Harrogate Homeless Project reaches 25 years of making a difference for so many

Harrogate Homeless Project. Springboard Centre manager  Linda Fulcher (1609135AM1)
Harrogate Homeless Project. Springboard Centre manager Linda Fulcher (1609135AM1)

When you enter the house you can hear people chattering with a radio playing out in the background.

You hear the occasional clang of cutlery or a chair being pulled out as someone sits down. Food is on the table and there is a real hustle and bustle about the place. You might be thinking that this description matches the familiar set up of a family mealtime perfectly, and you would be right; this scene with service users of the Harrogate Homeless Project’s Springboard day service was just like that.

The Harrogate Homeless Project is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and one of the biggest successes of the Project over the years has been Springboard, a day centre at Wesley Chapel House which provides support for homeless or vulnerably housed people in the district. This year Springboard celebrates its own seven year anniversary of providing vital stability and support to service users.

While moving from room to room to see all of Springboard’s facilities, volunteer Derek Allen, 48, who has been homeless in the past, explained just how much the centre means to everyone that visits it. He said: “We treat them like family here, for some people we are all that they have got. This place is vital, it has come on leaps and bounds and I don’t know what I would have done without it.

“Springboard turns people’s lives around, and I just wanted to give something back. Through the support of Springboard I have got a level 2 in ITQ, a level 3 diploma in social care for adults, a BTEC level in customer service, and a level one in maths.”

What immediately strikes you when you are looking around Springboard is that there are facilities everywhere. There are shower facilities, computer facilities laundry facilities, eating facilities, and gardening facilities. Asked if there is a facility that Springboard does not have, Derek paused for a moment to think, then smiled and said, “Not really, no”. Springboard workers and volunteers serve up 150 meals a week and provide a healthy two-course lunch for service users every day.

Geoff Webber, the Chairman of the Harrogate Homeless Project, and his wife Pat, who is a volunteer at Springboard, are both a dab hand in the kitchen, and regularly cook up a storm preparing an array of dishes on a Tuesday afternoon, including curries, spaghetti bolognese and chilli.

Geoff Webber said: “Springboard feeds 30 people every day in a typical week. We use donations to cook with where we can, we get donations from shops including Sainsbury’s, Booker and Fodder, and of course we also get a lot of donations from members of the public. Pat is very good at puddings.”

One of the service users keen to share his experiences of Springboard and the Harrogate Homeless Project as a whole, was Tyrone Daniels, 48, who was homeless for 17 years until he found the support of the Project.

He said: “They saved me when I was on my lowest point. This place is a blessing for a lot of people, it means a lot when you know that there is someone caring and thinking about you here. Like all families we have our ups and downs and we have our moments, but we are like a family here, definitely. It felt like forever being homeless before I got my flat where I am now.”

Springboard has a garden that service users work hard to nurture every day, and for some people, gardening has a transformative effect. Pointing at the plot, Linda Fulcher, 59, who is the joint manager of Springboard with Mark Sutcliffe, said: “People spend hours and hours here, and being outdoors somewhere peaceful like this, can really have an impact on people. It is very calming and gives people something to focus on.”

The garden is nominated in this year’s Harrogate in Bloom Awards, an achievement that Linda and the team, as well as service users, are “very proud” of. Andrew Whitaker, 38, visits Springboard four times a week. He said: “I think Springboard is not just 100% valuable, it’s 110% valuable. Without it everyone would be lost. It provides a safe place for people to come and relax. Linda is like a mother to everyone who comes to Springboard. If it ever shut down there would be a lot more hassle on the streets for sure.”

Volunteers and workers reflect on the Project's success

As well as the Springboard day centre, the Harrogate Homeless Project provides a number of other services and facilities, including a Direct Access Hostel on Bower Street, and No Second Night Out, which is a nationwide initiative designed to ensure that anybody sleeping rough can be helped immediately off the streets. A lot of the volunteers and workers from across all of the Harrogate Homeless Project’s services have been reflecting on why they choose to do the jobs that they do, and why the Project has been such a success for 25 years.

