House Trustee, Rich Taunt

We hear from House Trustee, Rich Taunt, about his experience fundraising for the House through his Trek across Jordan, alongside our CEO Rosie Ferguson.

Jordan. Home of the lowest point on earth, and the ridiculously beautiful Petra. Where Moses and John the Baptist met their end (one more peacefully than the other), and Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. And where, with 10 others connected to the House of St Barnabas, we trekked for a week to support the House’s mission to break the cycle of homelessness. 

How could I possibly have turned the opportunity down? Like many of us, I’d spent the last two years grounded, foreign climes being a risky pipedream. And as a new Trustee, what an amazing way to spend time talking about and understanding the House’s work. Skip to the end: many thousands of pounds raised, and an incredible experience for all involved. A place of immense history and great beauty, all washed down by vats of hummus and sweet tea. Memories of jaw-dropping scenery will live long – but it’s lessons of what it means to be a place of hospitality and refuge that will really linger. Because Jordan is remarkable.

From wherever you are, see if you can spot 16 others. If so, you’re looking at the same number as the total reported cases of homelessness in Jordan between 2000 and 2017. That’s not a typo: 16. That’s as many cases of rough sleeping as Westminster reports every 3 daysAlong with Cuba, Jordan is seen to be one of the only countries without homelessness. Why? It’s not because of an abundance of riches; its economy is barely the size of an Amazon regional office. Instead, a strong family culture, drawn from a fusion of Jordan’s Islamic and tribal heritage, where stigma attaches not to the homeless but to those who would allow it. “If someone appeared at your tent, in Bedouin culture, you would give them hospitality” explained our rather wonderful guide Mahmoud Alkhatatbeh, “and you’re not allowed to ask them even their name for the first three days.” It’s said that when Abraham wandered the desert, his tent was open on all sides so that anyone needing rest and shelter could enter. This is hospitality on a super-charged scale. 

A combination of this culture, and its geography, has meant that Jordan has always been home to refugees. At present that includes over 2 million Palestinians, and over a million Syrians – all within a total population of 11 million. The depressing contrast: in the UK we currently host around 200,000 refugees, in a population 6 times the size. As we trekked through desert and mountain, pausing for the most succulent dates you’ll ever eat, it left me reflecting on how we give refuge and hospitality at the House. 

As the letters on our building state, we were founded as a House of Charity, a place to give refuge to those in need. While we no longer offer beds, our work seeks to break the cycle of why people come to be without one in the first place. How can our 18th century playboy’s mansion learn from the Bedouin tent, and continue to be a place where all are welcome? How can we as a community – of members, graduates, staff, and partners – live the values of the House even when we’re not in the building?

We’ve now been part of the hospitality business for a decade – and never more so since taking on the direct running of all our services during the pandemic. But as an industry, hospitality often struggles to give the care to its own people it is designed to give to its customers. ‘Bad’ work can dominate. “We know that without good work, it’s easy to slip back into unstable situations that can lead to homelessness” writes our Chief Executive – and fellow trekker – Rosie. “We want to work with more employers to ensure that their employment practice supports individuals to rebuild their dignity and break the cycle of homelessness, not plunge them deeper into poverty.” This reinvention of what ‘good’ hospitality work can look like is incredibly exciting – and look out for more on this in the months to come.

Jordan. A place to walk – and I’d very much recommend signing up for a similar expedition if and when the House decides to do so. But also a place to learn what refuge and hospitality really mean.

Rich Taunt is a Trustee at the House of St Barnabas. Find out more – here