tackling homelessness & poverty in the Humber region

Category: NEWS

The TalkSuicide campaign encourages people to complete short online suicide prevention training

Humber, Coast and Vale Mental Health Partnership urges people in Hull and Humber complete a free suicide prevention online training programme, and improve support for those suffering from suicidal thoughts.

The Humber, Coast and Vale Mental Health Partnership has launched the #TalkSuicide campaign to encourage people to complete a free 20-minute online suicide prevention training programme. 

The #TalkSuicide campaign urges people in Hull to visit www.talksuicide.co.uk to complete the video-based training, so they can learn life-saving skills and improve the support network for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.   

The Zero Suicide Alliance – a group of NHS Trusts, businesses and individuals committed to suicide prevention – has created the training to help people spot signs in people experiencing suicidal thoughts, and equip them with the information and skills to help them help these people.

There were 5,821 registered suicides in the UK in 2017 – more than one death every two hours – with the Yorkshire and Humber region having some of the highest suicide rates in England.  Mental health issues and financial problems are some of the biggest contributing factors to suicide. 

National statistics show that suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 50. Men accounted for three quarters of suicides registered in 2017, while those aged between 45-49 are considered to be most at risk.  

Anyone can undertake the training, which only takes 20 minutes to complete, at www.talksuicide.co.uk 

Completing the training will help you to: 

  • Spot signs in people experiencing suicidal thoughts 
  • Feel comfortable speaking about suicide in a supportive manner 
  • Signpost individuals suffering from suicidal thoughts to the correct services or support

Visit www.talksuicide.co.uk to complete the video-based suicide prevention training and learn more about the #TalkSuicide campaign. 

Michele Moran, Chair of the Humber, Coast and Vale Mental Health Partnership Board and Chief Executive at Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Each death by suicide is a terrible loss and a tragedy for everybody involved. By taking just 20 minutes to complete the online training, you could help save someone from taking their own life. The training will help you to be better in identifying suicidal thoughts and behaviour and give you the information to direct them to the most appropriate support services.” 

Jo Kent, Humber, Coast and Vale Suicide Prevention Lead said: “The #TalkSuicide and Zero Suicide Alliance websites have plenty of material to help businesses and organisations incorporate this training into their workplace. We’re calling on individuals and businesses alike to encourage their friends, family, colleagues or employees to complete the online training – because knowing what to do and say in the right situation really can help to save a life.”

If you need urgent help, or if you’re worried about the mental or emotional state of yourself or someone you know, help is available from the following services: 

  • Samaritans offer a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week support service. Call them FREE on 116 123 or e-mail  jo@samaritans.org
  • CALM Campaign Against Living Miserably – for men call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day – Visit the webchat page
  • PAPYRUS (support for young people) Freephone 0800 068 4141 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org
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The NCC Benevolent Fund – financial support for people that have worked in the caravan industry

The NCC Benevolent Fund – financial support for people that have worked in the caravan industry

The NCC Benevolent Fund is a registered charity and has been supporting people that work in the caravan industry for over 40 years, when they are facing a financial crisis.  However, few in the industry are aware of the fund and what it can do to help. 

The Fund was established by key caravan industry leaders, with the aim of helping anyone connected to the caravan industry who found themselves for various reasons in challenging circumstances or experiencing financial difficulties. Since then the fund has helped with grants for people like Craig* who was behind with his bills after his wife passed away, or Peter* who needed a mobility scooter when he lost mobility through a sudden illness. 

Benevolent Fund Manager, Melanie Day wants to increase the reach of the fund, to ensure that everyone that has contributed to the industry past or present, can access financial help when a crisis occurs: 

 “With a workforce of over 130,000 people in caravan-related industries, we know we could be helping many more people who are facing some of life’s toughest challenges. To do this, we need to raise awareness of the fund. 

“The NCC Benevolent Fund is the only charitable organisation that directly supports those from within the industry. It’s unique and we’re hoping that we can work with more organisations to help us raise awareness of the fund and the support we can offer.”

