Thameslink manager discusses months spent sleeping rough to erase stigma around homelessness

Allen Howe hopes that The Great Sock Appeal will help break down the stigma around homelessness. Picture: Govia...

Allen Howe hopes that The Great Sock Appeal will help break down the stigma around homelessness. Picture: Govia Thameslink/Peter Alvey - Credit: Archant

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is joining forces with charity partners this Christmas to provide support for the homeless.

The Great Sock Appeal has returned for a second year after the success of 2019, which saw 4,172 pairs of socks donated by...

The Great Sock Appeal has returned for a second year after the success of 2019, which saw 4,172 pairs of socks donated by customers and colleagues. Picture: Govia Thameslink - Credit: Archant

The Great Sock Appeal, which launched yesterday (December 1) is a campaign spearheaded by GTR. The collection has returned for a second year after the success of 2019, which saw 4,172 pairs of socks donated by customers and colleagues to seven different partnerships.

This year, one of the GTR’s colleagues speaks out for the first time about his experience of being homeless, with the hope of breaking the stigma associated with homelessness through the appeal.

Stevenage-based Allen Howe, senior contracts manager at Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “I know all too well the hardship and danger facing homeless people this winter, having spent many months on the streets myself after being forced out soon after my 16th birthday.

“Although I could’ve easily just given up, I knew I had to keep on pushing to try and get myself out of the situation.

Picture: Govia Thameslink/Peter Alvey

Picture: Govia Thameslink/Peter Alvey - Credit: Archant


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“I went on to spend 14 and a half years working for the council developing initiatives to support the homeless, as well as later working for the NHS before moving to GTR. I have turned my life around and now have two daughters that I absolutely adore.

“Don’t be too proud to ask for help – there are ways to get you out of whatever situation you may be facing.”

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Held virtually this year in light of COVID-19 restrictions, GTR is again rallying customers and employees to join forces and support those most in need. GTR is asking customers and staff to donate via its fundraising page, and has set its sights on matching last year’s donations to raise £8,344, equating to 4,172 pairs of socks.

Any additional donations to be split equally between the six charities, which include Hitchin-based Helping Herts Homeless and Centre 33 in St Albans.

For those sleeping rough a pair of socks is essential for keeping feet warm and dry. Without them, there is great risk of blisters, fungal infections and even trench foot.

Allen continued: “There’s a huge stigma around being homeless. People often think it’s related to drugs or alcohol – or that you’ve done something to get yourself there. The average person doesn’t realise that if you miss just three mortgage payments, you too could find yourself on the streets.

“There were many times I felt like giving up, but if you do then you’ll never experience the positive side of life.”

Steve White, chief operating officer at GTR said: “Through our work last year with our regional charity partners we’ve learnt just how much difference it makes to provide a new pair of socks and keep feet warm and dry. This year charitable donations are more important than ever before as we see our homelessness crisis worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Christmas is a time for giving, and all it takes is one pair of socks, less than the price of a coffee, to improve the life of a homeless person this winter. We want to thank our customers, colleagues and local communities for their wonderful support for those in need.”

To support The Great Sock Appeal, which is running until December 11, visit GTR’s Crowdfunder.

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