A Christmas gift for borough's rough sleepers

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Volunteers Shade Aderibigbe and Silvia Perez Luque Volunteers Shade Aderibigbe and Silvia Perez Luque

As the cold weather firmly sets in, a set of volunteers and charity workers have been making festive arrangements for vulnerable and homeless people in the borough.

The Redbridge Cold Weather Centre, based in Clements Road, Ilford, is opening its doors for its third year, run by the Ilford Salvation Army, offering shelter and hot food to rough sleepers.

It will be open from December 5 and will work in partnership with the Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, Ilford, which offers day services.

John Clifton, church leader of the Ilford Salvation Army, helped set up Redbridge Cold Weather Centre with his wife when church members saw there was a need for extra shelter locations in the borough.

He said: “The main objective was keeping people safe and alive during the winter months. We didn’t want to see them as homeless people but as members of the community.

“What is great is they wake up at the centre sober, and this year especially we can look at the next steps they are going to take, whether it be staying sober or going into work.

“We have a base of over 150 amazing volunteers who last year worked almost 10,000 hours between them, even on Christmas Day.

“On Christmas Day we had Christmas dinner, and found an album of Christmas reggae songs which they loved, so we had dancing as well.

“It was a real celebration and the most memorable Christmas day I have ever had, so there is a fun side to it as well as a serious side.”

Sonia Lynch, project manager at the Welcome Centre, is working with the Redbridge Cold Weather Centre to direct vulnerable clients to sheltered accommodation over Christmas.

She said: “Every day we have between 30 and 50 new clients come into the centre with different needs, whether it be rough sleepers, or those who have just lost their accommodation.

“We try to do the best we can to make a welcoming service over the Christmas period, with a Christmas dinner, gifts for all our clients, carol services and a film club.”

The Welcome Centre provides a three-strand support network to vulnerable people in the borough.

Mrs Lynch said: “On a practical level we offer showers, food, clothing and laundry support, as well as one-to-one support where clients will be introduced to a support worker to assess their needs.

“We will then endeavour to make them work-ready and put them back on their feet.”

Nancy Baker, healthcare assistant at the Welcome Centre, said: “Most of all these people just want to see a friendly face and have someone who will listen to them.

“Health is something that really comes low on their priorities sometimes, so we really push them to register with a GP and get treated for their addictions, especially.”

One regular at the Welcome Centre, Patrick, 45, who did not wish to give his surname, became homeless in April after losing his home and his job.

He said: “I was made redundant and turned back to alcohol, an addiction I have struggled with since 2005.

“I was working at the Olympics last year, and before then everything was great. Now I sleep in Ilford cemetery at night in a tent. I wake up half drenched because of the weather.

“My main fear is staying safe. This area is really dangerous and sometimes I worry I could even be killed.

“Sometimes I drink for 36 hours without sleeping because if I don’t drink my body can’t cope with it.

“The volunteers at the centre have been so good and they really push you to go to hospital and link you up to the shelters – I have already signed up to the Redbridge Cold Weather Centre.

“I have also met some of the most amazing people I have ever come across in my life who are homeless, and it’s great to see how some of them have stopped drinking and are making progress.”

Redbridge Cold Weather Centre will be open for 12 weeks.

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