The Lucky Seahorse and Other Stories

 A meal for the homeless may not seem the most obvious setting for the launch of a children's book. However, that is the occasion which will see the release of The Lucky Seahorse and Other Stories by Lucy Heathman.

Lucy Heathman is actually a pen name. For the last seventeen years Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church in Kentish Town, north London, has offered a service to the homeless. This currently involves providing a hot meal on Sundays and two other days, with tea and sandwiches on the other lunchtimes. On Sundays there is also the opportunity for showers and a change of clothes. The service is run by a team of over eighty volunteers, one of whom is 'Lucy', a member of the Tuesday team.

Lucy's book has just been published by Pen Press Publishers, and is illustrated with line drawings by Alexa Garside. It consists of thirteen short stories, mostly about animals and fish, who have very human ways and, fortunately, a very good command of spoken English. It is aimed principally at four to eight-year-olds with the expectation that parents will read the stories to the younger ones, but that the older ones can read them for themselves. The few who have been granted a sneak preview seem to particularly like The Hairy Giant and Herbie and the Storm. Herbie, incidentally, is the Luck Seahorse of the title.

Michael Fogarty, who is the Welfare Coordinator at the Church said: 'When I heard about Lucy's book, I thought we should all do something to celebrate this achievement by one of our volunteers. Every year we replace one of the normal Sunday meals in July with a barbecue, to which we invite all our volunteers to join our regular guests. That seemed an appropriate time.'

Lucy acknowledges that there will not be too many of the guests who will be buying copies of her book, although she has had a lot of interest from fellow volunteers with children or grandchildren. There will also be the opportunity for other parishioners to obtain signed copies after the meal. Lucy thinks that she probably inherited her love of writing from her father, who has a diary in the library of the Imperial war Museum. She adds that her love of travel has helped her with ideas, for example with her story of Barry Beaver, inspired by a trip to Newfoundland.

Michael Fogarty pointed out that, when the Church's Homeless Project was launched seventeen years ago, most of the guests were rough sleepers. Now only a few actually live on the streets. Many have some sort of a roof over their heads in a hostel or some other type of temporary accommodation. However, there has been a recent increase in the numbers of rough sleepers with some people from Eastern Europe unable to find work or accommodation, and the overall numbers of people coming for meals has almost doubled over the last two years.

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