Scattering Kindness: #piesnotlies

Yesterday, I woke up to find that Stoke-on-Trent Central ward elected Labour’s Gareth Snell as their MP, simultaneously sticking a metaphorical two fingers up to Paul Nuttall’s UKIP. I was ELATED, especially considering the extensive (and largely condescending) coverage that the national media had given the city, and the underlying fear that the rest of the UK were just waiting for us to mess up. Nuttall’s campaign office was unmissable in Hanley, purple and yellow from head to toe and usually surrounded by several old, white men. I wondered what would become of it, whether the banners and posters would be left to fade as a reminder of the disaster we averted, but I came across an answer to my question late last night…

PIES NOT LIES is a kickstarter campaign that’s just been launched, aiming to reclaim the UKIP campaign office that’s perpetuated so many lies and fear, and transform it into a real community space. According to the project description, this venture will include a pop up pie shop selling all manner of meaty, vegetarian, vegan and fruit pies with seating areas to enjoy your purchases. There will also be a huge emphasis on making PNL a real community project, with profits going to local charities and a hope to harness the talent of local musicians to play in the venue and the skills of Stoke’s street art scene to decorate.

However,  £7,500 needs to be raised in order to secure and pay for the lease of the building as well as buying the necessary equipment and so this idea needs the support of the whole city in order to be successful! Nevertheless, we are a generous city of roughly 250,000 people and if we each donated 3 pence, we could hit the target in no time. Of course, if you are able to pledge more than 3 pence, there are some fantastic rewards on offer – including having a pie named after you or getting your name on the wall of supporters inside the shop.

Pies not Lies epitomises Stoke-on-Trent’s culture: transforming the old; our unbreakable community spirit and a love for good, hearty food. Rejecting UKIP’s divisive rhetoric is only the first step in putting Stoke-on-Trent back on the map for the right reasons; let’s continue to do so by supporting projects that bring us together and celebrate our city.

Find the Pies not Lies Kickstarter project here, and get pledging!

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Scattering Kindness: Ruff & Ruby Rooms, intu Potteries

I’ve heard rumours, seen social media updates and even read articles about the fab things happening in a particular first floor unit of intu Potteries shopping centre, but today was the first time I ventured inside the Ruff & Ruby Rooms for myself.

As you walk in, you’re welcomed by a cafe counter on the left hand side with some uplifting messages on the wall behind it. The menu offers very reasonably-priced hot drinks as well as free cuppas five days a week and lots of squishy sofas to drink them on. At the back of the store there is a super snazzy sewing workshop (called Sew Cool  which must be a 10/10 for pun-iness!) featuring 6 top quality sewing machines. This facility enables them to offer a variety of workshops in textile customisation and more general DIY skills which I, for one, am very excited to attend.

For younger visitors, there is a free ‘Just Kidding’ soft play area and those using it today sounded like they were having a whale of a time. A wide range of second-hand clothing is also on sale throughout the shop along with a handful of original and customised items. Reading their leaflet on the bus home fills me in on the things that I missed, including a beauty bar, DJ booth and bike workshop on the upper floor where bicycles are “customised and personalised” and can then be reinvested into the city.

Somehow, the Ruff & Ruby Rooms have found the perfect balance between retail store and community space and nothing evidenced this more than the varied mix of people that were using the venue earlier this afternoon. The team were lovely too and patiently answered all the questions we bombarded them with. Nevertheless, perhaps the most impressive aspect of this project is everything that’s happening behind the scenes. There are 1:1 mentoring sessions and employability skills programmes to give just a few examples, all making such a positive difference in the lives of young people within Stoke-on-Trent.

Overall, it’s so encouraging to see such an innovative venture here in Stoke, and all with the aim of raising the aspirations and self-belief of the young people in our city. The Ruff & Ruby Rooms are totally sound. Or wicked… (I think I’ll work on my Ruff & Ruby lingo…) Go check them out when you’re next in town – and if you’ve got any clothing or bike donations, take them with you!


For more information:

http://www.rubygirluk.com/about/

http://www.ruffandruby.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ruffandruby/?fref=ts

Scattering Kindness: Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank AGM & Launch of 100 Friends

I love the foodbank AGM. Is that weird? It sounds a bit odd, and I definitely wouldn’t say the same for any other Annual General Meeting, but this one is different. It’s a real celebration of all the good work Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank is doing in the city…

On Friday morning we kicked off with a signposting marketplace with all sorts of organisations that are working to support those in need within our city. This allows our distribution centre volunteers to find out more information about our partners in order to help our guests with their own individual crises more effectively. From the foodbank stall that I was manning in the corner of the room I could see Saltbox, Gingerbread, ASHA & Changes to name but a few, and with more than 25 organisations represented overall there are obviously far more than those that I’ve mentioned. I felt so humbled to be part of a community that has been such a key facilitator in flexible, multi-organisational working in Stoke-on-Trent, as it is only by working together that we can begin to make real differences in people’s lives.