The fund provides one off grants to support people through difficult times, such as illness, job loss or as a result of unexpected caring responsibilities. The grants are a financial donation that do not need to be repaid, giving people the peace of mind that the fund can support them, without driving them further into debt.  

For more information or to find out how you can get involved email info@nccbf.org.uk or visit www.nccbenevolentfund.org.uk 

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Food sharing app aims to fight food waste & hunger at Christmas

OLIO aims to reduce food waste and tackle hunger at Christmas

“Food sharing is a behaviour as old as time, but it’s something of a lost practice – we want to bring it back,” says Cara Bilson, Hull Market Maker for food sharing app OLIO.

“Not only can food sharing help us in the fight against climate change, and help us to support families over the Christmas period, it can also help us to reconnect with our local communities,” Cara explains.

In 2017 UK families were projected to spend £4.2 billion on food and drink in the week before Christmas (see The Guardian 12/12/2017), with approximately £1 billion worth of this food being thrown away.

Cara adds: “While this waste occurs, hundreds & thousands of children will not wake up to Christmas presents – they will wake up hungry. Christmas is meant to be a time of joy, but for millions of families, it’s a time of stress, hunger and uncertainty. It doesn’t have to be this way.

“Our food sharing app OLIO hopes to tackle the twin evils of hunger and food waste. It does this by connecting neighbours with each other, and volunteers with local shops, so that surplus food can be shared not thrown away.

“I have been building the food sharing revolution in Hull for the last 6 months now and it’s been going from strength to strength. We have 4,190 users who have shared over 10,800 portions of food with each other! This is an amazing achievement, especially when you imagine that amount of food all in one room together, you can really envision the impact that OLIO is having.

“While there is an outrageous amount of avoidable waste, there are also people in our Hull communities who are going to bed hungry. Therefore, we want to spread the word about OLIO, to offer families an alternative to throwing food in the bin when it’s not going to be eaten.”

Help reduce waste, tackle hunger and build community in Hull this Christmas by downloading the free food sharing app OLIO.

[Cara Bilson is Hull Market Maker for OLIO]

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A warm & safe home for all this Christmas & winter

SASH provides Nightstop and Supported Lodgings schemes across the region.

Local youth homelessness prevention charity SASH is taking part in ‘The Big Give’ fundraising campaign this winter to ensure that no young person is left homeless. The Big Give is the UK’s biggest online matched donor campaign which can match donations £ for £. 

Christmas should be a time of joy & spent with loved ones. Sadly, for young homeless people it can be a time of extreme loneliness & isolation. This year SASH, is aiming to raise £12,500 by December 4th to ensure all young people facing homelessness throughout North and East Yorkshire have a safe and warm place to stay.  

The charity has already received £6,250 in pledges and is halfway to reaching its £12,500 target but urgently needs to raise more to reach its target.  All donations have the opportunity to be doubled and would be very welcomed.  Donations will be used to ensure young people have a warm and safe place to stay in a volunteer’s home; are able to access 24/7 care over the festive period and receive a Christmas present and meal with the opportunity to get involved in festive activities such as the panto & ice-skating; things they may never normally get to do.

Local property developers the Helmsley Group have already supported the campaign with an initial gift of £3,125.  Committed supporter of SASH, Chair John Reeves said: “It’s our pleasure to support SASH, which has such worthy aims and helps local youngsters when they are at their most vulnerable, especially at Christmas, when everyone deserves a decent roof over their head.”  Another additional £3,125 has been pledged through charitable trust The Four Acres and SASH is now urging the public to get involved to raise an additional £6,250.  

Anyone interested in the campaign can donate online for one week only from 12 midday on the 27th November – 12 midday on the 4th December.  Donations must be made by card payment via the Big Give website at https://secure.thebiggive.org.uk/project/30215

Ruth Fawcett, Business Development Manager at SASH said: “all donations will be gratefully received and will help to ensure that no young person has to be alone or homeless during what should be a time of joy and happiness.  We urge anyone interested in the campaign to donate online or get in touch for more information.”

