“A woman of Vision” is how Rev. Tom Stuckey, former Minister of Wesley Methodist Church described her in one of his books. And so she is. Full of passion and energy ref works of serving and helps. Exhibiting clear, purposeful Vision for changing the day to day experiences of vulnerable groups in her Community for the better.
Constance Gooding, now Co-Ordinator of the Globe Luncheon Club for the BAME Senior Citizens in Reading, a work which she has pioneered over for the past four years, began her career of giving care to others, as a Registered Nurse’/ Midwife in Guyana, South America, where she grew up.
Desiring to reach the top of her Profession, do the best for which she was capable, and of course improve her material lot in life, she competed and won a Pan-American Health Organisation and World Health Organisation Scholarship, to pursue Studies in Nursing Education/ Administration, at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Kingston, Jamaica.
This Qualification propelled her from being a first year Ward Sister, to the position and status of Nurse Teacher in the country’s main School of Nursing. From there it can be said that her Pioneering career started. Very soon after, she was chosen to lead a new two-year Nursing Programme, and shortly after replicate it, in the outlying hinterland of Guyana. She later became the Principal Tutor of a non-government Nursing School in the Bauxite Mining Area. It is said by her colleagues, that it was easy to recognise the students who were educated under her tutelage. They carried themselves well, were courteous and kind, passed their exams, and got married before having children.
Coming to England as she tends to tell it, for a rest, she worked at the Battle Hospital, Reading in the Elderly Care Department, as a Staff Nurse, then Ward Sister. As Care in the Community was being rolled out in the late 80s, Constance explains that she could not bear to be a part of giving the low standard of care which was being meted out to the Elderly. She sadly realised that she was a representative of the Hospital Administration, could not at the same time be a true Advocate for the patient. So she resigned her Post as Ward Sister, hoping to work as an Agency Nurse.
She became ill on the day she was due to do her first shift with the Agency. Whilst waiting to have Surgery, she enlisted the help of a young man, and went on the Oxford Road, and surrounding streets, every Wednesday night to witness about Jesus to anyone who would risk stopping to listen, and invite them in to a very informal Christian meeting, held in the Methodist Church. She looked specially for , Alcoholics, Prostitutes; people who would not normally go to “Church” or be received well in our Churches on any day.
Churches in Reading Drop-in Centre, situated in St. Saviour’s Road/Berkeley Avenue, was birthed, when a group of Homeless men, who at that time slept in nearby Squats, asked for somewhere where they could go to during the day, have a wash, read the Newspapers, play games, listen to the radio , have something to eat. They asked for a Drop-in Centre. They said that there was no God; that if there were a God, then he did not love them, to have them sleeping on the streets, eating food from rubbish bins. Constance vowed to them that within one year, there would be a Drop-in Centre for them. She did not know how that was going to happen. Ten months later, on 31st October 1990, CIRDIC was opened by the then Mayor Robert Dimmick. Constance was the first Manager.
She had managed to gather people around her from most of the Churches, who in turn invited other people to the work, people with the necessary skills. Her very modest home was used to store food. She supplied the Homeless group with hot cooked food twice a week and on Sundays. Appeared at Church Services and other Events around Reading to publicise the need for volunteers and Finance. Soon a Management Committee was formed, then Charity Status achieved. The rest is History. Constance understood her role as Pioneer of this work.
The emerging phenomenon of homelessness in Reading was a complex one. Who was sleeping on the streets, and why? Which age group was most affected, which gender? Did everyone need a flat or house to live in? Were some in employment? What part was poor Mental Health playing? How many were being seen regularly by their GP? What about family relationships? What was being presented to us, Service Providers?
The Drop-in Centre, in addition to providing warmth, company, clean clothing and a hot meal etc, was a space to assess the needs of individuals, and develop streams of care and intervention. A healing Centre for individuals, at that time presenting with situations of homelessness, which would develop over a period of time.
As more and more people were added to the volunteer base, highly skilled and qualified individuals, Constance realised that the time to hand over the Manager’s position to someone else had come. That is the Hallmark of Pioneering – starting a work, laying down foundation principles, systems etc, then leave as soon as you can, so that others with perhaps greater skills of Management, would come in, find their place, and further develop the work.
In 1991, Constance had major surgery. Clinical Depression followed, as she could not take most of the post-op medication offered. She deduced that she needed to be attending a Day Centre. At that time there was only one in Reading for outpatients with Mental Health problems, and they were full.
She realised that as the roll out of Care in the Community was at its peak, there most certainly were many individuals like her, needing Day Care Services, which were few.. She felt that she had to do something to remedy that situation.
