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…
- 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!
STCCNS Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/
Housing Justice: http://www.housingjustice.org.uk/