SASH website

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Complex multiple needs require joined-up solutions. RHM provides a ‘road map’ to recovery for its clients, thanks to working partners.

[Jerome Whittingham, Editor]

RHM is a registered charity, and has been working in Hull for about 7 years. Its mission is to restore people who are living chaotic lives, especially those in the grip of addiction and dependency, many of whom are homeless or living in the city’s hostels.


Paul Linley RHM

Paul Linley, Director of RHM Hull.

The charity is directed by Paul Linley, who has much experience of the needs of people in this sector.  In the last couple of years the charity has established some very firm working relationships with other organisations.  RHM oversees counselling to clients by accommodating student counsellor placements from East Riding College, some of these students have stayed with RHM as volunteer counsellors after qualifying.  Selby Street Mission in west Hull now hosts RHM’s office and counselling space, providing additional support for visitors to the Mission’s food bank, drop-ins, and showering facilities.  Finally, for homeless clients that are ready and actively engaging with recovery, RHM now works with the Methodist Church’s International House to offer a number of rooms in supported accommodation.  This partnership-working approach is delivering numerous positive outcomes.

Paul explains: “Taking on these counselling students, we’ve really been able to help people in desperate need with their mental health problems. Some of our clients are also homeless and in terrible destitution, so it’s great that we can also offer a small number of people rooms at International House.  We’re giving stability to 10 people that have been living very chaotic lives.  We’re friendly and we’re open, we accept anyone and everyone. The people that come to us soon feel like they belong to a community, that helps them make relationships.  We provide them with a safe place in which they can build their self-esteem and self-worth.  They get the encouragement they need and can be part of society again.”

The partnerships RHM has developed have given the charity a solid foundation, becoming a prominent provider of addiction recovery support in the city.  The counselling placements have been key in allowing the charity to make such an impact on their clients.  Initially RHM offered student counsellor placements to 3 people, but early success saw this number rise to 6 placements, and the clients are clearly benefitting.

Lizzie Paterson was a student studying for a counselling qualification with East Riding College.  She completed her required 100 placement hours with RHM, and is now a fully qualified counsellor.  She has stayed with RHM, currently offering her counselling skills voluntarily to clients.  She is passionate about continuing her work with the charity.

Lizzie says: “The work here is really worthwhile, I see that the clients get a real lot out of it.  The people that come here don’t have homes, and people, and support networks around them, the things that we all take for granted.  I’ve been working with RHM for about a year and a half, some of my clients I’ve had 30 or 40 hours with, some of the success stories have been just amazing.  People have gone from thinking there is no hope and no way forward, to starting to build good relationships with people, and start to get their lives back on track, to trust in themselves and just keep building on it.”

Lizzie’s delight in her success with RHM is amplified by Tal Raven, Counselling Tutor at East Riding College: “We are delighted to be working with RHM, it has been a very fruitful partnership.  Our students have accessed very valuable placement opportunities, working with real clients.  Our students are supported and encouraged in the volunteering, and our teaching staff work really well with RHM.”

Selby Street Mission, Hull

Selby Street Mission, Hull.

The partnership with Selby Street Mission has also strengthened RHM’s work, the Mission has built an extra counselling room within the premises, and there are further plans for more refurbishment being explored too.  Helping to direct the work of Selby Street Mission is Sue Trotter, one of a very small team of mission enablers volunteering with the Methodist Church to make this often overlooked part of the city a better place for residents to live.

A few years ago Selby Street Mission started a job club, aiming to help people into work.  Whilst there were successes, several people were offered casual jobs with supermarkets for example, there were many disappointments too.  “Many people were just not ‘job ready’, they were suffering from addictions to alcohol and to drugs,” says Sue. “We realised that we needed somebody who could come in and help people out of addictions, out of the problems that were stopping them from living. We decided to work in partnership with Paul at RHM, and it’s been brilliant.”

