Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ten years and still searching



I still remember walking through the door at Missing People well over ten years ago. We had much smaller offices then and the Helpline was tucked in the far corner. Someone was poring over the diary, stewing over rotas, worrying about how to keep the lines open, which was hardly surprising with only a few staff and a handful of volunteers.

I felt at home, even in the interview. We focused on how to support missing people knowing that going missing is a cry for help; a desperate moment; a difficult choice and that being missing makes people very vulnerable. I felt I had experience to bring from 10 years at the central London Samaritans (where we had the luxury of 400 volunteers).

I'm not sure the carpets have changed here though we have more space now. Sadly some of the posters of missing people haven’t changed either. They’ve been reprinted but the photos, of course, are the same. This is the tragedy of missing people. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years of lost time, lost conversations, lost loves, lost experiences, families grown up, babies born, people died, birthdays come and gone. 

And so a call from a missing person is special. It’s a unique opportunity to reconnect, to reach out in a crisis, to pass a message home.

We still pore over rotas but 116 000 is open and is there round the clock. We’ve got a bigger team now and more volunteers; (more than halfway to the 400 I worked with previously).  I often drive past the office at night and see the lights glow, and I feel glad. I'd like to describe it as a beacon but that would be a tad grand... it looks like any ordinary office. A journalist once described this place as 'dusty offices above a supermarket on the Upper Richmond Road'. Cars and lorries stream past, sirens wail outside sometimes unsettling people who call.  But this is a warm place and an incredible space. The lights are on 24/7 and we're there to take a call, reply to an email, reply to a text message, send out a poster. And we don't need reminding what a difference this could make.

We’ve moved on too in many ways; we’re out and about in communities across the UK; we’ve had the privilege of bringing families together in Scotland, in Yorkshire, in the West Midlands and in London and we run Join The Search Days to engage the public with our work. We’ve very nearly achieved new legislation that will provide families who presume that their loved one has died with the ability to settle their affairs – to carry out their last wishes – and we’ve shared our expertise to support people with online documents.

The heart of this charity is in the same place. We’ve held true to the passion of our founders Mary Asprey and Janet Newman.  Were heavily involved in supporting families and there for missing people, children, young people and adults. The aim is to maintain our creativity and passion – to change as we need to, but to hold onto our heart.

But there are things we don't know – we may not know when we haven't helped.  ‘Missing’ is sometimes a very dark world. Families are tormented with dark thoughts and often dark realities. We may not have the words to help families talk through these things; to deal with the trauma.

A member of staff told me that she rang a health helpline recently, worried about her mum. She described how she felt when she picked up the phone - like a ball of worry and sadness. The person on the end of the line was warm, supportive, informative but didn't let the feelings out. It was helpful but she won't be calling again. I'd like us to be able to have and hold the most difficult conversation if that's what is wanted. I’d like us to be able to support young people in their language and at their pace. We respond quickly to texts but ‘real time’ is their world. I'd like us to be able to disseminate information about people who are missing across social media and beyond into the palms of hands at the touch of a button. I'd like us to mobilise people across the country who care about missing people and bring them under Missing People's wing. I'd like us to find more people more quickly, and when people are lost, I’d like them to know we are here.

I believe we are guardians of this charity; ensuring that we are a lifeline when someone disappears now and for the long run. I lost my child on a beach a few years ago. When I realised he was gone, my legs caved in below me. I almost lost my vision. I can barely talk about it even now and he was found in 10 minutes.

I've walked up and down the stairs to Missing People many times. Sometimes I'm two steps at a time, sometimes I take the lift, but I always find it hard to go home. I’ve been asked to lead us into this 20th anniversary year and I will always do my best to help this charity to be there for families and for people who are missing, because you never know when you might need us. From now on I'll be taking the stairs two at a time.

By Missing People’s newly appointed Chief Executive Jo Youle,
who leads the charity after ten years of service

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Around 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit www.missingpeople.org.uk.

Call or txt the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.