So there’s this gym in Barnsley, right? Lifestyle Fitness. End of Shambles Street (and no I haven’t made that up). Some of the locals say Shambles is spot – on: on account of the people who congregate outside it. Drug-users, vagrants, threatening yoofs.
One bloke – a tramp – even beds down in front of the building. Imagine! You’re heading for a quick circuit on the treadmaster before your board meeting and you’ve got to step over some greasy bloke who smells of chips. Hardly good PR for the gym is it?
So the staff do what’s needful. They tell the tramp to find somewhere else. They’re just turfing him out when the gym chairman comes past. Surely this is worth a bonus?
The chairman puts down his case and starts to frown. He asks, ‘what’s going on?’ When they explain about the tramp messing up his gym, he takes a breath and says:
‘No. We don’t do this.’
The chairman asks the homeless guy his name.
‘Dean’ he says, twisting his neck and starting to apologise. Last thing he needs is the coppers involved.
But the chairman motions to him to sit down and makes some calls.
Next thing, the managing director turns up. And he too approaches Dean. He leans over and whispers in his ear. Dean flinches and looks up, shocked.
Instead of turfing Dean out or giving him over to the police, the chairman offered Dean a flat. He told him that he would made sure it was really cosy, with a TV, fridge, bath and shower. For the running costs, he would take 10p from every customer’s fees and pay any shortfall himself.
In addition, he offered Dean a job. If he was able to and wanted it, he could hand out leaflets for the gym. He looked Dean in the eyes and said this, ‘With a little determination you can come out the other side of your problems’.
This is a true story. I know about it because it made the national press. Every day, hundreds of vagrants are pushed off hundreds of steps. But one act of radical grace was enough to make even the press stop and stare.