‘them’ or ‘a problem’.

‘The one thing they lacked was the gift of choice,’ he said.

‘While it was good people were willing to donate items, they were what they chose to give, rather than seeking to understand what the other person would like to have.’

The voucher scheme was a culmination of these two issues with supermarket vouchers giving the gift of choice and the Christmas card message showing other people cared.

Rev White said: ‘The first year we were overwhelmed at the generous response, raising around £5,000 and the next year we were asked by people if it was happening again.

‘It has grown a life of its own since then and we now support 11 agencies.

‘Over the life of the scheme, we have raised nearly £150,000, but what’s more important is the impact the vouchers and cards have had on people.

Rev White added: ‘We have been delighted to receive the support from The News this year alongside Tesco at Fratton and we look forward to sharing the cards and vouchers once more this Friday at noon at St Mary’s Church.