The woman who has been the heart and soul of Crawley Open House for 20 years has decided to call it a day.
Sue Miles, 67, joined the team in February 1995, weeks after it opened on Christmas Eve 1994, and has been a source of advice and comfort to thousands of people ever since.
Director Charlie Arratoon said Sue’s decision to retire from her role as senior advice worker would leave a big hole in the Open House family.
She added: “It was inevitable that she would leave but I didn’t think it would ever happen. I thought the building would fall down around her.”
Sue, who is also a member of the Easter Team, which provides those in need with food parcels, was helping the homeless long before Open House came on the scene.
She was one of a team of volunteers – along with her husband, Charlie – who used to gather in Queens Square to hand out food. But some saw the service as a nuisance and Sue said the team was asked to leave the square.
Eventually a hostel was opened in Perryfield Road, Southgate, and, while proud of the help she and the team were able to give, Sue said the day it closed – putting 12 people out on the street – was the worst day of her life.
Despite her despair at seeing the hostel close, Sue never turned her back and went on to become a key to the success of Open House.
Describing the charity as “an absolute lifeline for people” she added: “The problem is people don’t think it’s going to happen to them.
“I’ve always felt very privileged that people have trusted me with their information.
“People can tell you the most horrendous things and you build up enough trust to tell you things they may not tell others. It’s humbling. You feel happy when some one moves on with their life.”
The nose-diving economy of 2013/14 saw Sue and her team hand out 972 food parcels while giving 884 free meals to people living on the streets.
Sue herself gave advice to 4,200 people and her door was always open to clients and staff alike.
Embarrassed by the plaudits being heaped on her, Sue insisted she was nothing special.
But, when your dream as an eight-year-old was to be able to afford to buy ice cream for everyone, you were always going to grow up to be some one extraordinary.
As Charlie said: “If you ask anyone about Open House, the first person they mention is Sue. She’s been the heart of the place.”