Remembering Mick Bateman, former Head of Crisis at Christmas

Micky Walsh, Head of Organisational Development

Last week, we received the very sad news that Mick Bateman, our former Head of Crisis at Christmas, has died.

Mick joined Crisis in December 2004 and oversaw the close-down of what was then our temporary Christmas centre at the Millenium Dome, ensuring that every last pine needle was removed from the floor of the Dome within two days of the centre closedown. When Mick joined Crisis, our Christmas service was delivered in large disused and sometimes semi-derelict buildings and we needed someone to deliver our vision of using comfortable and fully functioning buildings to ensure people experiencing homelessness maintained dignity and a sense of belonging in the community. Mick was that person and his energy, vision and commitment to delivering only the best for the people we supported, saw us move to delivering Crisis at Christmas in school and college buildings.

At our ten or so centres in London, people facing street homelessness were prioritised for our buildings with sleeping areas and we set up day-centres for those experiencing other forms of homelessness such as in hostels or other temporary accommodation. And until very recently, when the pandemic meant we had to change our service offer at Christmas, the model developed and implemented by Mick remained the model for Crisis at Christmas for many years.

Mick’s skill in building relationships with volunteers, principals, teachers and organisations from other sectors, ensured that as well as giving people experiencing some of the worst forms of homelessness a good Christmas, we also linked people up to the year-round services available to them, including those at Crisis.

Before Mick joined Crisis he had a background in arts project management and these skills and experiences made him a brilliant Head of Christmas. He had an exceptional ability to pull together and inspire a temporary multi-disciplinary team to deliver the services. This consisted of thousands of volunteers, donors of items such as food and clothing, a small staff team and people from various professions to deliver specialist services for people facing homelessness.

Mick was himself a brilliant sculptor and he also understood the benefits that participating in the arts could bring to people facing homelessness. Mick saw an opportunity at the Crisis warehouse (an old pickling factory) in Bermondsey that no one else did. On very little budget and in partnership with the Bow Arts Trust, he created a temporary arts centre that brought together aspiring young artists and people experiencing homelessness under one roof. There were scores of studio spaces on the upper floors, a range of classes and activities were delivered and the ground floor provided large exhibition spaces when not being used to store vegetables and other foodstuffs for meals at the Christmas centres that week. The Bermondsey Project hosted some excellent art exhibitions by established artists and also enabled people who had experienced homelessness to exhibit alongside them. It was truly inspiring to experience a building that encouraged people with lived experience of homelessness to develop their artistic practice and see themselves as artists and move beyond the label of ‘homelessness’. The Bermondsey project brought together key passions of Mick’s, his empathy for people often at the margins of society, his love of art and his understanding of its power to inspire and transform lives.

Mick’s energy, passion and commitment that made him such a formidable leader did bring him into the occasional collision with perceived bureaucracy and folk who didn’t share all his passions and ideas. But when he got something wrong in these moments Mick had the honesty and good grace to apologise.

Mick developed a slightly knowing grumpy old man persona and was also very amusing and entertaining company. He was a maverick and Crisis was all the better for enabling Mick to find a place where he belonged, could develop his ideas and creativity and make things happen to help people facing homelessness.

Mick was a great friend to many at Crisis and the ripples out from his time with us live on.

Words by Micky Walsh on behalf of Crisis.

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