My favourite part of the event was undoubtedly being able to launch the “100 Friends” campaign. Having worked on the campaign for the past few months as part of Foodbank’s communications team, it was so fantastic (and somewhat of a relief!) to finally get things off the ground. The idea is simple. We are asking our volunteers and supporters to each find one person they can encourage to become a ‘friend of foodbank’ and commit to regular financial giving. We need these commitments in order to become a more self-sustaining charity and to be able to plan more effectively for our future, so please get thinking about the people in your life who might be interested in becoming a friend of foodbank. To get your hands on an information pack, get in touch with the foodbank team at: info@stokeontrent.foodbank.org.uk. 

Finally, to hear during the formal AGM meeting that Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank is now considered to be an example of ‘best practice’ by the Trussell Trust Regional Development Coordinator was the cherry on top of a fantastic day. Our annual report demonstrated that we support our guests with so much more than food; with practical advice through Saltbox’s ‘Money Matters’ for example; with healthy eating & living information through ‘Cook & Eat’ sessions; with Christmas hampers and time and most importantly, a listening ear.

Nevertheless, there is still work to be done. If we want to continue supporting those in the greatest need across the city, we need to engage even more people in the work that we do. So whatever you can do, do it for Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank and help us to support local people in crisis!

SCATTERING KINDNESS: An evaluation of Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community night shelter’s pilot project

Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community Night Shelter is a temporary winter night shelter, set up in association with Housing Justice. Our pilot project ran for 9 weeks between mid-January and mid-March 2016, every Saturday night at Swan Bank Church, Burslem. Since the pilot finished, we have had various meetings with volunteers, guests and members of the steering group, aiming to evaluate how the project had gone. The resounding consensus from each of these groups is that it has been an overwhelming success, and I am inclined to agree. Below are just three reasons why I believe this to the be the case…

  1. Firstly, we made a difference in the lives of our guests.

Over the course of the 9 weeks, we were able to provide a safe & warm bed to 16 different individuals-13 men and 3 women-some of whom stayed with us on more than one evening. On each of these Saturdays, our guests received the warmest of welcomes; a hot meal; endless cups of tea; delicious homemade cake; hot showers; opportunities to pick up new clothes and bedding; friendly conversation; a safe space to rest; a hot breakfast; sandwiches to take away and support and advice regarding what to do next.

Obviously, the fact that we were able to serve 16 people in this way is incredible, but the best part is the number of people we were able to help find more stable accommodation. With the help of ARCH, we were able to help one of our guests access temporary accommodation for asylum seekers and we supported 2 other guests to find accommodation through their own contacts. One extremely kind volunteer had these 2 guests staying on different occasions with him at his home as they waited to move into their new accommodation. At present, we are supporting 1 guest while he waits to access the Edward Myers unit and another as he waits to enter a soon-to-open rehabilitation centre. On top of this, we were able to fund some extra nights in B&Bs during the freezing weather thanks to local church donations.

These stories alone showcase the success of STCCNS’s pilot project, and yet I have another 2 reasons to share with you…

2. Secondly, there were no incidents of aggression, violence or threat over the 9 weeks.

None! Zero! Nada! Considering some of our guests had substance abuse issues or mental health challenges or both and considering this can often increase the risk of threatening behaviour, this really is something to celebrate. I think this serves as a testament to the calm and friendly atmosphere that our wonderful volunteers created each week- lots of our guests told us how kind they found the volunteers and how they appreciated having so many of them around as it made them feel safer.

3. Thirdly, the pilot project really did operate as a ‘community-driven’ shelter. 

The amount of support we received since we first announced the idea has been overwhelming. Back in early January when we held our first training event, we waited at the YMCA to see if anyone would actually turn up. By the end of the pilot scheme, way over 30 people had committed their time and volunteered at the Saturday shifts. I know I’ve already mentioned this but our volunteers truly are fantastic. They welcomed and chatted with guests so warmly; made innumerable hot drinks; stayed up late; got up early; cleaned & tidied; gave lifts; put up camp beds…the list goes on and on. And they did all of these tasks with such enthusiasm. Without them, we certainly wouldn’t have achieved what we have achieved. Thank you.

