Imagine the heroine of a real life saga to rival Cathy Come Home, the classic ‘60s documentary style drama of homelessness and destitution, all grown up and living on Mereside estate.
That’s supergran Linda McEvilly, of 9 Bowness Avenue. We include the house number by design, for this is the dropping off point for food parcels and other aid.
Blackpool’s gypsies, Women’s Aid, Blackpool Coastal Housing, recycling agencies, ordinary men and women across Mereside, and the Facebook social network, have adopted Linda’s small community outreach group, Care & Share, as their own.
They know the provisions dropped there will be sorted out, cleaned up, and find their way to hostels, refuges, families, couples, pensioners and others in need within a matter of hours, rather than days or weeks.
That is why Linda, who is disabled, sticks with community outreach status – effectively a mini charity. No financial contributions, by request.
“I’ve had people want to give me money by way of thanks after they’ve got back on their feet but no, I don’t want money. I tell them go away, come back with a donation, some tins of food, or bedding or curtains in storage. We’ve all got stuff like that at home – as I tell the ladies at these posh groups I speak to – well, most of us.”
Linda aims to reach those who haven’t.
They include the eight months pregnant woman who arrived at a local refuge without a penny to her name, and in the clothes she stood up in. Thanks to a generous contribution by a near neighbour of prams, babywear, and other provisions, she was kitted out within days of giving birth, after a call from the refuge to Linda.
She has saved disabled pensioners a fortune on walking frames – and helped single mums kit out flats.
“‘Have you got anything for...’ that’s all I ever hear,” she admits. “And we usually have, or can find something.
“I’ve seen it time and again. I’ve literally given the coat off my back to someone on the streets who needed it more than I did, got home, and someone’s left a coat, in a bin bag, on the doorstep.”
Care & Share stemmed from her own experiences of homelessness and life in hostels.
“My husband walked out on us in the ‘80s leaving me with two children to raise. Jane would have been about 10, Anthony a toddler. I was penniless. I was terrified of losing my kids. We were on the streets. As things got better, we ended up in an hostel, then a flat. No possessions, nothing, just a bed, which I had to split so I slept on the frame, the kids got the mattress.
“So I can’t begin to describe how it felt when I finally got this place through the council and, when I walked through the door, I vowed, once I got back on my feet, I would do all I could to help others in that situation.
“And people still are. If someone loses a job, it can be a fortnight or so before they get any benefit, after all the phone calls, and appointments that have to be made, and the red tape. And that’s if they’re entitled.
“If someone moves into social housing it won’t necessarily come with a bed, or bedding, pots or pans, or other basics.”
That was back in 1987. Along the way, Linda also founded Grandparents as Parents, a national forum fighting for a better financial, and support, deal for grandparents taking on grandchildren full time. That situation befell her when her daughter died, in America, in a car crash, leaving her son Daniel, 13, an orphan. Linda took him in but couldn’t get any financial support.
“I raised him as my own alongside my own son Anthony, who’s now in his 30s. Daniel now helps out with the charity. He’s a lovely lad. But when he was little I worried about losing him. I worried that if I kicked up too much fuss about needing extra money he might end up in care.
“The paradox is that people can become foster parents, get an allowance and extras, but many grandparents go without all that when they find themselves in that situation.
“Now the national network, Grandparents as Parents, has a good lawyer, and I get invited to go on the Politics Show and do interviews with Radio Four and the like.
“I think they think I’m in some big office here.
“Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Yet the terraced house has a heart which reaches out, via Mereside Link-Up, a community network run from the currently closed Methodist Church on Grizedale Avenue, which campaigners hope to reopen, including as a base for Care & Share, to those in need.
Deacon Judith Wray explains: “Linda works tirelessly and sacrificially. Her past experience of being made homeless as a single mum, plus her vibrant faith, inspires her to work to ensure that others do not go through what she has gone through.”
Linda herself says she was inspired by a local visit by evangelist Billy Graham. “He said you never see removal vans following a hearse. You can’t take it with you!”
Linda says people have more money today, but face tougher times than she did.
“There are more drug and drink problems today, but problems can befall anyone. Older people are being made redundant and losing everything, younger folk can’t get jobs, benefits are being cut, allowances withdrawn.
“The Big Society’s a con, groups such as this, we’re already doing it.
“Last Christmas we sent out 120 hampers, big ones, to the hostels and children from Women’s Aid, and folk on Mereside and Grange Park, even St Annes, from here. Volunteers all coming in, packed with food, toys, gifts, clothes. It’s not about recognition or thanks but just helping those in need in the belief that charity really does begin at home.”
n To contact Linda email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Care and Share Blackpool page on Facebook