Linda Fulcher, the joint manager of Springboard, described by many service users as the ‘mother of Springboard’, said: “I started my involvement with the Harrogate Homeless Project 10 years ago, and I have been involved with Springboard since it started. Springboard is the place where people come when all their avenues are shut. The job does affect you, and I do think about certain people when I am at home, certain people do get under my skin - I wonder how they are getting on.

"It is a very challenging job, but I like a challenge. It can be difficult at times when you do not know which way to go next with service users, some times you feel like you have run out of options to help someone and that is hard, but you keep trying.

“The volunteers we have here at Springboard are just amazing. We have about 15 of them. Doing this job, you really do see that the Project changes people’s lives.”

Pat Webber, a former Mayoress of Harrogate, is a a volunteer at Springboard. She said: “I feel that being a volunteer is something very valuable to do with my time. It is a very important service for people who need someone they can have a chat to, and Springboard is a good place to get some TLC.”

For the Project’s Service Manager Julie Everill, the reason why she enjoys her job is very simple. She said: “It is about making a difference, even if that difference is tiny. Sometimes it might be about someone leaving us feeling like they are worth a bit more than when they first came to us.”

The Chief Executive of Harrogate Homeless Project, Liz Hancock, said: “It is a huge commitment and passion, it’s not just a job for me, it is about so much more than that. It truly is about changing people’s lives.”

Deby Atkinson, the No Second Night Out Project Assistant, said: “The project is all about meeting each individual’s needs and recognising that this does produce life-changing results.

Andy Kirk, who leads No Second Night Out, added: “We get people off the streets and provide an offer of accommodation. No one should sleep on the streets.

“There are a lot of people homeless in Harrogate, but it is very hidden.”

Looking to the future

The 12 month report for the No Second Night Out project (NSNO) from April 1 2015 to March 31 this year, is a good indication of how the initiative is going. The provision of NSNO, means: new rough sleepers can be identified off the streets immediately; front line services and the general public can alert services if they see anyone sleeping rough so they get help; rough sleepers can go to a place of safety where their needs are assessed, and they are able to get emergency accommodation. NSNO also means that rough sleepers from outside the area can be reconnected with their community.

The report reveals that, of the 202 referals made into NSNO who were assessed and accommodated, 81% went on to receive a suitable and sustainable offer of accommodation. The majority of offers provided were placements within the Harrogate Homeless Project’s hostel, with 40% of the overall successful offers demonstrating this.

Looking ahead, the Harvest Festival is approaching and the Homeless Project is appealing for any donations from local schools or churches, Anyone interested in making a contribution should call: 01423 566900.

The Mayor of Harrogate, Coun Nick Brown, has chosen the Harrogate Homeless Project as one of his charities to support this year, and is very keen to help its work in any way possible.

As the colder weather approaches, the Project is thinking more about STARS, its Shelter to Assist Rough Sleepers. Harrogate Borough Council decided to commission the Project to provide STARS in order to provide a Cold Weather Provision Service. Deby Atkinson, who is the Project Leader for STARS as well as the Project Assistant for NSNO, said: “The shelter is absolutely vital in preventing death on the streets at winter.”

The service ran continuously between December 21 last year and February 21 this year, with 14 additional nights open for particularly cold weather. Over the 78 nights, the highest number of service users in one night was 15, and over the winter the Project met the needs of 77 different people. Every year the numbers accessing the cold weather service rise - the 77 people accessing the shelter this year has increased from 44 the previous year. As the Project begins to move towards the winter months, Project leaders will be looking to see if there is an increase again.

There are a number of agencies which will continue to provide support for service users at Springboard, including Stonham Housing Association and sexual health organisation MESMAC. A psychotherapist also visits the service, a provision that some service users have described as “an invaluable support”.

To find out more about the work of the Harrogate Homeless Project and ways that you can get involved, visit: http://www.harrogate-homeless-project.org.uk/, or follow the Project on Twitter for more updates: @Hgatehomeless