When Hannah Beck offered a homeless man a cup of coffee 15 years ago she didn’t realise it would be the start of a breakfast club feeding around 25 people a day.
“I offered him a cup of coffee and he said I haven’t had one for three weeks, so I told him, ‘I’m here every day and can make you one.’”
Now 15 years later Hannah is still at St Peter’s church in Harrogate every morning, including Christmas morning and New Year’s Day, and instead of just handing out a cup of coffee she, along with a team of other volunteers prepares full cooked breakfasts for homeless and vulnerable people in Harrogate.
She said: “When I first started every single person who came was homeless, now most people are vulnerable people and that is in part due to the No Second Night Out drive.”
“We never question anyone here on whether they have a ‘right’ to come, anyone is welcome to come here.”
Beth Holroyd, has been coming to the breakfast club regularly over the past five years.
The 41-year-old who has struggled with drugs and alcohol problems for the past 20 years said: “I come to breakfast club every morning that I can. I love coming here for my breakfast, they just take us as we are. They don’t judge us, we can come here and if we are upset they take five minutes to just sit and listen.
“It’s not just about dishing food out, they listen to us. It takes the pressure off our families.
She added: “If these people didn’t feed me I wouldn’t eat. Some days I am in a state and I can’t cook dinner.
“And they just do it because they care.”
Hannah and the other volunteers made a special effort at Christmas, dishing out gifts along with hot breakfasts and preparing some gift bags with donated food and sweets.
Beth said: “I was stressing about Christmas and still came here on the morning.
“They got us little presents, I still have the gloves they got us last year. It’s nice to know someone cares enough just to give a little gift.”
The team of volunteers cook around 240 eggs a week providing breakfasts for up to 25 people each morning.
In addition an evening foodbank system is run from St Peters Church on an evening, proving food for people in need with no need for vouchers or referrals.
The church receives donations from shops including Bettys and financial donations from several other churches in the town and spends around £130 a week on food to be given out on an evening.
Hannah says she has noticed a huge increase in the number of people coming to the church to collect food as they are unable to afford to feed themselves or their families.
She said: “Around 30 people come each evening. A lot more people are needing help, and it is still increasing all the time.
“People can’t cope with the financial difficulties now, I am speaking to more and more people who can’t afford fuel to heat their home. I know people are having to face the option of heating their home or eating a meal.
She added: “All kinds of different people are coming here for food provisions, one man we knew was an architect who had fallen on hard times.”
Hannah tries to get to know the people coming to St Peter’s for help so she can understand their needs.
She added: “Some people haven’t got very good cooking facilities, just a kettle, so I bear that in mind.
“I make families boxes up, we have got two or three families that come so I try to put things that a family can cook together to one side for them.”
Recently Lloyds Bank in Harrogate donated £4,000 to the Breakfast Club, after customers choose it as their charity of choice.
Emma Brierly from Lloyds said: “It was decided by the community. The staff nominated four local charities and customers voted on which charities to support.
“St Peter’s Breakfast Club had the most votes and received £4,000 with Just B Bereavement services receiving £3,000.
“St Peters is very close to home for a lot of people. It received three quarters of the vote which is just fantastic.”
“It’s not just the homeless it helps, but the vulnerable and people on low incomes.”
Hannah said: “We can see this as a four month supply but really it will improve things for the whole year.
“We can now afford to buy a bit better quality food with more choice. The support has been brilliant.”
Almost everyone involved in the breakfast club has noticed an increase in people coming to them for help in the past few years.
Beth said: “I think drugs and homelessness is a bigger problem in Harrogate than people realise. People in Harrogate don’t want it to happen in public, in a nice tourist place.”
Michelle Simon, 37, graduated from York St John’s in August with a degree in Occupational Therapy and has been volunteering at the breakfast club while applying for jobs.
She said: “It’s about everyone giving a helping hand. It is amazing how busy it is.
“It isn’t just homeless people, but people who are struggling in Harrogate.
“Because Harrogate is such an affluent place people don’t realise the problem.”
Volunteer Mandy Heaton agrees. She said: “People in Harrogate don’t realise this going on, people try to cover it up, they just expect people in Harrogate to have money and that isn’t always the case.
“There is homelessness but people don’t see it.”
But to Hannah providing food isn’t the only reason for the breakfast club and foodbank.
“The main thing I want to be able to provide here is fun and friendship,” she said.
“Yes there is food but it’s more than that, it’s a place where people can laugh if they want to and talk to us if they need to. It’s about friendship.”
Steven Summerfield, 22, has been coming the Breakfast Club for just over a year. He has recently found somewhere to live through the Harrogate Homeless Project and started a new job in retail.
While Steven was sleeping rough he stumbled across the breakfast club at St Peter’s Church.
He said: “I just came in one day and realised it was here. Lots of people were eating so I sat down and met Rudy and lots of other people here.”
Steven was homeless for seven years, in Harrogate and in Essex before finding a flat and started a new job in a shop just before Christmas.
Volunteer Mandy Heaton said: “Steven is one of the success stories, he really is.
“It’s great to see him with a job and a flat and doing well.”