The staff at the diocese office in Peterborough enjoyed a talk from James Hayes, founder of the homeless charity ‘The Garden House’ on 7th February. Based within the grounds of Peterborough Cathedral, The Garden House has been in operation since October 2018, and is already making a huge difference within the city.
Patrick Berryman, Assistant Property Officer for the Diocese of Peterborough, organised the event and has also volunteered for the charity, so we asked him to explain a bit more about the work of The Garden House.
Could you explain the work of The Garden House to us?
The Garden House is a support hub for Peterborough’s rough sleepers. Working alongside the Peterborough Winter Night Shelter, it offers a variety of support – welcoming people in and finding out what they need to get housed, working and back living life to the full. This can be as simple as a bus pass so that someone can get to their new job, or as long running as helping someone find permanent accommodation and get through various bureaucratic processes.
How did you first get involved with the work of The Garden House?
I first got involved when a friend from my church posted on Facebook asking if anyone could volunteer there. Being a bit green fingered, the gardening side of things was one thing I could offer help with. I have helped a few times in the garden since then, and been round a few more times with the odd donation – normally from my mum!
Why do you think the issue of homelessness has increased in the last few years?
Homelessness as a whole has numerous causes. The last few years have seen a few of those causes exacerbated. The economic crash of 2008 has not gone away, and its ripples are still being felt. The economy still hasn’t recovered fully to its original levels of growth. This is bound to have an effect on homelessness.
Another side is the way house prices (and with it rent levels) have grown considerably over the last few years – well above wage growth.
Another more recent political cause is the current Brexit negotiations. The uncertainty of what is going to happen has caused a lot of businesses to slow down their spending and decrease the amount of hiring they are doing.
Looking at all these added together, you’d be surprised if homelessness and rough sleeping hadn’t increased.
On an individual level, things like losing a job, getting into debt and a relationship breaking up are all things that can lead someone to homelessness and rough sleeping. Reports on how close the average person is to homelessness are scary – it could happen to anyone.
What impact did the visit of James from The Garden House have on the diocese staff?
The talk from James had a massive impact in the office. There were some difficult and sad stories to hear, which definitely remained with people. However, the overall feeling was of hope. The work that the Light Project has done is amazing – they have truly turned lives around. Having James describe this work and its effect was incredibly inspiring to hear.
The effects of the talk were seen instantly and are still being seen. We had a fantastic amount of money raised on the day (£478 excluding Gift Aid), but beyond that were the actions people took. People were inspired to donate bedding for the night shelter, people took away leaflets to pass on to rough sleepers. And it seems that the effects will be lasting as people in the office are keen to keep on supporting the project.
First and foremost, as a Christian organisation wanting to support another Christian organisation, we should be praying for the project. Financial support is of course extremely helpful, and when gift aided goes even further. Volunteering time can also be extremely beneficial – especially if you have a skill that would support the project in a particular area.
Donations of items can be really useful as well. I’d strongly recommend following The Garden House on Facebook, as if they have a particular need for specific items or support, they often ask on there.
The issue of homelessness seems so large and complex – what can people do to help in this matter?
Rough sleeping is a very daunting issue to face up to. It is something that never sits right in this day and age. It can often be difficult to be reminded that there are people in this situation. But it isn’t something we should allow ourselves to shy away from.
For the issue as a whole, supporting the work charities do can go a long way to helping those in need. Putting pressure on and lobbying both the local and national government is important. More support is needed for people that find themselves rough sleeping as it is a very difficult hole to climb out of alone.
If you see someone rough sleeping, there are various positive actions you can take to support them. Giving money is just one of those ways – but if that is something you don’t feel comfortable with, that is okay. Offering them a hot drink or some food can be an absolute blessing. For some people they may not have had a drink or something to eat in a long time. If they are sat near a café, why not offer to grab them a coffee? If you are about to go into a shop, ask if you can get them a sandwich. If you want to give them something more lasting maybe offer to get them a gift card from a food outlet that has them.
One of the most lasting things you can do is chat to them. Rough sleeping can be extremely lonely and sitting in a town centre with hundreds of people walking by – all ignoring you – can be a horrendous ordeal. A good conversation and a friendly chat goes a long way. You can maybe mention any homelessness support you know of that’s available in the area.
Ultimately, showing Gods love in any of these ways can go a long way to helping someone through a very tough situation.