Susan is awarded MBE for helping homeless people

February 03 2017

A HANHAM woman who has spent 25 years helping vulnerable people has been awarded the MBE in the New Year’s honours list.

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A HANHAM woman who has spent 25 years helping vulnerable people has been awarded the MBE in the New Year’s honours list.

Susan Jotcham, 67, is now the chief executive of St James Priory by Bristol bus station, which provides supported accommodation for people recovering from addiction.

She has been the fundamental driver behind the work of the charity since it first began helping homeless people in 1991.

Her work has included carrying out a two-year refurbishment project to save the 900-year-old priory, which is Bristol’s oldest building still in use. As well as securing a £3.2 million grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund,  she needed to raise another £1.2 million herself.

She said: “It was so difficult, as the recession had just hit and no one had any money to give. We had 11 months to raise it, or the Heritage Lottery would withdraw their funding.

“It was 5.30pm on the day before the deadline and we were still just over £36k short. I thought we were going to have to give up.  Then I got a phone call from a local trust fund, who said they would give us a cheque for the exact amount we were short. So the next morning I was able to telephone the Heritage Lottery and tell them we’d done it.”

Thanks to Susan’s work and that of a huge number of volunteers, St James Priory is restored and open to the public, has a café, and hosts meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous and other support charities.

Neighbouring St James House is home to up to 10 recovering addicts at a time, who are in the latter stages of recovery and stay at the house for up to two years while they learn life skills and carry out voluntary work or study.

Since launching, the charity has helped more than 1,500 people get back on their feet.

Susan said: “Obviously there are a few who relapse, but the vast majority of people are success stories. Lots are reunited with their families after many years. People often go on to work in caring professions such as social services and help for addicts, so they are giving something back.”

Susan, who has two grown-up sons and four grandsons living in Longwell Green and Hambrook, began working with homeless people as a volunteer while still working as a primary teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Kingswood. Working with three Scottish monks, she ran a Sunday evening drop-in session on Stapleton Road.

Illness forced Susan to give up teaching. At the same time, a derelict church that had been unused for a decade was offered by the local diocese to hold the drop-in sessions.

St James Priory was founded in 1129 by the illegitimate grandson of Williams the Robert Fitzroy, who helped turn Bristol from a town into a major provincial capital.

Despite the leaking roof and stonework, the volunteers set up a hostel for homeless people. They later realised there was need for a rehab facility and this was eventually housed in St James House.

Susan said that the charity is needed more than ever, as the homelessness problem in Bristol has become markedly worse in the past year.

She said: “I was very embarrassed when I found out I was to be awarded the MBE. I had no idea the Heritage Lottery were putting me forward for it.

“I have no plans to retire and will keep going as long as I can. I like to think of St James Priory as being an oasis for people and I feel very glad that we’ve been able to help so many.”