Sharon Haward works for DAGE, Deptford Action Group for the Elderly, a charity which provides a pensioners’ daily pop-in centre and a charity shop which recycles used furniture to sell it on for affordable prices. Since 2015, Sharon also runs the café Rough & Ready to serve the community of Deptford. The funds raised are used to look after the Deptford elderly. Sharon set up DAGE with her husband Harry Haward, a real Deptford character who was born here, loved Deptford, and died here in November 2016 aged 83. Since then she’s been struggling to keep the charity running, encountering many obstacles and severe cuts to funding. At times, she feels like giving up as it’s simply too hard to keep going when you keep hitting brick walls, but she won’t let the obstacles win. She tells of her experience:
“Me and Harry used to run a nightclub called Cheeks on Deptford Broadway, this was in 1997, and Harry always looked out for the elderly and put on big party nights for pensioners. The business wasn’t going well though over the last 2 years and then I saw something on DAGE in the South London Press. DAGE already existed, had 5 members and was run by an 80-year old lady in a wheelchair. She was going to shelve it so we rang her to see if we could take over the charity, and she agreed. We found an empty shop on the High Street, which was absolutely derelict. Just to make it inhabitable cost £11,000 with a local building company (they don’t exist anymore today). We rented the premises and made an agreement with the owner that if our Lottery bid was successful, he would have to sell us the space for £90,000. He agreed as no-one expected our application to be successful but it was and so he had to sell it to us for the agreed price. We got a Lottery Grant of approximately £250,000, which paid for the full refurbishment and the set-up, which took 3 months.
We have a pop-in space at the back, we offer free tea, coffee, cakes, no membership fee, and in the evenings I go out to collect donated food from Marks & Spencers and hand it to the pensioners. We also used to do 5 outings a year to the seaside and 2 big parties a year. All the food, tickets and transport was free. We have won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, and other awards for recycling as we do furniture pick-ups to then sell for affordable prices to the local population (see image below).
Image kindly supplied by DAGE.
The council had always supported DAGE in the past, but in 2014 they warned us that there was going to be a cap, and that they would reduce 25% maximum of our funding. In the end, they took it all away, everything of the £40,000 we had previously received. Apparently, they wanted to fund other projects and we were told ‘the council has no funds left’. We appealed but without luck.
The consequence of this was that we had to let a member of staff go as we couldn’t afford her anymore, but we promised to re-employ her if we find other funding. At that time Harry started to get very ill, and I had to spend more time sorting out the charity’s affairs rather than being at home with my ill husband. It’s all very sad, especially when you have devoted your life to caring for others. Before Harry’s death, I had been a trustee for DAGE for 15 years and had never earned a penny. After Harry’s death I had to get paid a little salary, after all I couldn’t live on thin air. I do the book-keeping, the food in the café, I manage the shop, I sort bags of clothes we receive and bring them to DAGE, and I sell on e-bay – it’s so much work.
Until January 2018, we still had a bit of Lottery funding but that’s run out now. We still have some money from smaller trust foundations but we need to think about our future. We also try to support ourselves with the furniture but there’s not really any profit because we sell for very cheap and there are costs involved as well. It’s also very hard to find volunteers – most stay for a day and then leave. It’s hard work and they don’t always realise just how hard it is when they sign up. The café also doesn’t make much profit, so it’s hard work to try and keep it all going. I haven’t even had time to grieve because I’m so busy.
Harry was an exceptional man: when MRSA, the hospital bug, first came out, he protested with others outside Lewisham hospital to have better hygiene policies. Because of that, Lewisham hospital was the first hospital to have the hand gels everywhere. He also protested about the reduction of blue badge parking and made sure there were more blue badge parking spaces outside Lewisham hospital car park. He always looked out for pensioners, but never saw himself as one of them, not even at the age of 83 when he died.
Image kindly supplied by DAGE.
The pensioners bear the brunt of all those cuts. The outings to the seaside and the big parties have stopped as we don’t have the funds to do this anymore. Many have lost partners and while some of them still have family who look after them at weekends, sometimes DAGE is the only reason why they might come out during the week. DAGE fights against isolation and it is a safe space for pensioners to be in. We used to have the Pension Service come down to help pensioners with their benefit claims as a lot is not claimed as they don’t always know what they’re entitled to. Also, the police community support officers used to come to see if there are any issues the people want to raise. So, without these services, these people are isolated and not cared for. There is a lot of money out there, especially for the young and the arts, but not for essential services to look after the poor. The young should have every opportunity there is, but one day the young of today will be needing those other services and they won’t be there anymore.
For example, the Lewisham Handyman scheme has been closed, where somebody would come around to fix little things like changing a light bulb or installing a smoke alarm. The pensioner would pay for the bulb or the alarm but somebody would install it for them. So many people don’t know where to turn anymore and just get fobbed off all the time. For old people it’s getting worse all the time and the money is going to the wrong places. What about those big developers – don’t they have to bring back money to the community? Where is it? And I can’t bear the word ‘affordable’ because it’s not social housing and is only affordable to an elite few. Yes, Deptford needs a face-lift but scrapping all the old and bringing in the new is just creating an elitist society.”
If you would like to donate money to DAGE to keep it going, please go to: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1013449