A volunteer from south west London has been shortlisted for a civic prize after almost 20 years of charity work in the community.
Tony Sewell, a 48-year-old Croydon resident, is one of three finalists selected for the Volunteer of the Year Award at the 2017 Mayor’s Civic Awards tonight.
Tonight’s ceremony celebrates individuals, groups or businesses that have contributed to the community, and the nomination recognises Tony’s work in helping the homeless for the past 19 years.
He said: “People need to know what their vulnerabilities are.
“They would be overlooked and no one would take notice.”
As a resident of Croydon for 31 years, Tony is a highly experienced homeless advocate in his community.
He said: “This is not a lifestyle that people enjoy. It’s a destitute lifestyle so nobody willingly says, ‘I want to be on the streets’.
“It’s dangerous; some have been killed or seriously assaulted. They live a shadowed and invisible life and in a sense, they don’t feel valued.”
Tony started his advocacy in late 2001 after seeing a homeless a man with noticeable learning disabilities who had been attacked.
He said: “He was badly beaten up. His face was black and blue. I thought, ‘If he doesn’t get the help that he needs, he’s probably going to die on the streets because he seems quite vulnerable.'”
Tony went with him to the social services to speak up on his behalf and they quickly re-homed him.
He was inspired after this to speak up for the people who he saw as unvalued and neglected.
He said: “People in that situation find it very difficult to articulate for themselves so they get shut out.”
From there, Tony learned the jargon of the housing department to make the best case for his clients from the homeless community.
He now acts as a link between the homeless and public services so they can get access to support and help.
A father of four, he often uses his own time and resources to help the most vulnerable.
His clients come from all sorts of backgrounds with problems ranging from mental health and learning disabilities to drug abuse.
He believes his most significant case was one involving a vulnerable pensioner who came to him because she was not getting any pension credit.
He spoke up for her and, as a result, she received more than £20,000 of backdated money.
Speaking about the strength of his advocacy, he said: “I look at other people’s lives as my own life.”
Tony has also been a volunteer at Nightwatch, a soup kitchen for the homeless in Croydon, since 1998.
As the leader of a team of volunteers who meet at Queen’s Garden every Friday, he oversees the provision of food, necessities and support to the homeless.
His colleagues at Nightwatch and his 25-year-old daughter Naomi rallied people together to nominate him for Volunteer of the Year.
He said: “I’m thankful to be recognised for the work that I do.”
The winners of the Mayor’s Civic Awards will be announced tonight at a ceremony held at the Hilton London Croydon.