HOMELESS people in Wokingham borough will be offered a bed for the night during the coldest months of winter.
Churches are joining forces to offer the facility from January – and they are appealing for volunteers to come forward to help.
The scheme, which will be run in conjunction with Warfield-based charity Pilgrim Hearts and builds on the work of The Salvation Army and Wokingham In Need, sees a different church host each night of the week for a short-term period.
Participants, who have been referred to the night shelter by Wokingham Borough Council, agencies and The Salvation Army, will be welcomed into the venue offered refreshments and an evening meal, before settling down on a sturdy camp bed.
They will also have access to a range of services including a hairdresser, the opportunity to obtain some new clothes and have access to some basic dentistry.
Similar schemes have helped some rough sleepers with a stepping stone to permanent accommodation or additional help and support with appropriate benefits.
There will be three shifts for volunteers: early evening, overnight and in the morning. All will be overseen by an experienced night shelter manager who has been trained by Pilgrim Hearts.
Training for the volunteers will take place next month, and is open to anyone in the borough who wants to help, not just members of the participating churches.
Last year, 95 different people used a night shelter in Bracknell, which runs from December through to March, and approximately a third were women.
The shelters are alcohol and drugs free and do not allow weapons, violence or threatening behaviour.
Food for the meals is often donated by local supermarkets and donations towards the other equipment needed is welcomed by Pilgrim Hearts.
A meeting to launch the campaign in Wokingham was held last Wednesday and well attended with representatives from many of the town centre’s churches.
The Revd Nick Hudson, minister of Wokingham Baptist Church and chair of Churches Together in Wokingham, is pleased with the support so far.
“This is a project that there’s a need for in the town. There’s good evidence from people that know that there are people locally who need a night shelter during the winter. Very often it seems that when there’s a need, people are sent away to Slough, this means they’re taken out of their networks and can often feel vulnerable and lonely in a place they don’t know, so there’s a sense that there’s a place needed here in Wokingham.
“It may not be for a large number, but it’s there for a certain number.”
He added: “There’s been a strong response from Wokingham’s churches, a good number want to be part of it. It’s something that we can work together on.”
Captain Jan Howlin, from the Wokingham Salvation Army, is equally excited at the possibility of the shelter.
“This is great, it obviously comes off the back of what we do all year. It has been in the pipeline for the four years I’ve been here,” she explained.
“The Revd Tony Green and I got everyone together in January to propose to the churches that this should and could happen and so we started the ball rolling. It is in conjunction with the council, food bank and all the other agencies in Wokingham who work with those experiencing homelessness and the vulnerable.
“We will be building on what we do at the Salvation Army all the year round. We are working with and using the experience of Pilgrim Hearts who have been doing a night shelter in Bracknell for four years now.
“Anyone wishing to volunteer should go to the Pilgrim Hearts website as there is a designated bit for Wokingham. Anyone wishing to donate financially to work with the homeless can donate directly to Wokingham Salvation Army or Pilgrim Hearts.”
Deputy leader of the council, Cllr John Kaiser, was delighted with the way in which the council and the churches had been able to work together on the project.
“Churches and other charities have always played a big part in supporting the unfortunate people in society. Over the last 10-15 years, the council has taken on a bigger load, but that’s been made more difficult as we’ve been squeezed for funds.
“Working with the church really establishes that link where we can use our resources to ensure that people who really need help can get the help they need. I’m pleased the council is able to help in this way.
“I believe that the charity organisations in this borough and the volunteers in this part of the glue that binds communities together. Nobody needs to underestimate the efforts.
“When I was mayor, it was really important to me to introduce the mayor’s award for those people who do things that are, for a lot of the time, hidden, and give them some recognition.”
For more details, or to offer help, log on to pilgrimhearts.org.uk