This winter the St Albans Winter Beds project will provide 6 extra beds for people rough sleeping in St Albans during the winter months. The Open Door night shelter on Bricket Road can accommodate 12 people year round, but for the fifth winter running the charity will provide extra beds throughout the coldest season. This year the charity will be partnering with Emmaus and St Albans Council to deliver the project.
The Winter Beds Project provides people who would otherwise be rough sleeping with self contained sleeper cabins. Each cabins provides secure, Covid safe accommodation with heating, electricity and en-suite facilities. Guests of the project are supported to find secure accommodation to move on to by the rough sleeper outreach team. Last year due to Covid the project ran from January through to the beginning of April and accommodated 17 people, 11 of which moved on to secure accommodation.
David Lane, Chair of the Open Door Board of Trustees commented:
“Rough sleeping at any time of year is not a choice but in the harsh weather over winter it is something to be avoided at all costs. In order to tackle this problem and using our wonderful volunteers, Open Door will once again be opening its Winter Beds Project, providing overnight accommodation and breakfast to those who otherwise would be sleeping rough, in the open and exposed to the elements. We can only do this with the financial support of the people of St Albans to whom I and the Trustees give our heartfelt thanks.”
Duncan Lewis, Chief Executive of Emmaus St Albans said:
‘The winter months are especially hard for anyone who is forced to sleep rough and at Emmaus we are grateful to be able to help some of those most in need by once again providing space on our premises for the emergency accommodation pods. Working with our colleagues at Open Door to provide this vital safety net for some of the most at-risk members of our community fits perfectly with the aims of our charity.’
This year the Winter Beds Project will run from December to March and all volunteers are given full training. The project based at Emmaus St Albans is looking for volunteers to help run the project this winter. Volunteers are needed to help welcome guests and book them into cabins when they arrive in the evening, and to wake guests and clear cabins in the morning.
In the Winter 2020/21 we worked with St Albans District Council and other partners to support anyone who found themselves rough sleeping.
In previous years, The Winter Beds Project operated from Trinity Church and used a communal space for our guests to sleep in. As a result of Covid-19 we are not able to offer this arrangement to guests so we, along with partner agencies, looked into alternative options.
The Government announced a £10m Cold Weather Payment for councils, and an additional £2m fund for faith and community groups. The Winter Transformation Fund was available to local authorities, and voluntary and community sector groups, to transform spaces and create more self-contained emergency accommodation.
Due to the ongoing risk from Covid-19, we looked into providing self contained accommodation for those experiencing homelessness this winter. Together with St Albans District Council and partners we thoroughly explored all possible options before deciding to use Bunkabins Pods. Bunkabin is the leading supplier of portable sleeping and welfare units. Each one comes complete with ensuite facilities, including shower, furniture, beds and heating.
Funding for the Winter Beds Project
With the support of St Albans City and District Council, Open Door obtained a £32,000 Government grant from its Winter Transformation scheme to create self-contained accommodation for up to 4 guests within the community at Emmaus St Albans.
John Chesters, CEO of Emmaus Hertfordshire, said:
“Emmaus Hertfordshire provides a home to people who have experienced homelessness, and many of them have slept rough over the winter months. Their experiences are heartbreaking, and it’s unbelievable to think that it’s still an issue in the UK in 2021.
“It’s for that reason we completely support the work of front line organisations such as Open Door, and we are proud to be hosting their winter pods here at our St Albans community.”
People using the pods referred themselves to the Open Door Night Shelter at 2.30pm before accessing the pods each evening.
It can at times be difficult to persuade some people to use nightshelter accommodation. There are a range of reasons why some prefer to sleep rough, and ultimately individuals with capacity may make choices that other people find hard to understand. At the same time, rough sleeping is a high risk situation. People may find it harder to make decisions if they are exhausted, hungry, afraid, in pain, intoxicated etc. So there is a balance to be struck between respecting the choices and autonomy of the individual, and continuing to make offers of support and checking on that person’s welfare. Many services have experienced someone refusing a bed for years, until one day they are ready to accept support. Change is always possible.
Here’s a run down in numbers for the Winter Beds Project 2020/21
We hope that the Winter Beds Project will offer more of St Albans’ rough sleepers a warm bed and a roof over their heads during periods of bad weather.
Lucy Gaygusuz the Winter Beds Project Coordinator said: “Winter Transformation Funding has enabled us to open the Winter Beds Project in St Albans for the fourth year in a row.
“We have been working tirelessly to make sure that this year we can offer people who would otherwise be rough sleeping a safe, self-contained, COVID-secure space to sleep away from the streets.
“The Winter Beds Project has always been a volunteer led service and this year, despite the challenging circumstances we all find ourselves in, we have an amazing group of dedicated volunteers who are all ready to make sure no one in St Albans has to sleep rough this winter.”
This project has been supported by a number of local businesses and organisations including The Hygiene Bank Harpenden & St Albans and Morgan Sindall Construction who kindly provided materials, skips and plumbing for the project.
We are so grateful for the invaluable support of our volunteers over the past four years. The Winter Beds Project really has been an outstanding community effort.
The Winter Beds Project 2019/20 ended in March 2020 at the beginning of lockdown. Guests who were using our bed spaces were accommodated in temporary housing by St Albans District Council. During lockdown, and beyond, the Open Door Charity has been providing food parcels to our guests to make sure they had all the essentials they needed and were able to sustain their accommodation. The great news is that all of our guests are still in accommodation and doing really well.
Here’s a run down in numbers of the Winter Beds project 2019/20:
The project won both the High Sheriff’s award for a Faith Based Community Project and the Mayor’s Pride Voluntary Sector Award.
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”