MP takes on Tory mission

PUBLISHED: 11:22 15 February 2007 | UPDATED: 14:59 12 May 2010

MP Oliver Heald hard at work

MP Oliver Heald hard at work

THE other, harsher side of life has been experienced first-hand by MP Oliver Heald. Mr Heald, the MP for North East Herts, left the House of Commons behind last week to encounter some of the toughest social problems facing Britain. The Shadow Minister for

THE other, harsher side of life has been experienced first-hand by MP Oliver Heald.

Mr Heald, the MP for North East Herts, left the House of Commons behind last week to encounter some of the toughest social problems facing Britain.

The Shadow Minister for Social Inclusion spent five days as a volunteer helping at a direct access hostel for 54 homeless men in Sheffield.

The placement, organised by the Centre for Social Justice, brought him face to face with homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and family breakdown.

Mr Heald said: "It's vital that MPs experience the reality of Breakdown Britain.

"These night shelters and rehabs are run by men and women who are saving lives and healing our self-harm society. MPs and Government need to get on their side."

He was involved in preparing meals, cleaning toilets, and getting stuck into whatever practical work he could.

And he will be keeping in touch with the project.

Following his shifts at St Anne's, Mr Heald said: "The experience had a big impact.

"It was a very interesting experience to meet those affected by homelessness, and quite different from anything I have done before.

"It was very rewarding and made me realise that we live in such a privlieged area in Hertfordshire."

Mr Heald said mental illness, particularly depression, affected many people at the hostel, and many of them had a bad start in life.

"It brings home to you what misery there is," he said.

"But it's good to see that these people are trying to sort themselves out and are being helped by people dedicated to saving and improving lives.

"They do a fantastic job and deserve our strongest support."

Mr Heald has also worked with a charity that teaches people basic skills, and he hopes to work at a day centre with people who have drink problems.

He said: "We're (Conservatives) trying to devote some policies that tackle the problems of people at the bottom of the pile.

"There's a feeling Conservatives haven't dealt with some of these issues in the past, so we're trying to get evidence from organisations and see it for ourselves.

"Some people say MPs don't live in the real world, but we're anxious to show people we do."

Day 1

My induction with the deputy manageress Mandy left me a bit nervous as she mentioned the possible risks of needle stick injury and violence, but in fact both staff and residents have been very welcoming.

I started at 8am for a 12-hour shift.

The podiatrist came and helped a number of those with feet damaged by too long spent outdoors on the streets. One chap said that he would now be so comfortable he could walk to the village. It's been a long day - back at 7.30am tomorrow.

Day 2

Patrick the needle exchange worker from Turning Point came to collect needles from the secure bins around the hostel. I went round with him to collect them. It was good to see Patrick again. I had met him before on my visit to Turning Point.

The best thing has been talking to the residents, many of whom have harrowing stories to tell. They are very open with me and willing to share their experiences.

Day 3

It's icy, 7.30am.and I am being briefed by Tracey, St Anne's cold weather worker. We are going out to the day centre where rough sleepers have breakfast, and then to visit the overnight spots for those sleeping out in Sheffield this February. One man is pleased he has a good thick coat. Another wonders where he'll get enough cardboard during the day to make a shelter good enough for snow. I return to St Anne's hostel for the afternoon. I play a few games of pool in the recreation room with two residents. They're far too good for me.

Day 4/5

My last stint at St Anne's is the night shift from Thursday 7.30pm until 8am on Friday with Helen and Julie.

It is a more relaxed atmosphere with residents enjoying a few words with us as they collect soap for their washing or ask for the TV guide. The younger residents talk about their hopes for the future - for a flat, to do an NVQ or to set up home with their girlfriends.

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