One of Haringey's long serving Pastors was recognised in the Queen's New Year Honours list in 2019. Pastor Alex Gyasi, Senior Pastor of Highway Holiness Church was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by Prince Charles. Pray Haringey interviewed Ps Alex to hear more.
Congratulations on your MBE: What does receiving this mean to you?
Thank you. Receiving the MBE means that the contribution the church makes towards the most vulnerable in society is recognised and appreciated. I believe it will also inspire and encourage other people to step out and offer help to vulnerable people in their community.
What did you receive it for?
I received it for services to the community in Haringey, London. For the past 24 years with the church that I pastor: Highway of Holiness we have actively been involved in our local community of Haringey, more specifically Tottenham.
Summary of activities include:
1995: Starting a supplementary school in response to the academic underperformance of children from low socio-economic backgrounds living on the Broadwater Farm Estate and nearby.
1998: Highway Youth Club Summer School which ran for eight years during the school summer vacations for 4 weeks from 10am to 3pm each day.
2003: Youth television talk show called Keep it Real, that aired on Sky TV’s Original Black Entertainment Channel (OBE) across UK, Europe and North Africa. Keep it Real was a forum for young people to open up about issues affecting them and communicate their thoughts and feeling toward parents and the older generation.
2005: The Highway Youth Club focused its attention on the growing knife crime and gang culture in the Tottenham area and since 2010 it has been based at the Bruce Grove Centre. Currently, the Highway Youth club provides cooking classes, access to music production, gardening, homework clubs, recreational activities, employment support in conjunction with the Job Centre, dance and wrestling classes and a personal development programme.
2009: The Highway House Shelter spontaneously began after one of the church community outreach sessions on the streets of Tottenham.
More details about these projects can be found at the end of this pieces
Tell us your investiture experience of collecting it from Buckingham Palace
I attended the ceremony with my wife of 30 years Pastor Dorcas Gyasi, through whom I became a Christian. My good friend of 27 years Rev. Clement Adebayo who was the one that inspired me to start the supplementary school on the Broadwater Farm Estate after going to see the supplementary school he also ran in Brixton at the time. I also went with a member of church Hannah Anto- Agyei who was our youth leader for many years and the presenter of our youth talk show Keep it Real.
I was awarded the medal by HRH Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. This was the my second time of meeting him within 6 months and I was astonished to find that he had remembered me from our last meeting at a reception in St James Palace.
On receiving my MBE he made a statement and I quote:
"I hear that you are battling away in Haringey"
I was very pleased by the fact that he had remembered me and also made that statement because it meant that he had taken a personal interest in the work that we do.
What has the reaction been like?
The reaction has been tremendous. Ministers from all over the body of Christ have congratulated me. One trend that has stood out to me was that most people either said the award was well deserved or long overdue and this made me to realize that our work and consistency has not gone unnoticed
What are you working on now? What’s next?
We are about to start a day centre in the Highway House shelter that will be open to all homeless people in Haringey where we can support any one who walks through our doors that is homeless, about to become homeless or living in isolation. As part of the day centre we will provide life skills training and support them on their journey to independent living.
We are also looking for a more suitable accommodation that will allow us to help more people. At present our residents sleep on the floor in the main auditorium. By securing more suitable building it will help us carry on the vital work in the future as the demand is high and is likely to rise in the future and we would like to be able to help more people that fall on hard times
Is there a particular scripture that you draw upon regularly?
Romans 8:28 acts as an anchor through the challenges I have faced. I draw strength and assurance from it knowing that no matter what happens, as long as I keep loving God and remain in His will and purpose for my life, I will ultimately overcome and be victorious.
How can people support your work?
People can best support through prayer and financial donations. The Highway House shelter is kept running largely due to the donations made by the church members. Our greatest need now is a building, because we need to secure a place so that our residents do not end up on the streets. We urge the wider church to get behind these people and do what they can to help, whether it is to pray or provide food, bedding or a place. Caring for the vulnerable is a corporate assignment and we can all chip in using what God has provided and become partners with our Saviour.
To find out how you can support the work of Ps Alex, please visit the Highway of Holiness website
Ps Alex's fantastic book: The Test Room was published in 2014 and tells the story of how the homeless shelter was initiated and founded. Copies can be purchased on Amazon
More about Ps Alex's work in Haringey
The very first work we did in the community was in 1995 with the establishment of our supplementary school in 1995 in response to the academic underperformance of children from low socio-economic backgrounds living on the Broadwater Farm Estate and nearby. This took the form of a Saturday school each week for children between the ages of 5-16 supporting the children in literacy, numeracy, science, IT and French.
Realising the great impact the Saturday school was making, we established the Highway Youth Club Summer School in 1998, which ran for eight years during the school summer vacations for 4 weeks from 10am to 3pm each day. This went on altogether consistently for 14 years benefitting over 1500 children, today many of whom are in universities, graduates or in very good jobs.
In 2003 we then began a youth television talk show called Keep it Real, that aired on Sky TV’s Original Black Entertainment Channel (OBE) across UK, Europe and North Africa. Keep it Real was a forum for young people to open up about issues affecting them and communicate their thoughts and feeling toward parents and the older generation. After the Tottenham riots in 2011, ‘Keep it Real’ was commissioned by the Church of England to organise a forum for youth of Tottenham to discuss the causes and impact of the riots, which involved young people from Tottenham, Haringey council staff, community leaders in Haringey and David Lammy MP.
In 2005, the Highway Youth Club focused its attention on the growing knife crime and gang culture in the Tottenham area and since 2010 it has been based at the Bruce Grove Centre. Currently, the Highway Youth club provides cooking classes, access to music production, gardening, homework clubs, recreational activities, employment support in conjunction with the Job Centre, dance and wrestling classes and a personal development programme. The youth club attracts hard to reach young people from the traveller and Somali communities which statutory Youth clubs struggled to do. Since 2005, 1200 young people have attended and benefited from his work tackling knife crime, gang culture and preparation for living productive and fulfilling lives.
In 2009 the Highway House Shelter spontaneously began after one of the church community outreach sessions on the streets of Tottenham. After meeting two alcoholic homeless men, my wife invited them to come and have a meal at the church. The following week, they came back with 20 of their friends and through word of mouth these numbers started to grow. What had started as a place where they could come for a hot meal, grew into a homeless shelter that now runs 7 days a week 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We provide homeless people with food, washroom facilities, counselling and self-development programmes. Over the past 9 years, we have catered for over 900 homeless people from 60 nationalities.
The church auditorium is used as a dormitory each at night and we converted one of the toilets into a shower so that during the night, residents are able to sleep and have washing facilities. Additionally, he receive referrals from hospitals across London for patients who would otherwise be discharged unto the streets and provides recovering patients with a safe, warm, clean and caring environment to live in. Residents who have no recourse to public funds come to him directly or are referred by organisations such as the British Red Cross, Refugee Council, hospitals and other homelessness charities.
The Shelter attracted a Social Return on Investment Report, carried out by the Institute for Health and Social Development from the University of East London in 2016, which found that for every pound invested in Highway House, five to eight pounds is returned to society.