Sue explains further: “We know that once we get people onto RHM courses and counselling, they then have an opportunity for a room at International House.  We can see the progression – somebody comes in off the street, through the addictions counselling, then gets a room, then gets a job.”

Few people can ‘get back on track’ without the stability of having a place they can call home, a place to feel safe and secure, in which they can be themselves, dealing with personal issues at their own pace, but with guidance and support.  International House, another Methodist Church project in west Hull, now offers a small number of rooms to RHM clients, knowing that RHM will provide dedicated support to residents.

International House Hull

International House, Hull.

Kathryn Davis, manager and support worker at International House, explains why they are willing to partner with RHM: “Paul understands what we’re about. 10 of our rooms are given to First Steps. These are people who have identified that they want to change their lives. So Paul came on board, and RHM have helped massively. Once people are in the house, Paul will do a care plan with them as part of their recovery aims.  Then RHM provide groups, such as a 12-step course, and counselling opportunities, as well as social events – they’re a morale boost as well. RHM provides these people with ‘discipline’ and ‘structure’.  Paul has his expectations of the residents, and the residents know what these are, as RHM set very clear boundaries.  In terms of conquering dependencies, it’s a slow slow process, but I can see a real difference in the residents from the day they come in.  The difference RHM makes to people is immense, getting people back on track and going in the right direction.  It takes as long as it takes, but we’re happy with that, because our residents are in a better place, more motivated.  So yes, RHM’s counselling support is definitely good for them.  They’re becoming happy, healthy and content people that will conquer their issues, and move on in life.”

We often hear that society is breaking down, and that communities are increasingly divided.  To see joined-up working of this sort, by RHM and its partners, is refreshing.  This partnership is providing a ‘road map’ out of despair for the people that they encounter.  Each partner organisation also benefits, sharing skills and resources, reducing stress upon staff and volunteers, and sustaining their work despite increasing financial challenges.  The issues and problems encountered in the homelessness sector will be answered by ‘solutions people’ such as these.

For more information about the work of RHM, Registered Charity Number: 1150229:

website: www.rhm.org.uk

email: office@rhm.org.uk

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New App launched by Emmaus Hull & ER

Visitors to the World Homelessness Day event in Hull this week were the first to be introduced to Emmaus Hull and East Riding’s latest development – an ‘App’ for smartphones.

Revealing the new venture, app designer Jonny Elshout of VIP Communications said: “I believe this will become a fantastic tool to not only support the great work Emmaus Hull & East Riding do but also help members of the public make a positive change that will effect their community.”

The app has 2 main functions, to support the Street Outreach Team, and to help with the logistics of Emmaus’ social enterprise activities.

The Locate Rough Sleeper section of the app contains a simple form, with the ability to pin your current GPS, designed to be quick and easy to use whilst ensuring Emmaus receive all of the information they need to dispatch a team member to offer support to a rough sleeper in Hull or the East Riding.

The Donate Items section of the app will allow members of the public to request a collection of items they want to donate to Emmaus Hull & East Riding’s warehouse and shops. In this section of the smartphone app people donating items can even add photos of the goods they’re donating. This will allow the logistics team to accurately assess the time needed to process collections, maybe even avoiding wasted trips to look at items that the team cannot accept into the warehouse.

Both sections of the app send information into Emmaus, and then a member of the Emmaus team will contact them. The app is not going to be replacing Emmaus’ friendly face-to-face way of working, it’ll just help to streamline operations on a day-to-day basis.

The app also has internal access to news from the charity, and a link to HumberHelp for wider sector news and resources.

The app is currently available for the Android operating system through Google’s PlayStore – search for Emmaus Hull. The iOS version of the app will be available from Apple’s AppStore within a week or so.

Kelly Finnis, Director of Emmaus Hull and East Riding, shared her excitement about the new app: “We’re not aware of any similar app being used in this way by another charity in the sector. We’re delighted to be pioneering this new way of working which will help us to provide an even better service to those we support and those that support us.”


