Approximately 10 years ago Val picked up a flyer whilst out shopping inviting people to attend an open evening in the old CHESS centre at the rear of Chelmsford Cathedral.  We had both been concerned about the increasing numbers of homeless in our community and the invite certainly pricked our conscience to find out more and how we could help.

Val says ‘over the past 10 years I have done the cooking and sleepover roles in the old night shelter. I have really enjoyed the interaction with the service users and the staff. I realised very quickly that there is a story behind every single person on how they became ‘Homeless.’  I have seen CHESS support staff turn peoples’ lives around. Some just need a simple hand up others sadly have more complex issues to address. The ability to change the direction of someone’s life is amazing and Andy and I do get a sense of pride that we have played our small part in supporting the professional staff in making this happen day after day.

Andy adds ‘as an Accountant I have always been slightly obsessed with numbers, data and trends. When Val told me about an open evening at the local homeless charity I was a little sceptical as to what practical help I could offer. However when a young Rob Saggs announced CHESS were looking to compile a Social Audit and he asked did anyone in the room know about Corporate Social Responsibility I put my hand up, I had found an area where I could offer help.

Over the last decade I have helped Rob and the staff produce the Social Audit. The audit seeks to evidence the impact CHESS has had on our local community.  For a charitable organisation the ability to capture the Social, Economic and Environmental impact of their activities is quite powerful when seeking and securing funding.

Within each annual audit we do include a few short pen pictures from service users about the impact CHESS has had on their lives. I feel these ‘stories’ are the pivotal part of each report as they vividly transform the dull numbers and statistics into real events and real lives.  I am very proud to have helped capture those real stories each year that in themselves help CHESS continue to secure vital funding to enable CHESS the opportunity to change more lives.

A striking statistic in each social audit is the number of hours provided by our dedicated core of volunteers. Pre-pandemic the typical average number of active volunteers was around 65.  Each volunteer typically provided 100 hours of support to CHESS each year. Without this level of support CHESS could not offer the level of service it does. Our dedicated volunteers are fundamental to the entire CHESS operation.

So as Volunteers Val and I were so excited to hear the news that CHESS had been awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service and feel it is a fitting recognition to all those volunteers past and present who have given so much of their time, so freely year after year.

When CHESS offered Val and I the opportunity to attend a royal garden party we were shocked and excited. We were acutely aware there were so many volunteers who had worked tirelessly over the years, we did feel a little guilty of why us? At the same time we also felt honoured to be put forward and we thoroughly enjoyed our day.

Whilst we were in a very long queue to enter the palace garden we got chatting to Felix a GP from the Harlow area. He asked why we had been invited and we shared the story of CHESS and we learned that Felix had been put forward for an invite for his exemplary service to his local community throughout the pandemic.

Felix gazed at the very long queue and said “There must be an awful lot of people doing good things.” How true!

I have reflected on Felix’s simple sentence countless times in the last few weeks. It is strikingly true and the principle of the Queen inviting ordinary citizens who have offered service to their community to her Garden Parties each year reflects the Queens own life of service over the last 70 years. A remarkable achievement which we all got to celebrate over the jubilee weekend.

Read more from the 20 Years, 20 Stories campaign here ‎ and for all of the stories from HARP, Southend here