Formal opening of the Olallo Project


An an accommodation based training and reconnections centre for homeless workers from Central and Eastern European Countries.

 “If this is the last event I attend as Cardinal, I would be very proud.”

  On Thursday 19th February 2009, His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster formally opened and blessed the Olallo Project. The project, which has been established by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God, The Passage and the Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, is a response to the plight of the hundreds of newly arrived migrants into London who are falling into homelessness. From the outset, the Cardinal has supported this initiative and has been impatient to see this unique work actually begin.


The project, based in central London, provides short-term accommodation together with training, and a reconnections service aiming to provide a service to meet the two most clearly identified needs of its clients: assisting people through a programme of training and education into employment, and where this is not possible, to develop a reconnections service working in partnership with agencies in the home countries to establish a route home for individuals. 

Presently, there is no service of this type in the UK. The Brothers of Saint John of God are pioneering this work.

Development of the Project

By mid 2006 there was mounting evidence that a number of migrant workers arriving in Britain, as a result of the EU expansion, were experiencing homelessness on the streets of central London. For the vast majority of migrant workers the transition to life and work in Britain is successfully negotiated with little intervention by local services. However, there are those who arrive who are ill-prepared, or who came with existing difficulties such as poor language skills, illness, alcohol dependency or debt.

Frustration grew at the lack of a positive response from some key central government departments. A partnership was formed between The Passage, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God and the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God to offer some service to these newly arrived migrants into London who were falling into homelessness. This group drew on expert advice from agencies and worked intensively on developing a service specification and a new working model for the project to provide a service specifically focussed on the needs of the clients. The Poor Servants of the Mother of God generously agreed that one of their premises, which had previously been used as a place of welcome for poor migrant women and later, homeless people, could be used to provide the base for this new project. 

The building has been newly refurbished to provideup to thirty-two beds in eight ‘cluster’ style flats. Each cluster has its own self-contained kitchen and shared communal space. The layout is flexible and can cater for a range of needs. At the heart of the building is a newly developed training suite providing structured programmes, workshops and ad hoc training sessions. There are also plans for a full commercial kitchen that will double as a ‘training kitchen’ to provide practical experience and a real qualification for those wishing to get qualified in basic level catering. Caseworkers, the majority of whom are fluent in Eastern European languages, will work with each individual referred to the service to agree a specific and achievable employment goal. “At the Olallo Project, we provide training geared to their immediate training needs. We have installed eight computers at the project. They contain training and job-seeking programmes in Polish. We can efficiently map their skills and qualifications, and match them up with vacancies on employment databases.” Dave Barratt, Project Development Manager.

Sister Mary Whelan, Superior General of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, said "We are delighted to be able to offer the use of our property and resources to enable the implementation of this project. Our Foundress, Frances Taylor, began the work of the congregation by supporting the poor and destitute in London. This project continues her fundamental vision and values based on respect for the dignity of each person and a desire to enable and empower them through support, education and training."

Brother John Martin, Provincial of the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God said, “This is a unique service that is being provided and will make a real difference to the lives of many of those who find themselves destitute in our capital. We have been able to make this provision as a result of the generosity of other religious orders and congregations, and partner agencies. The Order is honoured to manage this service, which will soon become a model of good practice in this field.

The Brothers of the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God have a tradition of begging in order to meet the unmet needs of the most marginalised in our society. This project will cost £600,000 per year to run and apart from a one-off contribution of £50,000, there is no further funding secured. Its survival will depend on the financial generosity of people to support the Brothers and this new work.


The Olallo Project has been named after Blessed José Olallo Valdés, a Cuban Brother of the Hospitaller of Saint John of God, who dedicated his life to serving the sick, the wounded and dying on both sides in Cuba’s first war on independence from Spain, and the victims of cholera. He was beatified on 29 November 2008, which heralded the first beatification ceremony to be held in Cuba. It was an event that was taken up widely in the mass media throughout the world.


The partnership:

The Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God is an international Religious Order providing health and social care to millions of sick, vulnerable and disadvantaged people in 52 countries worldwide, working in collaboration with 45,000 of its co-workers. Through its foundation charity, Saint John of God Hospitaller Services, the Order in Great Britain provides a range of health, social care and pastoral services that support in excess of 1000 people in over 45 projects. 

 The Passage is the largest provider of day centre services to rough sleepers in Central London offering a wide range of individually tailored support services. In addition to day centre services it has extensive experience of street based outreach and has been providing reconnection style interventions to domestic and A10 rough sleepers for a number of years. It operates two central London accommodation projects housing over 200 rough sleepers in the past year. 

 The Sisters of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God have worked with the poor and destitute in London for one hundred and forty years. They are an international congregation providing social care, pastoral support and outreach work in the UK, Ireland, Africa and North America.


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