HOMELESS AT CHRISTMAS: '˜It is horrible being on the streets. If this place wasn't here that is where I would be'

A '˜lifeline' centre for vulnerable people in Sheffield will this Christmas hold a festive carol concert to highlight how much its service users rely on it.

Saturday, 15th December 2018, 6:42 pm
Updated Saturday, 15th December 2018, 6:48 pm
St Wilfrid's Centre Sheffield Madeleine Thomas, Gill,Gazza and Wayne Hoyle promote the Xmas tags

St Wilfrid's Centre on Queens Road has been running for almost 30 years, and provides food, shelter and support for around 500 people a year.

The concert  '“ at St Marie's Cathedral on Norfolk Street on Thursday, December 20  '“ will feature the BeVox community choir as well as staff and service users, who in addition to singing will also read out moving Christmas wishes.

St Wilfrid's Centre Sheffield

The concert will cap a big year for the centre, which saw its new accommodation block - St Wilfrid's Place - open just over 12 months ago.

The brainchild of a previous director, it took 10 years to raise the £2million it cost to build it, £100,000 of which came from Secret Millionaire, Simrin Choudhrie.

The 20 self-contained apartments house people with a variety of personal issues including mental health problems and learning disabilities - who can stay there for a total of two years.

One of the first residents was 56-year-old Joyce Cooke, who last Tuesday was playing Connect4 with a member of the centre's staff.

St Wilfrid's Centre Sheffield Fundrainig Manager Madeleine Thomas and Director Wayne Hoyle

Before moving into the accommodation, Joyce had been living at the 911 project in Broomhall but had also recently served a number of years in prison for criminal damage by arson.

She said: 'It is horrible being on the streets. If this place wasn't here that is where I would be, doing little petty crimes like shoplifting.

'This place is a lifeline and staff are brilliant. We just have a laugh all the time. I mainly come here for somewhere to go and to make friends. And we know how to throw a party.'

Since she has been living at St Wilfrid's Place, Joyce has become a regular user of St Wilfrid's Centre over the road where she takes place in creative writing and arts and crafts, and even took a starring role in a production at the Abbeydale Picture House.

St Wilfrid's Centre Sheffield Joyce Cooke enjoying a game of connect four

The flats are managed by team leader Mark Wheen from Great Places Housing Group, who operate it on the St Wilfrid's behalf.

He says the model operates on a '˜strength-based approach', which concentrates on what the residents are good at supports them doing the things they enjoy.

'Self-esteem is a big issue and often people have a history of failed tenancies,' said Mark.

'We give them two years to build on the skills they already have and then hopefully they can live on their own independently.'

External shot of St Wilfrid's Place, Sheffield.

The apartments have a communal space where they run activities and courses on things like renting, teaching people the basic skills they need in order to sustain a tenancy over the long term.

The centre's first year, according to Mark, has been a '˜learning curve'.

'You can't just put 20 people in place together, you have got to think about the makeup of the place,' he says.

'But we've found that being out of the city centre may be better - some of the people we have here really struggle in that environment.

'And in other accommodation providers there is a lot of pressure to turn people round quickly whereas here we have a bit more time to do it.'

While St Wilfrid's Place has recently celebrated its first anniversary, St Wilfrid's Centre is coming up to its thirtieth.

St Wilfrid's Centre Sheffield Don Whitehead playing dominoes

Housed in a converted Victorian church, they see 40 to 50 clients every single day, some of whom are street homeless but in the main are vulnerable or socially excluded for other reasons, with many travelling to the centre from far and wide.

They open between 10 and 4 every week day and charge for food, offering tea and toast for breakfast and a very popular two-course lunch.

But as well as providing a warm and dry place and good food, St Wilfrid's also offer a range of 35 different activities that service users are able to pick from.

This includes playing snooker and other games, craft workshops and a discussion group where the only topics of conversation that are off limits are Brexit and football.

Playing dominoes with each other last Tuesday were Andrew Proctor, aged 57 and Done Whitehead, aged 59.

Andrew, from Heeley Green,  said the centre - which he has been using for 20 years - helps him socialise with other people and make friends.

Don, from Woodhouse, said St Wilfrid's was like '˜a big happy family'.

It costs £450,000 to run St Wilfrid's for a year, a large part of which comes from individual donations, but bosses say nothing would be possible were it not for the unbelievable support of a team of 140 active volunteers.

Newly appointed director, Wayne Hoyle said they hoped soon to expand their offer by opening outside their normal hours, and working more closely with the other city agencies who offer similar services.

'A lot of people drive past and they don't really know what we do - but there is so much potential with this place,' said Wayne.

'It has done great things since 1991, but we want to do a lot more.'

The first anniversary of St Wilfrid's Place, Sheffield. Russell, a resident there, is pictured playing pool at the centre
St Wilfrid's Centre Sheffield Andy Proctor and Don Whitehead playing dominoes