by Ben Davies

published 18 January 2019

photo: Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil, National Gallery, London

 

Severe weather can take its toll on the best-laid plans at Glass Door’s winter night shelters. Shelter manager Ben had an unforgettable night when snowfall brought havoc to central London.


 

Ben DaviesI’ll never forget our busiest night of the winter on the Hammersmith and Fulham circuit. I was already running late – though not so much ‘running’ as trudging through snow flurries with a box of 10 sleeping bags slung across my shoulder. I’d been warned to expect up to 15 extra guests.

I was jostled by shoppers and the box was feeling heavier and heavier when our seven-year-old daughter rang my mobile – with the sound of our baby crying in the background -- to say “Mummy’s fallen over outside, can you come and help her?” The short answer was "no". But I told her to put ice on the injury and promised to take her to A&E when I got back.

The normal 20-minute jaunt down to St Dionis (the shelter venue) took over an hour, and a line of 58 guests were standing in the freezing sleet by the time I arrived. There was no sign of any volunteers… 

Guests pitch in

I asked the guests for a hand, and we soon had the van unpacked. Volunteers began arriving, we got the food going, and things were starting to look up.

Suddenly, there was a commotion from upstairs. 

Those who fight also defend

A group of Polish men and a number of Somalis were scrapping over who got to hang out their soaking gear to dry, while a female guest was screaming at the top of her lungs for everybody to calm down.

I just lost it. I pulled the warring parties apart and threatened to send three of the Somali men back out into the snow because the situation was escalating.

There was a moment of stunned silence and then I was met with a chorus of “You can’t do that, it’s snowing!” from all of the Polish guests.

Tea saves the day

At that point, a volunteer came in and shouted: "Tea anyone? I've made scones."

Instantly, there were smiles all round.

After dinner, we had to improvise to give everyone enough room to bed down. The hall is the size of a tennis court and we spent half an hour in a giant game of tetris, moving people three inches one way, and two feet the other.

Meanwhile, a volunteer went home and returned with her late husband’s complete wardrobe, while another went to his van and came back with a dozen remover’s blankets. 

More food was supplied, and in the morning, breakfast for 60 was whistled up at short notice.

Strange to say, it really was a magical night.

And then I went home and spent four hours in A&E with my wife. Having got us safely home afterwards over the icy roads, I then had to take our neighbour back to the same hospital after he came out to see if we were okay, slipped on the ice, and broke his ankle…


In addition to serving as a Glass Door's shelter manager, Ben is also an author and playwright. His book Hinterland, a tale of the New World can be found on Amazon.