In 2017 representatives from six St Albans city centre churches got together to discuss the increasing number of rough sleepers during the winter. It was decided to work towards offering extra beds for rough sleepers in the coldest weather, when Open Door’s 12 beds are already allocated.
The extra beds would be provided at Trinity United Reformed Church (URC), and with the agreement of their Elders we set up the Winter Beds Project there in January 2018.
On nights when the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) was called by the Council Open Door would the first point of call for rough sleepers seeking a warm bed for the night. The first five would stay at Open Door on extra mattresses put down in the common room, and the next five would be passed on to the Winter Beds Project (WBP) at Trinity.
In 2018 the steering group arranged for the WBP to be available from the beginning of December to the end of March. Building on the previous year’s team over 40 volunteers attended a training night – seven volunteers are required to cover each night. During the winter WPB provided beds and light refreshments for a total of 46 guests. In the evenings we provided hot and cold drinks and on Friday and Saturday nights we order takeaways for the guests (Five nights a week there is a hot evening meal provided for all comers at Centre 33 and the guests are made aware of that.) in addition pot noodles are available if needed. In the mornings we have hot drinks and toast or pots of porridge.
Most of our volunteers come from one of the six city centre churches. Over 50 people have volunteered for one or more shifts to date. The Housing Justice charity has made an appraisal of the Winter Beds Project. They commented that although the four volunteers they met hadn’t known each other before that evening there was great harmony in their approach – and they all contributed to a warm, welcoming and caring ambience. That is exactly our aim.
Our first female guest explained that she couldn’t stay at Open Door if her ex-partner was there and so our SWEP shelter at Trinity URC enabled her to come in off the street and out of the cold. She had a screened of space at the end of the room and in the morning told the Night Shelter’s outreach worker that she had her best night’s sleep for a long time and, “your mattresses are wonderful”.
Housing Justice, a Christian organisation, was created in 2003 in response to the homelessness crisis in London. One of their aims has been to establish common values and ways of working that ensure night shelters are effective and safe places of support for those in need – and the volunteers who staff them.
The St Albans Winter Beds Project was set up in 2017 with assistance and guidance from Housing Justice. We became members of the organisation, which entitled us to their Quality Mark appraisal. This is a means of sharing best practice among night shelters across the country. Crucially, the Quality Mark is a recognised assurance to funders, local practice authorities, insurers, shelter guests and the local community that our shelter is run to the highest standard.
In January 2019 we arranged for the appraisal to start. This involved an inspection of the premises and scrutiny of our documentation and procedures. Five months later we heard that we had been awarded “Excellent Practice for the Quality Mark Accreditation”