Meet the Salvation Army at Kerbey Street

On the day that the refurbished statues of William and Catherine Booth were unveiled in Withchapel to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Salvation Army, I had a chat with Majors David Brown and his wife Meshiel at the Kerbey Street headquarters.

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David and Meshiel came to London in July of last year from Durham. The mission of the Corps is to be a beacon for the local area (light, warmth, hope, safety and good news) and judging by the amount of activity taking place it is well on the way to becoming that.

The Kerbey Street site is the oldest existing Salvation Army Corps in the world. The foundation stone was laid by Catherine Booth herself in 1872. The building was replaced in 1927 but still remains an attraction for the worlds’ 1.5 million members who travel to visit. It.

If you are unsure of the role of the SA plays in our communities here are a few stats to get on with…

  • They support more than 2,500 people back into employment.
  • Their Family Tracing Unit helps reunite around 2,000 families a year.
  • They serve around 3 million nourishing meals throughout the year at Salvation Army community and residential centres to older people, people affected by homelessness and young families.
  • Their Emergency Response Unit attended 163 emergencies across the country as well as having 62 residential ‘Lifehouses’ across the UK and Republic of Ireland for people experiencing homelessness, providing 3,200 beds a night plus training and support to get back on their feet.
  • They organise on average 414 Parent and Toddler clubs per week to enable children to play in safe environments and where parents meet with Salvation Army Officers and other parents for support, with an average weekly attendance of 14,742.

But Kerbey Street is not all about statistics, it’s about people. It’s about David a recovering alcoholic who looked to the SA for help and got it. He had just given his ‘testimony’ that day in front of hundreds of people and was now playing an active part in helping the celebrations. It’s about my step daughter Chelsea, who – with other local youths – got the opportunity to see a west end show which they may not have had (ironically the show was called ‘Wicked’). She loved it. It’s about the lady I briefly met who came all the way from Japan to see Kerbey Street for herself. And it’s about people like Roz.

Roz and Jon run the Paradise zone youth centre. She first came to Kerbey Street as a parent in 1994 and although she is not a Salvationist herself she shares their values. Roz works alongside secondary schools with young people who have ‘issues’. They work in an imaginative and positive way. These issues – such as deafness and motor skills to name just two – are challenging, but Roz is a professional having gained many qualifications and is still adding to them. And from just talking to her I could see her energy and enthusiasm are endless.

They use art, talking, verbal games, cooking and music as well as less well known skills such as ‘circle time’, ‘new news’ and ‘nice to meet you’s’. They also have a roof garden and a recording studio and much more besides.

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The Salvation Army has a rich history but David is more than aware of the issues that face our community now. John and Meshiel live locally. One of John’s favourite places in Poplar is the recreation grounds, but even here he sees many of these issues such as drink and drugs and homelessness. I asked him what he wanted to see in the future for poplar. He told me there needed to be compassion for all the people who live here in a time of great change. This is reflected in his choice of slogan he would use…’Poplar for the people – not the bankers’. It’s important that people realise where they come from and have a memory of that journey. He is also aware that if current plans go ahead, the Kirby Street site will be on the edge of what will be a massive building site. .but he is keen that the good work it does will not be lost in the rubble but will remain at the heart of the community.

John told me he enjoys being in such a diverse community and working alongside other people of faith to meet the needs of e community

So in a week when they filled to capacity the 02 arena 7 times (more than most pop stars can boast). When members marched up the mail. When members from all over the world, from Japan Australia, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland. Mexico, USA as well from all over the UK came to poplar to celebrate the birth place of the movement. What about the future?

Under David and Meshiel’s tenure, working with local members Kerbey Street will achieve its values of love, service, sharing, transformation and relationships. They will continue to see the problems our society faces – family breakdown, poverty, homelessness, hunger, drug and alcohol addiction domestic violence, child abuse and much more besides. To help men, women and children who suffer greatly and more than anything to do something practical to transform their lives. To insure that the Salvation Army and Kerbey Street can continue to be a beacon for the next 150 years.

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