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HumberHelp: V2.0 – we’re refreshed!

No better day than World Homelessness Day 2018 to reveal our new refreshed format, hope you like it – or at least get used to it quickly.

HumberHelp has travelled a long way over the years. It was always designed from my own home computer, using desktop web design software. But, it got too BIG. It had become rather cumbersome to update and upload – maybe a victim of its own success.

In this new, refreshed, format we’ll be able to upload content more easily, and even more quickly.  Much of what we’ve written over the years has been scrapped, so apologies if some of the content you submitted has gone, nothing lasts for ever – it made a great impact in its moment, but I know from ‘analytics’ that older content was no longer getting the attention it once enjoyed.

This new HumberHelp, call it V2.0 if you like, presents us with some great opportunities.

We’ll be publishing more podcasts. Interviews with key sector figures both locally and nationally, and episodes covering themes and issues. Some of these podcast episodes will be recorded in front of a small audience, so look out for our events – they’re likely to be Friday afternoon gatherings at my studio or another convenient/relevant location.

We also now have the opportunity to appoint ‘contributors’, those people and organisations that produce a steady stream of sector news and content. I’ll be approaching some of you to ask if you’d like to become a contributor. Contributors will be able to submit content to HumberHelp directly, pending moderation by me as editor. Chat with me if you’re interested in this.

I know change can be challenging for some, but I hope you like the potential of this new format and the direction we’re going in. It’s always great to have your support, and your feedback is welcome too.

for now, all the best,



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“A national scandal”: 449 people died homeless in the last year.

Please find below an article focusing on the work of the ‘Bureau of Investigative Journalism’ which has been undertaking a detailed piece of work to identify all those who die homeless and to tell their stories.  Their activity has identified 449 deaths of homeless people in the last year but considers this to be an underestimate.

Read the article here:

“A national scandal”: 449 people died homeless in the last year.

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Enabling Change – Richard McKinnon, CEO Humbercare, Hull.

“They make it easy to be able to say we can achieve x, y, and z.”
Richard McKinnon, CEO Humbercare.

The homelessness sector in Hull is currently a volatile place to work, at least – it is for some. There is a small, but loud, movement of people expressing their distrust of local government commissioned services and established voluntary sector organisations. Social media is alive with keyboard activism, grabbed photos are shared as undisputed fact, vitriol accompanies video. Worryingly, the very people that need help – our city’s rough sleepers, sofa surfers, and those at acute risk of homelessness – are in danger of being influenced by this clamour, perhaps even avoiding services that could actually positively transform their lives.

Despite this, remarkable outcomes are being achieved by those commissioned to deliver support.

Richard McKinnon is CEO of Humbercare, where he has worked for 19 years. His involvement within the homelessness sector in Hull started much earlier. At 20 years of age, in his first job within the sector, he was a bank worker for the English Churches Housing Group. Before joining Humbercare he also spent time in employment with other homelessness and social housing organisations. At Stoneham Housing Association he worked with offenders being released from prison. For HullHARP he helped to deliver services at Dock House. He was part of the team that set up the Roper Street night shelter many years ago. Throughout his career in the sector he’s also encouraged partnership working, and has served on many Boards and advisory panels.

I asked Richard what originally motivated him to pursue a career in this sector:

“I’ve always had an understanding of it. My parents were involved in it, so I grew up seeing this sector – much wider than just homelessness though, it included mental health. I developed a passion for the sector. Doing ‘bank’ work I saw much more of it. Very quickly I wanted to be involved in trying to make a change in the city, in terms of facilities and services offered to people.”

Homelessness has changed a lot over the last few decades. Right to Buy has decreased council housing provision. House prices have risen dramatically, making even ‘affordable housing’ unattainable for some. More and more people are having to rent in the precarious ‘Private Rental Sector’. Rough sleeping has more than tripled in the city in the last decade alone.

