Its been a while since I last blogged and it feels right to capture some of the experience of the last few months since Christmas, and new directions in the services we offer.

Where to start? Christmas and the new year was a blur of donations and volunteering, leaving us with a literal mountain of donations to sort and stack, in our community foodclub – the food warehouse, the charity shop and day centre store. We remain fantastically grateful for all the donations, but sorting them out was a real headache. Credit to all, but volunteers Dom and Lisa deserve top honours for this work.

Then it was on to the sleepout: nearly 200 people came along and braved what was actually an unseasonally warm night in the safety and security of the area around the Saints ground. Organising this is a major achievement and we would like to say thanks to all who attended and those who helped out – a brilliant team effort that has raised valuable funds for our work.

It was a little disappointing however, that around 300 people who told us they would be there did not show up on the night. We expected a certain degree of non-attendance, but the scale was a surprise.  It has meant we will have to have a think about the event for next year and work harder to raise funds from other activities this year to make up the gap between what we expected to raise, and what we actually did.

We are working on a range of events and hope the Coronavirus does not throw a spanner in those works. Look out for these as they come closer on our social media, especially facebook.

New services, new focus

Aside from fundraising I did want to talk about the new focus in our work with service users. Since we received our Lottery funding we have focused a lot on helping people to gain greater employability through skills and training, work placements and courses. This will continue to be a major area of focus of course, with a really active, targetted programme of support for those people who are ready to make steps in that direction.

The thing we have realised however is that alongside this work, we needed to offer more to help people overcome the very real barriers that stop them accessing work related support or getting jobs: problems like past abuse, trauma, substance misuse, gambling and above all, mental health issues. As a result we have renamed the casework team the Enhanced Support service, and recruited a couple of new staff with training and experience to focus on these issues, and offer therapeutic support. Welcome to Carmela Gubitosa with her psychiatric nursing background as head of this team. Its already bearing fruit, with a new partnership to offer a mental health crisis cafe to our service users, working with NHFT. We will add on greater support for substance misuse problems, some in partnership with other agencies, others that we offer ourselves, reflecting our internal expertise in these issues, and reflecting the fact that not everyone is able to access and benefit from some of the more ‘specialist’ services. We consider ourselves specialists in our own right and we will offer more in the future.

These developments should not mask the fact that behind all that, and something we don’t shout about, is the fact that our day centre is open at present 7 days a week for a total of 78 hours of contact with up to 130 people a day, including around 70 regular rough sleepers who come in. Our extended winter hours have been brilliant, with excellent bank staff providing valuable care and support to rough sleepers. To every one who comes in we offer a warm welcome, a wide range of activities, showers, food, clothes, podiatry, haircuts, advocacy, welfare benefits advice, sexual health advice, access to course and computers and support with issues they face… along with a lot more. It is a complete service, and a lot of it has been happening for 46 years. With the quality, professionalism , experience and diversity that we offer, we are truly the single dedicated rough sleeper, poverty and homelessness charity in Northampton.