Churches in Reading Women’s Centre, CIRWIC, held at Wesley Methodist Church Hall, three days a week came into being in February 1992.There is where she met Rev. Tom Stuckey, the then Minister of Wesley Methodist Church, and the person who has bestowed on her the greatest accolade she could ever receive from another human being.
At this Centre, emphasis was placed on providing Space, Listening, Storytelling, and the sharing of Skills. Persons attending could turn up at any time, sit wherever they felt comfortable, talk or not speak with anyone, sit and stare if that is what it felt like for them that day. There was always someone available to listen either privately or in the open. Forum for Storytelling, compiling items for the Centre’s Monthly Magazine.
Sitting around just gassing with each other. A Tailor/Dressmaker served the Centre two full days a week, supporting individuals in the making of simple items of clothing, alterations. Etc Discussions on Assertiveness Weekly sale of clothing.
Basic Cooking Skills for those who had left the Care System, not having been taught how to cook, and now lived on their own. Making one-pot meals only.
Financial support came from the RBC and individuals. One day, during a session of Storytelling, an 18 year old girl, asked why it was that she was abused by her parents and thrown out of her home when she told the Authorities? What does God have to say about that?
Constance gave an answer, which she herself was not satisfied with. She reasoned that her response was inadequate, because her Bible knowledge was inadequate. She immediately arranged to attend Bible College, choosing Studies in Christian Education and Church Administration. Training in Christian Counselling through the University of Lampeter, prepared her for work as a telephone adviser with Napac, the Charity which offers services to adults who were abused in childhood, and with ParentLine Plus, a Charity which serves parents.
In 2011, Constance sustained a brain injury, which interfered with her memory and vocabulary. At her last consolation with the Psychologist in 2013, when asked what plans she had for the future, he was surprised when she said that she had already paid for a one-day Food Safety and Hygiene Course. That she was preparing to serve refreshments at Church, clear the tables etc. She had not done that before, maybe she would be allowed to do so.
In 2015, she changed Church Congregations. In a strange twist, found herself a part of the Globe Church, a place she had not ever desired to be, though she had always hungered for an opportunity to serve her own race.
Settling in for her was not easy. She was hoping that she would be used in the Christian Education Department, teaching young adults 18 -25 years old or new converts. There was nothing. No one knew she was a highly qualified and experienced Bible teacher etc. Just as she was about to be feeling bored out of her mind in the Spring of 2016, she applied for a position of assistant to the Manager of the Globe’s Hospitality Department. To wash dishes, make sandwiches, sweep and mop the kitchen floor, she thought. Seems she failed that interview, as for weeks there was no communication from the Interviewers. She told friends and family that she had failed an interview for washing dishes. How had the Mighty fallen!
It bothered her that she had not been told the outcome of the Interview. Later learnt that that position had been “pulled. “Which made her think that she had better leave that congregation.
The Luncheon Club for the BAME Seniors in the Reading Community provides a Service to 40-51 persons, who come from 13 Caribbean territories, Africa and India. They meet for 5 hours one day a week, which is quite inadequate, considering the needs of the BAME Community. Though a hot nourishing meal is very welcome, what about Talks, Outings, Films, Artwork, Games, Exercise via Dance, Concerts, Transport, Music, Plays, and the special needs of the emerging Alzeihmers population?
At least one other day is currently needed with staff being paid standard wages. Already signals are about that indicate the running of a Day Care facility alongside the Lunch Club. You see, she is even now seeing, planning the further development of Services to the BAME Seniors………Yes, truly a woman of Vision.
During this period of Lockdown, with the majority of Lunch Club attendees being shielded, Constance created a Virtual Luncheon Club via a WhatsApp Forum, through which 18 users communicate 27/7. The degree of loneliness and isolation experienced by this group at this time, allows for this type of unhindered communication. Postings are unlimited, and all sorts of items acceptable. Every day there is a topic for, at times, heated debate. Some debates go on all day. Participants choose TV shows that they can all watch at the same time. They tend to say “Good morning” and “Good night “to each other, discuss in detail their everyday activities, show what is growing in their garden, what cushions and curtains have been made etc Birthdays are celebrated. Someone makes a cake, post it on the Forum.
Users who cannot access the Forum, receive a telephone call at least once a week, from one of our four volunteers to whom they are assigned. Each volunteer has been assigned to four users of the Service.
Food parcels of ambient items are distributed weekly to the homes of 10 users. Information re Take-away and Delivery is available to all.