Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to join the Sock Mob on one of their weekly walks in central London. The name Sock Mob comes from when the group first started meeting and taking to the streets with socks to handout to the homeless of London.
There are still socks in abundance but also gloves, jumpers, hot drinks and food for anyone who wants it. The idea is that four groups meet in different parts of London at the same time and walk an area for a couple of hours spreading cheer, warmth and friendship to the homeless.
At Lush, we had supported the group over Christmas by collecting clothing and donations in all the London shops. It had proved very popular with staff and customers but we had yet to embark on one of the mobbings (where donations are given out).
So it was that I waited patiently outside a large fastfood chain on the Strand and looked for likely fellow mobbers to emerge streetside. It didn’t take long before I met Richard and Richard – a SockMob regular and the Strand meet-up organiser, and then Robert and then Anna and then Mikey. All were very friendly, ladened with donations and eager to get going!
We made our way along the busy 7 O’clock Strand and headed towards Covent Garden. Despite this usually being an area where lots of street friends can usually be found, we failed to find anyone at first. Having been here quite a lot before I moved to London, it was noticeable how much the area has changed even in the last few years. There was a side-street that been roofed, swankified and made very private-looking. Everywhere looked forbidding and sanitized unless you had money to spend!
Later, we met a man behind the Royal Opera House who was very peacefully listening to the radio through headphones and looking after his two friends’ sleeping bags. He gratefully accepted a hot drink and a KitKat and chatted to us for a bit. He mentioned that the BAFTAs had happened in the opera house just that weekend and he had been cleared from his spot as the whole road was sealed off for security. Hardly surprising but also not the best advert for a British film industry so embracing of films like Slumdog Millionaire and Mike Leigh’s social realism.
As we walked towards theatreland, we met and struck up conversation with a few other guys on their own. I was surprised both by people’s openness and happy-go-lucky attitude. No one we spoke to seemed angry or resentful at their situation, inspite of the huge frustration that must go with trying to secure things like accommodation or a job.
Writing this, I realise it is impossible to generalise about those we met on the street. People’s stories were all very different and whether they choose to live on the street (as some do) or not, most appreciate a smile, a cup of tea or a chat like anyone else.
Sockmob do just this every week and you can join their meet up page here.