Richard told me what the homelessness sector looked like at the start of his career. “It was”, he said:

“a very different picture to what it is now. As we’ve moved forward we’ve seen individuals’ complexities get worse. Back then it was traditional street drinkers if you like. The idea of anybody using a drug or sticking a needle in their arm, even amongst the homeless community, was frowned upon.“When we opened Roper Street, that must be over 20 years ago, it was just a building that was open-floored, with mattresses on the floor. People used to turn up, and it was soup and sandwiches, head down, and a breakfast in the morning before they went off. That was purely donation funded, all done on a voluntary fundraising basis to be able to run that service. We were regularly getting 20 to 25 people through the doors each night, presenting as street homeless.”

He went on to explain how homelessness now differs:

“The complexities that individuals face themselves are much more demanding. The ease by which people can fall into homelessness and other associated issues seems to be easier than it was then – and much more severe. There is a lack of services in Hull, not just bed spaces but those services that wrap around and support people. The way funding for organisations like this is distributed now has made it much more of a competitive environment. There will be those that criticise organisations like Humbercare as just being businesses, but that’s the way in which the money is available – to be able to deliver these services.”

The funding of homelessness service provision, especially in the voluntary sector, is a very contentious issue for many. A common argument posed by those clamorous voices on social media is that no organisation or group, however constituted, should be seen to ‘profit’ from others’ misfortune and disadvantage. How services can become sustainable for their beneficiaries, and attract well qualified and experienced staff to generate the required outcomes, is often overlooked by such voices.

I asked Richard to respond to this argument that there is a lot of money to be made in the homelessness sector, and that organisations such as Humbercare are profiteering from those in homelessness, poverty, and disadvantage:

“People will have their views about how organisations should be run. There will be people that say companies shouldn’t receive funding for the work they do. But sadly, for us to be able to supply housing to people, it comes at a cost. We don’t own our housing stock, we have to lease our housing stock, so we have to pay for that. Then, to be able to provide support to people living in those properties, again it has to be paid for. What I can say is that all the services that Humbercare provide are commissioned from whichever local authority we’re working in, or whichever organisation we’re working with. If we are delivering a service, that’s been by way of a successful competitive tender process. So we have to demonstrate that we are of good value, that we give value for money, that we have robust management systems in place, that we’re able to keep people safe, to provide decent outcomes and make sure that people get the best that they can. We are accountable and we have to answer to the people that give the funding.”

I pressed Richard for further clarity about the level of scrutiny Humbercare receives from its funders and stakeholders. He replied:

“In the last year alone Humbercare has had its services inspected by the Care Quality Commission – that is by no means an easy process. They come in and spend a huge amount of time going through the organisation, reading page by page case files, right the way through to how staff are employed, how we treat staff, how we run the organisation, how we keep individuals safe and how we treat them when they’re receiving our services. As part of that process we were considered to be good across all key lines of enquiry, that in itself speaks volumes. We have also had our Investors in People inspection and award, there have been no issues and the report is complimentary of the organisation. We just had a full audit inspection of all our services commissioned by Hull City Council in the last year, every single service has been inspected in detail, every report that has come back has been complimentary.”

I can attest to this. The certificates of compliance and evaluation from various scrutinising panels are displayed for all to see in the reception at Humbercare’s Head Office.

The organisation that McKinnon leads is not a small undertaking. In the last year of financial reporting, he tells me, the business has turned over approximately £5,000,000. The charitable organisation employs 165 people, works across 4 local authority areas, and enjoys the support of around 100 active volunteers too. Humbercare delivers 18 related services, serving about 800 people at any one time. Richard adds:

“We don’t just work in Hull, we don’t just run a hostel, we run many different services – some very complex, for very complex and vulnerable people.”

It is the complexity of the service delivery, and the complexity of the people it serves, that sometimes results in incidents that attract negative comment and attention online.

