“Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work… “anoints” us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts…”
Pope Francis, Feast of St Joseph the Worker, May 2013
One of the first blogs on this page is from one of our development workers, Liz, who described how a day of activity was the “best day in years” for a young homeless man. He didn’t, in fact, get paid for this work, except with food and endless refills of coffee, but the work dignified him. He was both chosen to do the work, and chose to do it. It gave him a purpose.
If all that was important was gaining money to live by, we would be happy to continue to give hand-outs. We could raise money from the rich and give food to the poor. But this type of charity does not, in the end, recognise the dignity of each person, which is our vision.
It was because of this belief in the dignity of work, and its ability to give people a sense of worth, that we set up SEIDS Property Services in 2017.
Pawel Szkolnik, the manager of the service, told me:
“We are a maintenance and decorating service, working mainly in churches and diocese buildings in Westminster. We provide a professional service and try to make a profit, just like any other company.”
But there are differences.
“Any profit we make remains within Caritas Westminster, so we know it is used for good. We also give all our workers, including the trainees, a Living Wage – even when the trainees are not yet working to earn us money – this is more important than making a profit.”
Pawel currently has two trainees, a refugee from Syria and an asylum seeker from Iran. They were referred to SEIDS by a church in Hampstead as being ready and willing to learn new skills, but who might not otherwise have found the opportunity. Although there are challenges whilst both of them are still learning English, part of the purpose of SEIDS Property Services is to give people the chance to gain that dignifying work.
Pawel is not a theologian, he is a tradesman, and the pride he takes in doing a good job is evident. Like any teacher he asks for respect and hard work from his trainees saying “if they want to listen I can teach them.”
Pawel is also proud that the business uses a model that puts the dignity of its workers first, and seeks to do a little bit more, by employing people generally locked out of the labour market.
Jesus’ earthly father, St Joseph, was also a tradesman. In his Apostolic Letter about St Joesph, Patris Corde, Pope Francis speculates that as “a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family.” St Joseph taught Jesus “the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.”
“Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion… A family without work is particularly vulnerable to difficulties, tensions, estrangement and even break-up. How can we speak of human dignity without working to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living?”
2021 has been proclaimed a year dedicated to St Joseph, and across the diocese people will be praying a Novena, starting today, in the run up to the Feast of St Joseph on 19 March.
UPDATE Spring 2022 – after five years we have taken the difficult decision to close SEIDs Property Services and focus our resources elsewhere.