Further evidence of the ‘community’ supporting the shelter is through the sheer number of donations that we received. Again, the list of clothes and bedding and food toiletries is endless, but so greatly appreciated as it meant we could gift each guest with a full bag of toiletries to take away as well as an opportunity to pick up new clothes, rucksacks, blankets and the like. Stoke-on-Trent must be one of the most generous cities going. Thank you.

Finally, the support we received from other agencies and organisations across the city and beyond has been unprecedented. Brighter Futures & The Rough Sleepers Team; the YMCA; Street Chaplains; The Jubilee Project; ARCH; The Macari Centre; The Walk Project; The City Council; Hanley Police; Swan Bank Church & Housing Justice… I’m sure that I’ve probably forgotten some there were that many, but the list just goes to show what can be achieved when we work together. Thank you.

I don’t think there is any more I can say to demonstrate how over the moon we are with how this pilot project has gone. However, we now need to look to the future. Homelessness and rough sleeping in Stoke-on-Trent has by no stretch of the imagination been solved or even reduced. The 18-bed Macari Centre is full most nights and the rough sleepers team continue to meet new people bedding down in the city centre. Over the next few months, we will be working to improve and expand the service that our pilot project provided and will be opening again in November 2016 to continue serving those that need us. Please continue to support us and keep in touch- it’s all hands on deck!

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STCCNS Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/

Housing Justice:  http://www.housingjustice.org.uk/

Scattering Kindness: Stoke’s Street Chaplains

I can’t believe I’ve only just got round to writing this blog post considering I observed a Saturday night through the eyes of Stoke’s Street Chaplains way back in early September, but university has a way of taking over and numerous essays and a few reading lists later, here we are.

Spending the early hours of a Sunday morning with Street Chaplains actually came about through the Winter Night Shelter project. We needed to gather some evidence that there was a real need for a night shelter in Stoke and accompanying Street Chaplains as they provided a peaceful presence in the city centre late at night gave us the opportunity to encounter some of those sleeping rough.

In light of this, my mind was predominantly focusing on the questions that we should ask on the off chance we did find any rough sleepers and how we might be able to help them there and then. However, within a few minutes of leaving The Lounge, Gitana Street (which Street Chaplains use as their base) my attention turned to the rapport that they had clearly been building with those working weekends on Trinity Street. Every promotions team member and bouncer gave Street Chaplains a smile and a “hello”- a very surprising gesture considering the majority of security staff I have interacted with have got a face like a smacked bottom. What’s more, they clearly have the respect of the local police force too, as they also stopped for a chat when they saw us.

After having completed a loop around Hanley, binning glass bottles as we went so as to reduce the potential for injuries, we came back to The Lounge for a brief hot drink and then headed back out on to Trinity Street. This time they brought the backpacks which were filled with bottles of water, flipflops and sweets and we gave them out to anyone that wanted one. Admittedly, the flipflops did confuse me to begin with but Rob (the Team Lead for that evening) explained that they offered them to any of the women who were struggling in their heels. This has got to be one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of- who wouldn’t want a free pair of flipflops if their feet were sore and achey?- and in practical terms, think how many sprained ankles and grazed knees have likely been prevented!

Perhaps the biggest testament to the work of Street Chaplains is the response they receive from the revellers who are out and about the town. Out of the hundreds of people we walked past, I only saw one lady try and challenge the work that Street Chaplains, and she was so inebriated she would have picked a fight with a jacket potato. Everyone else exchanged pleasantries, asked for hugs and expressed their gratitude for the free lollies.

I experienced first-hand the wonderful work that Street Chaplains are doing and there is no doubt that they are providing the reassurance and peaceful presence that they aimed to give.

Street Chaplains

Image from: streetchaplains.org.uk 


 

Stoke Street Chaplains Website: http://www.streetchaplains.org.uk/ 
Stoke Street Chaplains Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/Street-Chaplains-654749871279259/?fref=ts

A Christmas Round Up!

Considering Christmas Day is now all but one week away (how is that possible?) I thought it would be a good time for a quick round up of the positive things that have been happening in Stoke in the run up to Christmas.