I asked Richard if this negativity was having an impact upon staff morale, and the ability of the organisation to continue to deliver its outcomes for beneficiaries and funders alike. He replied:

“I am accountable to our Board of Trustees, and as an organisation we are accountable to those that provide our funding. The staff have been vocal about it. They are quite passionate about what is being said, and they want or need to respond to some of these comments. But what we are more focussed on is delivering our services. Every service that Humbercare delivers is the result of a competitive tender process. It’s very structured, it’s very clear, it’s very transparent from whomever gives that contract. The ability to be able to win contracts in that way is done on the back of the experience, the professionalism, and the passion of the people who work for Humbercare. They make it easy to be able to say we can achieve x, y, and z.”

[Copyright Jerome Whittingham, 2018]

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‘Billy used to be homeless.’ A visit to Emmaus Hull and East Riding.

By Mel Hewitt, December 2017.

December has shown up again, the same time as it usually does – and bringing all things Christmas along with it. It gets its timing right each year as shoppers scurry in the cold, determined to exchange their monthly incomings into material outgoings that they then wrap up and give to their nearest and dearest – a sure token of their affection and adoration. We only have to take our blinkers off for a minute, though, and in-between the addictively twinkly shop windows of our high streets we see the evidence of our cities being polarised into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Dirty blankets, pots for change, agendas that have no space for anything but nourishment, warmth and the occasional “Can you spare some change please, love?” So for what it’s worth, reader, this Christmas, can I gift you a tale of Billy?

Billy used to be homeless. He knows what it is to be a ‘have-not’ in a world addicted to Advent. He has slept on the streets, in hostels and in a prison cell. I am sure he is well-versed in his rattle for change and is highly skilled in catching the eye of a stranger, hurtling past, arms as full as sleighs will be. He also has academic qualifications in mechanics, the gift of the gab, a way of putting people at ease, and now a home at The Orchard – Hull’s Emmaus community. For those of you who don’t know what an Emmaus community is (or indeed that Hull had one) don’t worry – you’re in good company. Let’s start with the internet, then I’ll give you the feels.

Emmaus, according to my pal Wiki, is “an international solidarity movement founded in Paris in 1949 by the Catholic priest Abbe Pierre to combat poverty and homelessness”. His picture hangs proudly in the Emmaus superstore on Lockwood Street where many of the companions live, work and participate in this thing we’re all collectively winging called life. Thirty companions can live and work there at any one time.  Emmaus provides a home, a job, a place to socialise, learning and much more than that. It invests in people’s identities and provides them with not only physical safety inside its roof and walls, but an environment fit for purpose with its wraparound care. Billy put it much more eloquently than I ever could with his definition simply being “Freedom”. The superstore is vast, with every conceivable item of donated furniture on display; all cleaned, some upcycled and ready to find a new home. I eyed up a chair that would have sat perfectly in my hallway if only I knew the size of the space to fill. It could wait. I knew I’d be coming back.

Billy tells me the importance of the daily morning meetings, sorting what needs sorting, airing views that need sharing and allocating a key holder for when everyone else goes to their home and the companions are left to manage themselves. A brilliant way for companions to be heard and participate is having their own daily planning meeting. Integration and self-empowerment are key themes that seem to underpin everything that goes on here. I could almost feel it. The companions manage themselves domestically and do this  successfully. Rotas line one noticeboard – kitchen, cleaning, laundry – and everyone does their bit to keep the wheel turning.

Next I met their dog – because why shouldn’t a ‘family’ and ‘community’ have a pet? These folk seem to think outside the box with every available opportunity and make a success out of it. For gardeners there is an allotment and a decent whack of green space. For those who aren’t gardeners, I have a feeling they may have a go. More than once I heard that once someone starts tinkering about with something at The Orchard, others quickly follow suit, constantly belting out those values of involvement, acceptance and skill-sharing. I saw it in action wherever I walked. Someone outside planing wood attracts another companion without realising it, and then there are two. Someone making Christmas trees for the new shop on Whitefriargate is soon joined by another face; a companion working the till for the first time is supported by another. Old skills are rebirthed, new skills are embraced and formal qualifications are achieved. I was quickly becoming The Orchard’s biggest fan.

