Michele Theil talks to Royal Holloway alumna, Rebecca Wilson about her work as an acitvist and founder of homelessness charity, Four Walls.
Speaking to Rebecca Wilson, a RHUL alumni who has taken the heartwarming decision to start her charity for homelessness, was a great pleasure of mine. We discussed her charitable pursuits, her personal motivations within charity work and the label of “activist”, which is a title she is “more than happy to take on”.
At RHUL, Wilson studied English and Comparative Literature and began to want to get involved with charity work sometime during her second year when she felt that the tedium of writing an essay for her degree did not enable her to enact any sort of change in the real world. Her motivations were “initially quite political” as she is considered to be “quite socialist” in her views but they changed over time and, during her final year, “it seemed like the natural step to start [her own] enterprise”.
As stated in a previous interview Orbital Magazine conducted with Wilson, her charity was, then, barely up and running. It was without a name, without charitable status or without trustees. Now, as an official charity having been conceived of in late July 2017, Four Walls has been able to help homeless people in London by offering hot food stalls and general support to homeless people along The Strand and near St Pancras. Wilson is, obviously, the founder of Four Walls and is herself a trustee. There are two other trustees for the charity, both of whom Wilson consider to be “very important and close friends”. Trustees Elodie Blanchfield and Tressa Belesi are both currently undertaking their master’s degrees at RHUL.
I started by asking her to tell me about what has happened since the idea first came into fruition and the work Four Walls is doing now. In early 2017, Wilson worked with the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness to organise the ‘Big Sleepout’ on Founder’s Tennis Courts, which was designed to raise money both for the campaign as well as fundraise for Wilson’s extended charitable efforts.
A large portion of the money has been used to keep up the weekly outreach that Wilson was already involved with previously, giving out hot food and drink to homeless people along particular stretches of London. Wilson and the Four Walls charity has expanded that operation into “helping people on a personal level”. They feed “a maximum of around fifty people a night” during their walking tour from “St Pancras station all the way to Oxford Circus”.
Wilson stresses the importance of “talking face-to-face with people for more than thirty seconds… so that we can get to know them on a more personal level and find out what they actually need from us”. The needs of any particular homeless person are “varied and complicated and intricate” and can range from someone “needing help with their English GCSE or… someone’s asked us to help with an application form to get benefits because of a back injury”. Thus, Four Walls offers a bespoke service towards helping and eradicating homelessness and Wilson’s goal is to “maintain a personal touch towards their work”.
Wilson finds that there are criticisms lobbied towards her work, such as that it is “too idealistic” and that she is “too young” to be starting a charity at age 22. To those people, she would say that her work is about finding ways of “eradicating the need to sleep rough in smaller areas… and smaller constituencies” before then “progressing their work into larger areas” which is, she thinks, “absolutely doable”. She adds that she’s “never going to stray away from the idealistic side of it as it informs and maintains a positive outlook on the work [she] does”.
With regards to her age, Wilson felt that with “three years of experience doing outreach” under her belt and the nature of her work being a “learning curve”, it was the right time to start Four Walls. Wilson found that their “first day of outreach was quite daunting” as they were doing it by themselves but the feeling of actually helping the homeless was overwhelming.
I asked Wilson about her thoughts regarding councillor Simon Dudley’s comments on the issue of homelessness in Windsor. Dudley stated that homeless people should be removed from the streets of Windsor in advance of the Royal Wedding at St George’s Palace.
Wilson very much disagreed with it as she believes that it “hurts people emotionally and mentally when they are moved away from their family and community” particularly as “they are constituents of that area” and they should “find ways of helping them” there. Four Walls published an open letter to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in order to “call on two very philanthropic people to distance themselves at the very least from these comments” and, while there has not been a response from the royals themselves, “the response on social media has been encouraging”.
Outside of working for Four Walls, Wilson works for a charity called Creative Support, a service to help people with learning disabilities. She balances her charitable commitments easily, seeing it as her job informing her passion.Wilson says that “they’re both just as important “ to her. Working part-time with Creative Support allows her to support herself while also giving out two days of her week to Four Walls’ outreach and admin Her dream is to be able to work on Four Walls and with homeless people full time but “it would all be down to funding from external organisations”.
Wilson also admitted to sometimes feeling like she couldn’t do ‘it’. She states that “it is an emotional struggle” when she feels “helpless to help” the people she meets on the street. However, her “amazing support network” of trustees, friends, family and her partner help her everyday in pursuing her ambitions.
Being an “activist”, Wilson told me how she thinks that activism has become a dirty word in the current political climate but it is “important in any form, particularly in the student movement” and if it is considered a “dirty word”, it shouldn’t deter you from acting because, she asks, “if you’re passionate about it, why not?”
Orbital Magazine wishes Rebecca and Four Walls luck in their inspiring future endeavours.