Having returned home from university for the Christmas break, I couldn’t help but grin after walking into Wesley Hall Church for Monday night Foodbank distribution and finding over 20 Christmas hampers ready to gift to our guests. They were all bursting at the seams with chocolates, biscuits, puddings and crackers and had been wrapped up so fancily in cellophane and ribbon. (Why can I not wrap with cellophane without it ripping or using too much cellotape?) Judging from their facebook page, all kinds of community groups have been helping to wrap these parcels from schoolchildren and churches to the YMCA and Hanley’s firefighters, making the hampers even more special. Setting them down on the table next to the guests’ food parcels and seeing their reaction was wonderful. Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank’s ceaseless support for the guests that we welcome through our doors continues to blow me away, and no time more so than at Christmas.

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Christmas Hampers from Stoke-on-Trent Foodbanks

Another piece of good news in time for the festive period comes in the form of a concrete plan of action for the proposed winter night shelter. Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter [Pilot Project] will open its doors on Saturday 16th January 2016 at Swan Bank Church, Burslem and continue every Saturday throughout January and February, with the aim of seeing how things progress and where things take us. For further information, including volunteering opportunities, check out the Facebook page (link below) and direct all emails to stokewinternightshelter@gmail.com.

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Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter

Haywood Academy and Sixth Form have provided one last good news story as only a couple of days ago, they released plans to use the iconic ‘Burslem School of Art’ building to deliver some of their sixth form classes from, including the use of specialist creative facilities like photography areas and art rooms. What a fabulous use for one of Stoke’s heritage buildings!

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For great updates on SOT Foodbank’s Christmas Hampers: https://www.facebook.com/Stoke-on-Trent-Foodbank-379733792038148/?fref=ts

Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/

The Sentinel article on Haywood’s expansion: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Iconic-listed-building-turned-sixth-form-centre/story-28348117-detail/story.html

SCATTERING KINDNESS: Plans for a Winter Night Shelter

When a group of us volunteering at Monday night foodbank distribution began noticing that the number of guests with NFA (No Fixed Abode) was becoming more and more frequent, alongside the number of street homeless guests, we decided something needed to be done. No one should have to make Hanley public toilets or a Middleport Canal Bridge their bed for a night or carry all their possessions around on their backs and setting up a winter night shelter seemed like one way of beginning to make a difference for those sleeping rough.

The statistics suggest that 2,744 rough sleepers can be found on any one night in England (Crisis UK) and 16 of these will be bedding down in the streets of Stoke-on-Trent each night. (JSNA) Of course, it’s quite likely that both these numbers are higher as those sleeping rough tend to hide themselves away for numerous reasons but they certainly give us a mandate to act on this issue. 16 people. That’s 1.45 football teams or One Direction + 3 tribute bands. Surely we can make room for 16 people in Stoke-on-Trent so that they can have the dignity of sleeping in a bed rather than the pavement?

Since that initial concern manifested itself, many meetings have been held and more planned with a variety of passionate folk from across different sectors and areas of the city. Discussion regarding the practicalities of setting up and running a night shelter is well under way. What venue do we use? How do we fund it? Who will staff it? The issues to think about are pretty hefty and there’s not always a clear answer but by no means has this disheartened us. If anything, it’s spurring us on to work harder and faster in order to realise our vision of no one having to sleep rough in our city. Asking these difficult questions has led us to linking up with Housing Justice, a Christian charity that works for action on homelessness and housing issues. They have a wealth of expertise in establishing and running Winter Night Shelters all across the UK and we’re very much looking forward to the help and guidance they can give us.


Housing Justice

Housing Justice


Now, the great thing about this vision is that anyone can get behind it. Everyone has something they can offer in order to help get this project off the ground. Are you a fabulous fundraiser? Why not raise some money to help us buy bedding and toiletries? Enjoy cooking? You could volunteer to make an evening meal for our guests at one of the shelter venues. Perhaps you’re a people person with a heart for reaching out to those that most people ignore…if that’s the case, there’s definitely a role for you to play in Stoke’s Winter Night Shelter.

Colder temperatures appear to have set in over the past few days and winter is definitely on its way. We’re going to need all hands on deck, everything that this generous community can offer, if we’re going to be ready to welcome Stoke’s rough sleepers into a warmer, safer and more supportive environment. If you share this vision; if you want to find out more about our progress or if you want to get involved please get in touch! All emails to: stokewinternightshelter@gmail.com would be greatly received!


CRISIS UKhttp://www.crisis.org.uk/

JSNA report: http://webapps.stoke.gov.uk/JSNA/download.aspx?documentID=184

Housing Justicehttp://www.housingjustice.org.uk/