We walked through to the companions’ entrance and Billy told me of his fears when he had first arrived and sat in the armchair in the lobby. Was it a cult? He soon found out it wasn’t. Would it be like prison? Another qualm quickly quashed. Interestingly, Billy used to live in Hull as a child but held little memories of it until he returned. When he did he surprised himself by knowing how to get around on autopilot because “most things haven’t changed – the streets remained the same”.

He very kindly offered to show me his room. Hands up if you would spontaneously parade the privacy of your bedroom to a stranger? Me neither. There would be swift kicks towards my space under the bed, doors pushed to and a prayer said asking for leniency from the laundry fairies. It was spacious, bright and airy with ensuite facilities – not dissimilar to student halls accommodation; in fact, the plans were to go one better than halls and give each companion more metric space. The furniture ‘basics’ are provided but the rest, the things that made his space his own, he bought himself. This is made more achievable by the policy that allows companions 50% off items from the superstore. Billy shared with me tales of his possessions including a New York skyline print and his pride-of-place tropical fish tank. “It was meant to be a fiver but I got it for £2.50,” he beamed. I surely beamed back as I thought, “What a fine Hullism – we always brag about our bargains!”
Two things really stood out to my wandering eyes. Firstly, I spied on top of his wardrobe a pile of criminology textbooks. He was taking some steps to alter his own path while still having a tag in situ – a most uplifting juxtaposition, showing that this ‘have-not’ had decided it was time he ‘had’. Secondly, he had previously told me that his room was round the front. Now, he pointed to his curtains as he told me that he always sleeps with them open. A stargazer by default is what I’d instinctively presumed, but poetic instincts can be silenced as romantic and clichéd. “It’s because I’m nosy. I like to know what’s going on.” From one curtain-twitcher to another – this not only was the perfect answer, but also highlighted yet again that if we strip away our labels and limitations, we are all basically the same. I loved the fact that there was also a guest room for companions’ friends and family to visit. Why shouldn’t they be afforded the right to rebuild kinship and social ties?

We went down to the Apple Tree Café where I shook Billy’s hand firmly and thanked him for taking time out of his busy working day to satisfy my curiosity. Much has been expressed recently in the national and local media about the issue of rough-sleeping and homelessness in Hull, some of it ill-informed, much of it untrue and a lot of it discriminatory. I really wanted to find out more about the Rough Sleeper Outreach Support Team, which is another side to the work done at The Orchard. Unfortunately after an incredibly busy night, when staff returned to base, their time was hijacked by having to provide a media response. The media wanted to know what this team of people were doing to solve the problem of rough sleepers in Hull. The irony of this astounded me. They were actually stopped doing their invaluable work, gaining trust with rough sleepers, finding well-thought-out solutions and working flat-out, to answer the question, “How are you solving this?” It was obvious as an outsider that they were doing every possible thing they could and doing it superbly.

A cuppa at the Apple Tree Café ended my visit. I had actually heard more about the café than anything else before I came on this journey. I know people who go out of their way to eat, greet and socialise there and I completely understood why now. The whole place has a vibe that is drenched in positive energy. People aren’t judged or labelled, it hollers equality, empowerment and encouragement so loudly it’s hard not to hear it. The Orchard’s doors are wide open and welcoming. Yes, I like happy endings and positivity and I invariably try to draw them into my peripheral vision wherever I am. The Orchard gave me this without having to go looking too hard at all. Just to top off what was a fantastic morning, someone began playing a beautiful melody on the piano. When I asked who he was, I heard he was a neighbour who often pops by. How perfect – social integration at its finest happening in front of me.

So, this Christmas I will not be sending cards to my nearest, dearest and those in-between; I shall donate what I would have spent to Emmaus Hull. It is in very good hands with them. I wish them nothing but new beginnings, happy endings and a peaceful family Christmas. And Billy? I wish him everything he wishes for himself.

Mel Hewitt.
December 2017.

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