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The Corporation

Posted: 16/12/15

Kind-hearted teens ensure homeless charity’s survival

Fund-raising teenagers have ensured the long-term survival of a Mansfield homelessness charity.

Pictured with service-users (seated, centre) are (standing, left) Angus Townsley, Katie Murfitt and Kelsie Berryman, and (standing, right) chair of trustees Tony Lee, and fellow volunteers Kate Power and Katie Armstrong.

The Hall Homeless Support Project, which provides food and shelter to rough sleepers, has received a £2,500 cash boost from young National Citizen Service (NCS) participants. NCS is a government-backed activity programme for 15-17 year-olds, and is run locally by West Nottinghamshire College.

Trustees of the charity feared for its immediate future – saying it only had enough funds to keep going for up to 18 months.

Now, the cash windfall means it can continue for at least another four years.

Chair of trustees, Tony Lee, said: “We were getting to the point where we could last another year, maybe 18 months, with our current cash reserves. This money is a lifeline. I can’t thank the young people enough.”

The money, which was recently handed over, was part of a record £11,000 raised by more than 380 participants of this summer’s NCS programme on behalf of several charities including Jigsaw Support Scheme, John Eastwood Hospice Trust, MIND, the Salvation Army and Nottinghamshire Deaf Children’s Society.

Of those, around 75 young people from five separate NCS groups chose to raise money for The Hall following talks by Mr Lee on the work of the charity. Fundraising activities included a sponsored triathlon, raffle, tombola, collection buckets and online donations, as well as collecting food and clothing.

Seventeen-year-old Angus Townsley, from Mansfield Woodhouse, said: “As soon as we listened to Tony, we decided to back the charity. We are really sympathetic to homeless people. Some of our group had previously been homeless or knew people that were, so it was a big thing for them to try and help.

“It feels good to do something positive and know the money is making a real difference.”

The project, which has been running since 1996, provides drop-in sessions each Monday from 9.30am-11.30am and Tuesday from 6.30pm-8.30pm at St Peter’s Centre, on Churchside, where service-users receive a cooked breakfast or evening meal, hot drinks, showering facilities, food parcels and clothing.

Sessions regularly cater for up to 35 homeless people, with a recent one in the run-up to Christmas bringing more than 50 through its doors.

Just two years ago the project employed five members of staff. Now, following cuts to external grant funding, it is run by a team of 12 dedicated volunteers who rely entirely on donations.

The charity has been supported by West Nottinghamshire College for several years through money-spinning initiatives such as its annual ‘554 Challenge’, which sees staff and students donate food, toiletries and clothing, while money from recycled printer cartridges is also handed over.

Other supporters include St Peter and St Paul’s Church, the Rotary Club of Mansfield, and Mansfield Inner Wheel, while the Nottingham Road branch of Sainsbury’s donates bread and fruit.

In addition to raising money, some of the NCS participants have maintained their links with the charity by volunteering at its Monday or Tuesday drop-in sessions.

Angus and fellow NCS fundraisers Kelsie Berryman and Katie Murfitt regularly prepare and cook meals for service-users, joined by friends Katie Armstrong and Kate Power – all of them students at West Nottinghamshire College, who lend their support when not studying. Some of them have returned after originally helping out at the charity last Christmas.

Kelsie, 16, from Mansfield, said: “I like the friendly atmosphere and the thought of helping other people. For me, it may only be for a couple of hours a week but for the clients, it’s their actual lives. This gives them a warm place to come and have a meal, a hot drink and socialise knowing they’re safe, instead of being outside in the cold.”

Homeless man Stephen Clay has been a regular visitor since returning to Mansfield several weeks ago after experiencing relationship difficulties, having previously lived in Worksop.

He said: “There’s nothing left for me there anymore so I’ve come back to Mansfield and have been living on the streets. If it wasn’t for the charity, I think I’d be dead. I wouldn’t be getting fed or anything. I’ve got nobody.

“All the volunteers are so nice; I love each and every one of them to bits because they give up their time for us. They don’t judge you – they just listen, and make sure you have something to eat. They’re a god-send.”

Mr Lee said: “It’s total relief knowing we can keep going – because the homelessness problem is getting worse, not better. We rely entirely on donations so there’s always the fear we’ll eventually run out of money. That’s why we’re so grateful to all the NCS participants that raised the money for us. Their efforts have taken away lots of stress and worries that we had over our finances.

“And Angus, Kate, Kelsie and both the Katies are absolute stars – they really get stuck-in. It’s fantastic what they’re doing. Nobody should knock young people.”

Nigel Oldham, NCS programme manager at West Nottinghamshire College, which has delivered the scheme since 2013, said: “This is living proof of how much the scheme changes young people’s lives and helps the local community. The young volunteers at The Hall have continued the ethos of the NCS programme by going the extra mile to support a worthy cause that is close to their hearts. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

NCS is a national scheme to support 15-17 year-olds in the transition to adulthood through residential trips, social action projects and fundraising activities, while enabling them to form friendships and learn new skills. It runs three times throughout the year during the spring, summer and autumn school breaks.

For further information about The Hall Homeless Support Project or to support the charity, contact Tina Barnes on 01623 428775 or email mail@stpeters-centre.co.uk