How Stevenage and Hitchin drop-ins for the homeless have created family bonds
- Credit: Archant
Comet reporter Georgia Barrow attended the weekly Feed Up Warm Up Stevenage drop-in at St Andrew and St George Church to speak to those benefitting from the scheme – which is helping more homeless people across North Herts than ever before.
Having followed the Feed Up Warm Up scheme since its inception in December last year, I've watched it go from strength to strength.
What was clear to see from the Stevenage drop-in on Tuesday was the warmth and positivity offered to each client coming through the door, proving paramount to its success.
What initially began as a short-term weekly drop-in for the homeless in Hitchin - run from the Scout Hut in Nightingale Road - has attracted hundreds of volunteers and expanded into neighbouring towns, with plans under way for a Hatfield drop-in.
Founder Shane Cole has also had requests to set up a drop-in as far afield as Watford.
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Ricky Thorpe, a volunteer who has helped at every drop-in in Hitchin and Stevenage, spoke to us about his involvement.
He said: "I was homeless for almost a year. I ended up on the streets due to my alcoholism - I've now been sober for eight years.
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"I, and every volunteer, just want to help people.
"We get people here from all walks of life, and everyone's story is different, but we get to know them all."
We caught up with one client - who asked to remain anonymous - as he was having his hair cut. He said: "When my father passed away I moved out of the area to find a bit of work, but a friend of mine from Stevenage called about work so I moved back.
"I was able to get a sleeping bag from these guys and I sleep in an old shed. I've managed to get back to work and I'm just saving as much as I can.
"I first left Stevenage when I was 16 and moved up and down the country just following work - I go where the work is."
His years of endless saving means today he will be much closer to having the funds to start looking for a place.
The drop-ins are not just for those without a home. The open door policy means help is provided to those on universal credit or workers living on the breadline.
Formula 1 commentator David Croft - who is from Stevenage - also attended the drop-in to help out after meeting Shane and the team at our annual Comet Community Awards last month.
He said: "I've spoke to a lot of people over the years at the awards who do amazing things.
"After hosting the awards, I wanted to find out more. Some stories stand out more than others and hearing about what he had been through and how he turned his life around, and how he's now doing his bit to help others, it was inspiring.
"I stood there a little gobsmacked as Shane told his story. I loved that fact that he just took the microphone so I could stand there and listen."
Aaron Collins, 27, spoke of how the people he has met at the Feed Up Warm Up drop-ins have become like family to him.
He said: "I was nervous at first, I didn't know what to expect. I've been coming for six or seven weeks now.
"I feel like a part of the family here.
"They've helped me with mental health problems that I'm dealing with, they are there to give support as well as provide food and clean clothes.
"We look forward to it and spend as much time as we can here.
"The next thing going forward is to hopefully get a place and still come back. I would like to give back because I can already see what this place gives to me and others."
Jacky Page, assistant priest at the church, also volunteers at the Stevenage drop-ins.
"We were trying to find a way we could help a group of people in Stevenage and the opportunity to meet the Feed Up Warm Up team help the homeless," she said.
"We've just gone from strength to strength and it's a great privilege to actually be involved in it.
"It's more like a family now. It's a real eye-opener when hearing the clients stories and certain things can change everything. You shouldn't take anything for granted.
"I heard someone say we did not really have a homeless problem in Stevenage - a person who should know that it is a big problem. This is the way we can help."
From speaking to those who benefit from the service, as well as those dedicating their time to volunteer, it is apparent that the drop-ins are an olive branch to bridge the gap between those who are fortunate, and those who have fallen on hard times.
The approach of Feed Up Warm Up is one exempt from prejudice, judgement and pressure.
From this, friendships and bonds are formed.
Feed Up Warm Up's pop-up shop - and how you can get involved
Feed Up Warm Up is run solely through donations, volunteering and fundraising.
The team have recently opened a pop-up shop in Letchworth which is open for donations and customers are met with a 'pay as you feel' basis.
The shop in Garden Square Shopping Centre has raised £6,000 in its first four weeks, with proceeds going towards the cost of a welfare van.
As it stands, the team push trolleys filled with essentials across Hitchin and Stevenage, following the evening drop-ins to reach out to street homeless people.
The welfare van - fully equipped with kitchen and water facilities - will allow the team to carry more goods and reach people further afield.
As well as being self-sufficient, Feed Up Warm Up has been supported by a number of businesses and organisations in Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock, from fundraisers to donations and volunteering.
To find out about the various fundraising events or how you can get involved, search 'Feed Up Warm Up' on Facebook.