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Charity volunteer has gone from brink of homelessness to London’s unsung hero

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 September 2015 | UPDATED: 08:41 23 September 2015

Robert Wilkinson with Kim Merry

Robert Wilkinson with Kim Merry

Archant

A charity volunteer described as “the epitome of a hero” has been named Unsung Hero of London in the Lloyd’s Bank Foundation 2015 Charity Achievement Awards.

Robert Wilkinson, 47, was on the brink of homelessness when he began volunteering for Hope4Havering, a charity which provides support and accommodation to homeless people across Havering.

He said: “It’s not a small feat. I am a very humble man but this is symbolic of the work of the charity”

A father of one and director of a web development company, Mr Wilkinson, from Bermuda, arrived in the Netherlands in 2011 with his family, but separated from his wife shortly after.

In January 2012 he traveled to London. “I had two options, either to go back to Bermuda or to stay,” he said.

Mr Wilkinson grew up in a large “disruptive” family in Bermuda, where both his parent suffered from alcoholism.

He said: “I have been profoundly affected by the effects of drugs and alcohol.”

In London, he found a cheap hostel near King’s Cross and started looking for work. “It was tough, tough, tough” he said.

He only had £3 left, when he met a Bermudian woman who volunteered at the newly set up Hope4Havering homeless shelter in Romford and told him to meet Kim Merry, the director of Hope4Havering.

Because Mr Wilkinson had no connections with Havering, he could not stay in the shelter and so Mrs Merry, a mother of seven, invited him into her family home.

She said: “Our philosophy has always been to welcome strangers.”

“Robert got on so well with my family that we half hoped he would continue staying and I really hoped our paths would cross again”,

Mr Wilkinson laughed: “It’s because I was doing all of the children’s homework for them.”

“It was amazing how another human being can reach out to others and that also inspired my work,” he added.

Over the next few months, Mr Wilkinson moved into different homes from the charity’s network, and worked as a contract web developer.

At the same time, he started volunteering at the Hope4Havering shelter working in the evenings and overnight and increasingly taking on bigger roles, manning the centre nearly daily, providing people with clothes and support in seeking jobs and accommodation.

In September 2013, Hope4Havering opened its Tranformation centre, on Ockendon Road, Hornchurch, which helps up to six people at a time resolve drug and alcohol addictions.

Mr Wilkinson was involved in the centre from its first day and has now become its manager.

He described the centre as a model for dealing with people suffering from addictions and hopes Hope4Havering can inspire communities across the UK. “I know I want to be involved in making a difference and in the future this centre will represent a model.”

The award ceremony will take place on October 8, at the Banking Hall, during which winners of the national competition will be announced.


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