Farewell from Soraya

My Introduction To The Third Sector 

In 2011, after a 6 year career in business operation and change leadership, I left my corporate job and pivoted to the Third Sector where I felt I could make a positive impact on people’s lives. I started working for Greater Manchester based charity Mustard Tree coordinating ‘The Freedom Project’; a programme for people to learn new skills, address money worries, overcome barriers, find suitable accommodation and become work-ready. After two years, I took the role of Corporate Partnerships Manager where I was responsible for managing corporate relationships and developing strategies to maintain long-term partnerships. Whilst my job title may have changed during my time at Mustard Tree, the one constant was that I mentored and counselled people with lived experience of homelessness, addictions, mental health issues and those in the prison system. Our main focus was always keeping people at the heart of everything we did to help them make positive and sustained changes in their lives. 

Within a few months of working at Mustard Tree, it became clear that there was no internal or external database to find other charities specialising in homelessness advocacy. Staff members and volunteers knew of organisations off the top of their heads, or they had some names jotted on paper, but these weren’t efficient or sustainable ways of recording information. I started capturing an overview of Greater Manchester based organisations so I could signpost my clients when needed. I would often say to my colleagues that it would be great if someone would build on this idea and create a central database to capture more organisations information. Having worked as a frontline staff member and behind the scenes in charity strategic leadership, I’ve experienced first hand how useful it is to have a one-stop place to get information quickly. Help can be found with ease and clarity, stress levels of both clients and staff are lowered and a better rapport is built between people. In an already challenging time in people’s lives, the Street Support Network website fosters a much better experience for everyone involved. 

Significant Life Changes

Between 2015 – 2016, I went through two significant life changes – a near death experience in the 2015 Paris terrorist attack, and a divorce the following year. This period was by far the most challenging time in my adult life. Everything I had been working towards for 14 years had crumbled and at 32 years old, I had to start my life over again. At the start of 2017, I was called to take some time out to focus on self-care, to explore the Eastern side of my heritage and to deepen my spiritual practice. After 18 months of travelling, I returned to England with a deeper understanding of myself and of some of the mysteries of the Universe. But, I still wanted to explore Eastern spirituality and philosophy, while continuing to work and make a positive difference in people’s lives. 

In the summer of 2018, I was working as a cook in the kitchen of two cafes in Manchester whilst praying that I would be able to find a job working for a charity – remotely – so I could continue to travel and explore spirituality. Knowing the low chances of me being able to find this kind of job, you can imagine my surprise when Viv, co-founder of Street Support Network offered me remote admin work with the charity. When I found out that the work would be building a list of homelessness advocacy organisations across Greater Manchester, it felt like synchronicity. Because of my previous experience and understanding of how much this service was needed to help frontline staff, volunteers, and the people they support, the offer carried a deeper meaning so I gratefully accepted. 

On December 31, 2018, I boarded a one way flight. I spent 2 months living in Amritapuri Ashram in India, 3 months volunteering at a Vagabond Yoga and Meditation Retreat in Cambodia (now in Thailand), before finally settling in Bali, Indonesia. Whilst working for Street Support Network, I’ve been able to live out my intention of living in ashrams and alternative communities, and exploring spirituality and esoteric wisdom in great depth. I’ve been able to gain a deeper understanding of myself, of Consciousness (God) and how to integrate the spiritual and human aspects of myself in a very grounded way. Street Support has been integral to my personal evolution and my way of life. 

My Time At Street Support Network 

In July 2018, we partnered with Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool and combined, we had around 400 organisations listed on the Street Support Network website. My first 6 months in post was spent auditing these organisations as well as adding new organisations. By the end of 2018, we had established partnerships with all other 9 locations within Greater Manchester as well as Southampton, and had a total of around 650 organisations and their services on our website. As of March 2024, we now partner with 31 locations across England and Scotland with a total of 1759 organisations and 4269 services listed. Thinking back to when there were just 400 organisations listed, being part of this growth means a lot to me as I know how much it helps our partners and their clients. 

In the summer of 2019, I was appointed the role of Network Manager, working alongside co-founder Gary. During this time, I’ve connected and supported our partnerships with a focus on harnessing the power of the Network by sharing knowledge, activities and best practice. I’ve welcomed many new locations to be part of the Network, I’ve sadly said farewell to some locations as people moved on, and I’ve re-welcomed locations who were previously part of the Network. I’ve been part of recruiting, training and supporting our current staff team of James, Mara, Eliz and my successor Yumi. It’s been such a privilege to work alongside them, watch them grow into and shape their roles as they see fit. 

Just when we felt we were getting a handle on homelessness, in March 2020, COVID hit which impacted not only the UK, but the entire world. We all felt the pressure in some way, no matter where we were located. COVID was actually the motivation behind why we started hosting our quarterly online Network Events from January 2021. Whilst these meetings were born from a dark place, they have progressed into being one of our highlights and have become a unique selling point of being part of the Network. It’s not often people from different locations across the country are able to network, share best practice and support each other in our shared goal to tackle homelessness and the consequences from it. It’s been fantastic to see the little square boxes on Zoom increase over the last three years and hearing our Network express their gratitude to us for facilitating these meetings. 

