Profile of Neil Parkinson

Glass Door Senior Caseworker, written by George Jerjian

posted 16 December 2016

 

“I call him the ‘golden man’,” says Slawek, a homeless man whom Neil Parkinson has helped since 2008. “He has a big heart and a strong brain!” Slawek adds.

 

“Thank you Slawek, but please stop,” replies Neil. “I’m just doing my job.”

 

The first thing you notice about Neil is his long ginger dreadlocks. The second is his composure. Neil studied classics at Oxford University and has the vocabulary and calm, measured speech of someone who knows it’s not the loudest voice that is the most effective.

 

While at university, Neil became involved in the intercollegiate Christian Union, a student-led evangelical community. The group supported a youth club in Kilburn, and Neil acted as their liaison. Neil had found his niche.

 

With a vicar for a grandfather and both parents involved in the local Anglican Church, Neil says his Christian background had an influence on his professional path, even after his connection to the church waned. “What was always important to me was Jesus’s teachings of how we interact with the world and about helping our fellow man,” Neil says.

 

After graduating in 2000, Neil applied to Community Service Volunteers (now known as Volunteering Matters), who placed him in a day centre for the homeless in West London. While volunteering, Neil gained a master’s degree in social work from Brunel University.

 

In 2004, Neil’s began his career in the homeless sector at St Martin’s-in-the-Field at Trafalgar Square. He moved onto advice work for St Mungo’s in Covent Garden, before moving to Australia where he conducted homeless outreach on the streets of Sydney for a year.

 

Although Neil’s first placement with the CSV was randomly assigned, the work clicked because of its breadth. “With the homeless, you work with issues of substance abuse, mental health, disabilities, and the variety of people is so interesting and stimulating that you cannot get bored. That probably explains why I have been at Glass Door for over ten years!” he says.

 

Neil joined Glass Door as the charity’s first full-time caseworker, joining a team of only three other full-time workers. Looking to build on Neil’s initial success moving guests on from homelessness, the charity has slowly but steadily been building the casework team. Currently it employs four full-time caseworkers, with an additional three joining the team during the busy winter period.

 

One of the challenges Neil faces is in dealing with the local authority, housing department and benefits agencies when they refuse to help one of his homeless guests, when he knows that this person is in fact eligible. For example, Slawek suffers from diabetes, pancreatitis and depression. Yet the Department for Work and Pensions found him ‘fit for work’, a ruling Neil is helping Slawek appeal.

 

When Slawek arrives on a November morning to speak with Neil, he produces a batch of papers about an inch thick. Slawek explains the variety of health appointments scheduled, and Neil immediately spots two conflicting appointments. Neil makes two phone calls to rearrange them, and tells Slawek he will write a letter explaining his ailments with five copies to present at each of his appointments. Slawek agrees to pick up the letter in two days.

 

Given what Neil has done for Slawek and hundreds of other guests who have come through the charity’s doors in the past decade, it’s clear Neil’s halo of ginger hair isn’t the only reason he’s dubbed the ‘golden man’. 

 

Says Slawek: “There is no one who can compare to Neil.”