The London Bridge attack on June 3 2017 was an atrocity all too familiar, in which three British Islamists, high on steroids and wearing fake explosive vests, brought terror to our streets. They drove a van into innocent pedestrians on London Bridge and then used knives to murder eight people. 48 people were injured.
The Westminster Bridge attack, in which four people were killed and 22 injured, is also still fresh in our minds. Yet, as we look back now one year later, the terrible figures hide the fact that each of these statistics is a human story; the loss of a much loved brother, sister, lover, an injury and a memory that may never be erased.
However, even from this evil and darkness, there is often light and good that comes through, as we seek ways in which to remember those who have been lost and to create a positive legacy from a faceless statistic.
The London Bridge attack resulted in the tragic loss of Christine Archibald who died in the arms of her fiancé, Tyler Ferguson. They were both from Calgary in Canada, and were enjoying a holiday break in London.
Chrissy Archibald, after graduating from Mount Royal University, had become a key support worker, much loved at the Alpha House project in her home town. The house operated as a homeless shelter as well as providing rehab services. Her photo and back story, which appeared in the news as they reported on those who had died, resonated with my We Care charity, which works with people in food and housing crisis under the #SolidarityNotCharity banner.
Chrissy was one of our own, doing all that she could to help the vulnerable at a time when the number of people in food crisis and living on the streets has reached an epic scale. The government was moving its policy agenda towards punishment and criminalisation of the poor, rather than taking steps to address the structural casues of the crisis. The public were disengaged, and the important work of volunteers, who selflessly give their lives and time to help others, increasingly appeared to have little value in 2017 Britain. Yet, from this terrible attack, some of us became determined that the loss of this community worker, Christine Archibald, would not be forgotten. And by celebrating her life and work, we could also celebrate the work of all volunteers who do so much for others without thanks or personal gain.
Chrissy’s family put out a public statement in which they urged everyone to turn the loss of Chrissy into good: “We don’t want flowers, just please go volunteer at a food bank, get active in your community, say #ChrissySentMe.” How could we refuse? Within days, we had set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for an outreach project in her name. Using a new hash tag, #ChrissySentUs, we set about raising money to buy a refrigerated van to get fresh food donated for the use of as many street outreach projects as we could. As donations were slow, we had to revise our plans and chose to donate soup and hot drink flasks to every UK Street project with Chrissy’s image on every one. We also printed high visibility jackets displaying her photograph to keep volunteers safe, as most work at night in poor light. The initiative became a beacon for people in food or housing crisis, who found themselves alone for the first time and scared. However, with Chrissy’s face welcoming them, telling their stories and securing that hot meal seemed so much easier.
Today #ChrissySentUs flasks are serving hot food and drinks in areas such as Huddersfield, Manchester, Bolton, London and Luton. More outreach projects secure their free #ChrissySentUs kits every week, that also include a free copy of my book Food Bank Britain which gives help and guidance on all aspects of setting up and running your own food outreach project successfully. In 2018, we also started supplying camping washing machines to homeless shelters and short term projects. Many homeless people have a favourite piece of clothing, as we all do, and just having the ablity to wash that item, instead of discarding it for this week’s clothes rail, can make a huge difference to people, their sense of dignity and their wellbeing.
None of our team takes money from the project. The only admin cost is the postage to send out our Chrissy kits across the UK. We value every penny we get, as each one donated helps towards another area of the UK getting its own Chrissy legacy. What I have most loved from developing this project is twofold. First, there are the truly inspirational people I meet that run such amazing projects, like Jon at @StreetsKitchen and Charlotte @charlotteh71 @LGBTIQoutside and Dave at @HCPKenno and the ever-growing number of other UK street projects. Second, there is the wonderful fact that the organisers do not see this project as just about a flask and a jacket; for them, Chrissy is a member of the team. “Who’s bringing Chrissy tonight?” or “Who’s taking Chrissy home tonight?” are regular comments you will hear.
On June 3 2017, evil came to London; but out of evil, good can often shine. Christine Archibald is, and will continue to be, on Britain’s streets, still helping and cheering the vulnerable and lost. As long as people are hungry and homeless and we have outreach projects, her smiling face of welcome will shine like a bright star on many dark streets. The legacy of her generous heart will give warmth and comfort to so many strangers who will all know who Chrissy was. I hope her family can be proud that, out of their own and Canada’s loss, there has grown a movement of kindness and care for so many who, but for the grace of God or fate, could be any one of you reading this article. When faced with someone in crisis, will you do something in memory of Chrissy? Just say: #ChrissySentMe.