Donated guitars strike a chord with London's homeless population

A volunteer organization that provides food and support for London's homeless population is giving out donated guitars as a way to give comfort to people living on the streets.

Co-ordinator says instruments help lift the spirts of those who sleep rough outside

Sean Horrell with 519 Pursuit says the donated instruments are a huge help to people suffering from boredom and isolation on London's streets. (Submitted by Sean Horrell)

During the dark frigid days of last winter, Sean Horrell met a man living in a tent near the Thames River. 

That in itself isn't unusual for Horrell. As the outreach co-ordinator for the group 519 Pursuit, he hands out lunchtime meals to people who sleep rough in tents and makeshift shelters. 

But Horrell learned this man and his female partner shared a love of music. 

"It had been a near decade since he'd played the guitar, but he used to be in a band," said Horrell. 

Days earlier Horrell had been given a guitar by an acquaintance, also a musician, who had an extra guitar he wanted to donate to someone living on the streets. 

Horrell gave the donated guitar to his friend in the tent. He said it's made all the difference to the couple, who were both suffering from extreme stress.

"Him being able to play music helped soothe and focus their relationship and create a health common ground, a safe space, a healing space," he said. 

A guitar player himself, Horrell knew that repeating the donation would have an immense effect. 

"I know the value of creating and playing when things are tough," he said. "Music can save lives, it's saved mine.

"The ability to play music gives you a focus. It can give you something to focus on that can heal you."

Last summer 519 Pursuit, which provides friendship, food and support for people on the streets, asked for guitar donations through its social media channels. 

"We got two guitars right away," said Horrell. 

Since last winter a total of five guitars have been donated. 

Anyone can donate an instrument

In one case, a guitar was given to a man who was living outside and going through painful withdrawal symptoms while trying to kick a drug habit, Horrell said. 

"His face just lit up because he was going through this exhausting, difficult thing and we just gave him his way out," he said. "He was able to go through his withdrawals because he could focus on playing guitar." 

There are challenges. Guitars don't always do well in an outdoor setting, but the elements aren't the only factor. 

"Unfortunately, it's hard to keep any belongings when you're living on the street," said Horrell. "I've known friends who when they get their cheque at the beginning of the month will go to a pawn shop, get a guitar and hold onto it for as long as they can. Then, when there comes a time when they need to trade it in for survival, they do that."

Still, he says the value of a donated guitar outweighs the downside of having to replace the odd instrument.

Anyone with a guitar collecting dust in a basement or closet can donate it by clicking on the "donate" button at 519 Pursuit's website

He'd also welcome donations of other instruments, including ukuleles or drums.

"If we can get the guitars in, I can get them out there right away," he said.


Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.