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Alexandra returns to Spitalfields Crypt homeless shelter for 50th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 14:22 10 November 2015 | UPDATED: 15:21 10 November 2015

Princess Alexandra arrives at Spitalfields, met by Cmdr John Ludgate, Depty Leutenant of Tower Hamlets [photos: Vickie Flores]

Princess Alexandra arrives at Spitalfields, met by Cmdr John Ludgate, Depty Leutenant of Tower Hamlets [photos: Vickie Flores]

Vickie Flores/Archant

Princess Alexandra turned up yet again at the homeless shelter in London’s East End that she first opened as if she was a regular.

She arrived to meet volunteers celebrating the Spitalfields Crypt Trust’s 50th anniversary—after having been the ‘royal’ who officially cut the ribbon back in 1965.

This way? Princerss Alexandra enters Spitalfields Crypt This way? Princerss Alexandra enters Spitalfields Crypt

The charity was born out of crisis that bleak winter after the death of a homeless man on the doorstep of the vicarage—but half-a-century on, there is still a crisis to give shelter to London’s homeless, the charity maintains.

Princess Alexandra was also there when the Crypt Trust had its 10th, 20th and 40th anniversaries—as well as opening its new centre when the homeless shelter ‘moved house’ to Shoreditch Church two miles away in 2000.

She was met on the steps of Christ Church in Commercial Street on Friday by Cmdr John Ludgate, Tower Hamlets deputy lieutenant, and by the local council’s Speaker Mohammed Mukit.

Alexandra meets volunteers at the Crypt, with Tower Hamlets Council's Speaker Mohammed Mukit Alexandra meets volunteers at the Crypt, with Tower Hamlets Council's Speaker Mohammed Mukit

The charity’s chief executive Graham Marshall took her on a familiar tour of the crypt where volunteers were having a sponsored sleep-in to raise £10,000 for the night shelter.

“We need £1 million a year to keep our services going,” he said. “But we get nothing from the government.

“We used to receive housing grants, but in the end there are cuts and you have to live with it. It’s a shame, because we do a good job.

How Crypt Trust has changed... volunteer points out the work since Alexandra first visited in 1965 How Crypt Trust has changed... volunteer points out the work since Alexandra first visited in 1965

“Sometimes we get a grant and are told what we have to do with the money—but raising cash ourselves means we decide what’s needed.”

The crisis that first kicked off the charity in 1965 was a homeless down-and-out who died on steps of vicarage in Fournier Street on Christmas Day.

The vicar had gone to fetch a sandwich and cup of tea for man who knocked on his door—but returned to find he had suddenly died on his doorstep.

The late Rev Eddy Stride's widow Eileen Stride, 82, taking part in overnight sleep-in at the Crypt The late Rev Eddy Stride's widow Eileen Stride, 82, taking part in overnight sleep-in at the Crypt

“That was the final straw,” Mr Graham explains. “The vicar said we have to get money and make some use of the crypt, which was partly derelict after being used as an air-raid shelter in the War 20 years earlier.

“Sadly today, there still remains a persistent need to help people through periods of addiction and homelessness.”

Oldest volunteer at Friday’s sleep-in was 82-year-old Eileen Stride, widow of the late Rev Eddy Stride who ran Spitalfields Crypt for 20 years from 1969 to 1989.

Three generations of Stride 'dynasty' at Crypt's fundraising sleepover, all involved in East End charities... Front Row: matriarch Eileen Stride, 82, with sons Dereck and Steve... Back Row: Christina Pilkington (far left), Georgina Stride, Eileen's grandson Eddie Stride and his cousin Katie Griffin Three generations of Stride 'dynasty' at Crypt's fundraising sleepover, all involved in East End charities... Front Row: matriarch Eileen Stride, 82, with sons Dereck and Steve... Back Row: Christina Pilkington (far left), Georgina Stride, Eileen's grandson Eddie Stride and his cousin Katie Griffin

She was with her family who are all involved in social welfare in the East End, two sons, grandchildren and in-laws running charities in his tradition.

Her older son Dereck Stride, now 60, chairs the governors at Phoenix School in Bow after 35 years teaching special needs, while younger son Steve Stride, 56, is chief executive of Poplar Harca housing association.

Dereck’s son Eddy Stride, 34, grandson of the ‘dynasty founder’, is chief executive of City Gateway employment charity on the Isle of Dogs. The Rev Georgina Stride, the late Rev Stride’s daughter-in-law who began volunteering at the crypt when she was just 13, is minister at Shoreditch Tabernacle in Hackney Road, helping families on the poverty line.

Volunteers chat with two former homless men (on right) in special soup kitchen set up to mark Spitalfields Crypt Trust's 50th anniversary Volunteers chat with two former homless men (on right) in special soup kitchen set up to mark Spitalfields Crypt Trust's 50th anniversary

Two more third-generation ‘Strides’ involved are Georgina’s daughter Christina Pilkington, who helps run the charity’s drop-in centre for the homeless at Shoreditch, and her niece Katy Taylor who runs the trusts string of five charity shops.

The Strides moved to Spitalfields from Dagenham in 1969 when most East Enders seem to be moving in the other direction.

Dereck explains: “People asked my father how he could take his family to Spitalfields which in those days was a terrible place.

Carol singers on steps of Spitalfields Church for Crypt homeless charity's 50th anniversary Carol singers on steps of Spitalfields Church for Crypt homeless charity's 50th anniversary

“But he said he could never forgive himself if he didn’t come here—because he was committed to improving people’s lives.”

It’s been 15 years since Eddy Stride’s sad passing. But his ‘dynasty’ continues helping the East End’s poor when they desperately need it.

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