If you're interested in learning a little more about us and the story behind Networkfour, take a look below as we conduct a short interview with our founder Gary Wicker, so you can find out more about Gary, the charity and the reasons for doing what we do.
What is your work background and did it play any part in leading you to set up Networkfour?
After 14 years ‘master-cheffing’ and having a young family, I joined a national charity ‘On the Move’ which exposed me to awful levels of deprivation and this chimed powerfully with my belief that, as a Jesus-follower, faith had to be visible in action, particularly in compassion for ‘the least, the last and the lost’.
One day, a young man prayed with me in my church for “turning points in your life” not knowing that I was invited to interview at a charity called Turning Point, in Moseley. I knew this was God’s call.
At the interview itself, I bumped into Sue who turned out to be the interview chairperson. To my astonishment, she phoned me immediately afterwards to offer me the job working with young people with severe and complex needs. On my first day, I was asked by some police officers to ‘talk down’ a young girl threatening to jump from the roof and then worked with her most of that year following. Then, just six weeks later after starting, I was invited to manage the drug rehabilitation centre and all its projects: 15 staff, and over a hundred young people over my time there.
Always that call to faith + action.
The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.
- Luke 4:18
What was the inspiration for founding the charity?
I was four years at Turning Point before being seconded to help with setting up a scheme with WM Police in Steelhouse Lane Police Station with Persistent & Prolific Offenders to ‘break the chains’ of the re-offending cycle. I worked with over 350 clients, in prison and on release. Considered by society to be some of the most repulsive individuals “not worth investing in.” Yet I knew I was called to that vision of faith and action. And so, the roots of Lifelinefour were laid down right there.
Another significant moment was at New Wine (Christian summer festival) when Gavin Calver called out for people to be “City Change Agents”; I was in tears, shaking. Someone envisioned me, “working with men and women in chains; look up and look to the city. I see a river of people, you fishing out people. You’ll be a freedom-bringer, restorer of homes, no-hopers: the least, the last and the lost. Many will say, ‘it can’t be done’ but you will be an overcomer, Niko!”
It was then, in 2008, that I founded Networkfour.
What would you say are the core values for what Networkfour does?
As ever, Vision + Faith + Action converge. Following the Lord Jesus, we are given the Luke 4: 18 – 19 mandate: “Proclaim wonderful news to the poor.”
Are Networkfour’s Christian roots ever a problem? Someone once warned me, “you’ll find grenades everywhere, not everyone will like what you bring.” But, in reply, professionalism and reliability win respect: doing the stuff, showing up, rolling up your sleeves, being the answer in the midst of chaos. My question is always, “How can I help?”
Once, I came for a meeting at a police station and heard a female officer crying. She’d attended a terrible DV situation with a woman and two children, all traumatised. As so often, I found myself saying, “I’ll sort something out.” And I prayed for her. “Don’t breathe a word to anyone”, she asked. I contacted Anawim, a wonderful charity that helps women under threat.
A couple of weeks later, she messaged me, “I’ve never slept so soundly in my life. The situation has been transformed. I don’t know how you did it!”
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
- Matthew 25:35
There must have been some very difficult times for the charity. How confident are you for its future?
This has been the craziest journey but I wouldn’t change it. I have confidence in God’s work, I love to see his thumbprint. I’ve often been at a place where I can’t carry on then the most unexpected thing turns up. It has been like a staircase and the steps get bigger, just apparently beyond reach – always needing the faith step-up.
Exciting opportunities continue to open up as we have become trusted across the city: NW4 is now a respected partner that others look to for help: we can be relied on. We’ve simply invested our talents.
I think that Life & Sole is the most exciting part of the next chapter. Putting shoes on kids’ feet. But so much more too: now linked in with sustainability. We can lead in ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance partnership with companies).
I feel NW4 is like an ice-breaker, cutting a path for others to follow.