30 years on: Thousands of Sheffield's homeless and vulnerable have been helped by HARC

When HARC hosted its first Christmas event 30 years ago, 78 people turned up for dinner.

Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 2:00 pm
Volunteers from HARC setting up for Christmas Day at the Archer Project. Jo Lidster and Madaline Thomas trustees working through the food order

Not one of them had a roof over their heads that Christmas Day in 1989, and Barrie Sefton and Jacky Hague, the organisers of that first event – held in the kitchen of a small council maisonette – remember feeling ‘overwhelmed, but not surprised’ by the surge of people.

Both had experienced homelessness themselves, and were keen to help others in the city who were struggling over the festive period.

The next year, the operation quickly grew. The premises at Carver Street Wesley Methodist Church were offered as a night shelter, and another building as a day centre. The group – which by that time consisted of around 12 people from various local organisations – launched an appeal in the city for £10,000, and enough volunteers to provide shelter, friendship, food and clothing for those who would otherwise find themselves isolated, lonely, and even homeless over the festive season.

Volunteers from HARC setting up for Christmas Day at the Archer Project. Ben Blumer, Louis Thomas and Rohin Patel all aged 15 volunteering their time to put decorations up and help with food deliveries.

The group received a staggering £15,000, and more than a hundred volunteers offered their services, along with many contributions of food, clothing and bedding. That next Christmas, around 25 people took shelter each night at Carver St Wesley, and up to 80 people made use of the day centre.

Some 30 years on, and HARC – which stands for Homeless and Rootless at Christmas – is still working tirelessly each Christmas to support homeless and vulnerable people in Sheffield.

Guests to HARC are able to access three meals a day and spend the entire day somewhere warm and safe, surrounded by friendly faces helping them through what can be a very lonely and cold time of year.

HARC provides a safe haven for hundreds of men and women who have nowhere else to go during the festive period; but the work begins long before HARC opens its doors each December.

Coronation Street star Rita May (plays Connie Rathbone) lends a hand to HARC are looking after the homeless at Christmas. She is pictured serving up tea to guest Phillip Godebehere

Project coordinator Liz Grasso starts planning for the project almost as soon as the previous year’s project has finished, when Christmas is pretty far from everybody’s minds. But with over 2,000 meals to be served, a hefty £6,000 food budget to organise, and volunteers to recruit, there’s a lot of work to be done before anyone sets foot into the project the following December.

“There’s always fundraising to be done,” says Liz.

“Many local churches having strong historical links to the project and are a regular source of donations. We also get great support from local businesses, the general public at festive markets in the city, and schools too.

“From the outset, HARC has relied totally on volunteers and donations. Sheffield people and local businesses are generous and continue to support the project even now, in it’s 30 year.”

The charity now recruits around 300 volunteers every year to deliver its services, from cooking and serving food and welcoming guests, to hairdressing, dentistry, and healthcare, as well as running arts and crafts activities.

The project costs around £25,000 to run every year, and has provided support and respite to thousands of people in the past three decades.

Inderjit Bhogal, a volunteer and one of the founding members who helped to set up HARC in 1990, said: “The overriding reaction I have to this being HARC’s 30th anniversary is one of embarrassment. I’m ashamed that there’s still the need for the service after all this time.

“In a country as rich in resources as the UK, it’s embarrassing that there are so many people in need.”

Inderjit reveals he has seen a distinct increase in people living on the streets of Sheffield in recent years, and in the people accessing HARC’s services.

“I believed that the work of HARC would be quite temporary and that there would soon be long term provision, including adequate housing for all,” he adds.

“Each year we make financial appeals, and each year the people of Sheffield come through. We ask for volunteers, and people give themselves and their time. This response says to me that the people of Sheffield are disturbed and bothered by the levels of homelessness among us, and want to support any initiatives being taken to stand alongside homeless people.

“The need remains, the situation is more complex, and HARC continues to offer support where it is needed the most.

“Jacky and Barrie have left a lasting legacy in Sheffield.”

Visit www.harcsheffield.org.uk for details on how you can support the work of HARC this Christmas.