At the start of 2020, emphasis shifted to people sleeping rough in Greater Manchester and prompted us to look at how homelessness affects families. At the time, the number of homeless families across Greater Manchester exceeded 1,500, with evidence showing hidden homelessness and hidden households equating to 10 times higher than official statistics. It was for this reason that we decided to co-design and develop a family specific section for Greater Manchester on the Street Support Network website, which launched in December 2020. From here, targeted information and advice, easy ways to find relevant services and local resources near to where families are being placed can be found. At the start of 2021, it was reported that more than 70,000 households were made homeless during the pandemic, so our foresight and focus on families and households came at the right time. 

It was also at this time that we wanted to offer even more support to the Network, so we decided to recruit and train Data Integrity Volunteers to oversee organisation data. Since March 2021, we’ve seen 17 dedicated volunteers offer us their time and effort in ensuring our data is as up to date as possible, to whom we are very grateful. As I started my time at Street Support Network focusing on data integrity, I know all too well the importance of having correct information listed for those in need of help in their most vulnerable hour. 

What Is It Like Working For Street Support Network?

We rarely publicly share our Values and Culture with people because we all tend to embody them and don’t need to explicitly tell people what they are. But for the sake of answering this question, I’d like to share the following behaviours that we as a team work toward for a harmonious environment:


We are caring, kind and compassionate; acting like a community/family


We do what we say we will, and if we can’t, we let people know and seek support if we need it


We seek to be open, to listen, and to understand different views


We speak truth with care and compassion


We make efforts to transform anger and judgement, taking responsibility for our own feelings and the impact of our response on others

The culture of Street Support Network is deeply rooted in Fredric Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness. Laloux’s book describes an emerging model for organisations that are more agile, more adaptive, more holistic, and are described by him as “the next stage of organisations which involves taming our ego and searching for more authentic, more wholesome ways of being.” His conclusions are drawn after the study of twelve organisations across industries who are successful and operating with fresh ways in the areas of self-management, encouraging people to show up as their “whole” self and have an overarching purpose, well beyond predicting and controlling.

This is what it’s like to work for Street Support Network. There is no hierarchy, there is no micro-managing, there is no ‘fall in-line or else’. There is an abundance of autonomy, mutual respect and trust between staff members and volunteers. We take time off when needed without having to explain ourselves as we trust each other knows what is best for themselves. We do the absolute best we can given our personal and professional circumstances. We support each other to the best of our ability. We truly make decisions together. Gary, James, Mara and Eliz have been like extended family to me. We tend to take on different roles of Mother, Father, Sister, Brother depending on the situation and circumstances. We’ve been together through a lot of personal and professional issues, leaning on each other, challenging each other, and guiding each other through whatever life has thrown at us. 

The Need for Change

Living abroad and working for Street Support Network has never caused an issue internally or externally. For the most part, no one has noticed this has even been the case unless it’s mentioned for some reason – usually to do with the time of a meeting as I’m 8 hours ahead of the UK! However, within the last 12 months, Street Support Network, our current and potential partners and my needs have changed. After a year or so of discussions about the best way forward for all of us, we made the difficult, yet best decision for me to depart from the charity for two reasons: 

1) Street Support Network needs someone who lives in and is dedicated to the UK as a more focused effort needs to be put into growing and strengthening the Network. After a long search, we finally found someone who aligned with our requirements for a Partnerships Manager in the form of Yumi Lewis. I’ve spent the last month completing a handover and getting to know Yumi, and she truly is a heart-centred, considered and intelligent woman who will help take Street Support Network to the next level. She is already adding a huge amount of value to the team and I look forward to checking in with them a few months down the road to see how everything is unfolding. 

2) I’ve spent the last decade quietly studying and observing the spiritual path; overcoming many worldly and spiritual challenges as well as rediscovering and developing my strengths. My intention is to embody and build a structure of Spiritual Truth, grounded in consciousness studies, esoteric knowledge, practical psychology and holistic health so my students can embody the Truth of who they are. I love being the ‘witness’ of the transformation in people. There is no greater reward than seeing someone coming back to themselves. It’s my belief that as more people choose to awaken to their spiritual Self, whilst grounded in their human Self, we will consciously create a brighter world in which all of humanity will thrive and prosper. If you feel called to learn more about what I’m transitioning to, to connect with me via my newsletter or any of my offerings, please feel free to visit my website at www.sorayasheikh.com/. It would be lovely to stay connected with you during this next chapter of life. 

Final Words

It has been a privilege to work with such a dedicated, supportive, and heart-centred team. Witnessing the wider Network in their dedication to tackle homelessness and the consequences from it has been inspiring. This is not an easy sector to work in and I have the most respect and gratitude for you all. Thank you for choosing to live from your heart and look out for the welfare of others. If only there were more people like you, the world would be a better place. 

My parting advice to you, our Network: Take advantage of being part of the Street Support Network as much as you can. Gary, James, Mara, Eliz and Yumi are here to engage you, to motivate you, and to help you maximise your impact. When I look at our team, they cover so much ground in their skill-sets. From networking, partnership building, digital, technical, comms, advertising, marketing, administration, fundraising initiatives, strategic business coaching, to witty comments and banter and so much more. They very rarely shout about how incredibly talented, insightful and knowledgeable they are, but they are! And they are here to help you in any way they can. If Street Support Network was needed over a decade ago, they certainly are needed even more now

With love, gratitude and infinite blessings, 

Soraya Sheikh 

Street Support Network Manager, 01 July 2018 – 28 March 2024