As the Wanstead Winter Night Shelter project comes to an end, Revd Canon Ann Clarke reflects on 13 weeks of community generosity, local business support and numerous grateful guests
The Wanstead Winter Night Shelter closed its doors at the end of March after a successful inaugural season. This is down to the excellent organisation and experience of the Forest Churches Emergency Night Shelter (FCENS) model, and the wonderful number of local volunteers who ran the shelter each week.
The volunteers came from many different backgrounds, some of faith and some of none.The amazingly generous donations, both financial and in kind, made it possible to give the very best we could to our guests.
We gave a warm welcome, food, shelter, clothing and toiletries to up to 30 guests each week (mostly men, but a few women). We have also discovered that Jenga, Connect 4 and chess were very popular with our guests!
Local support has been exceptional; businesses turned up with bread, pastries, savouries, even complete meals for 30. Among those who have donated are Horizon Patisserie, Leytonstone; The Duke, Wanstead; La Bakerie, Wanstead; The Rotisserie Company; and Luppolo, Wanstead. When we had excess, guests were able to take ‘packed lunches’ with them on the Wednesday morning.
Donations of clothing enabled us to offer coats and other items; our guests were able to take away with them brand new hats, gloves, scarves, socks and underpants. A special mention to both John at Petty Son and Prestwich and Lizzie at The Cuckfield for gathering items for us. The Cuckfield has done the laundry every week, which has been a great saving; we cannot thank them enough.
Although we do not look for thanks and gratitude, our guests were, without exception, very grateful for the amazing generosity shown to them. Every person’s story was different. Some of our guests work, but the wage is so low they cannot afford the market rates for accommodation. The age range was 18 to mid-60s. Listening to their stories gave us a glimpse into how easy it would be for anyone of us to be in their shoes.
FCENS project worker, Tunde, is an amazing guy who knew every guest individually and worked with them to find employment and accommodation, and to sort out their often complex issues. He will continue to do this through the spring and summer when the season ends. Mention should also be made of Anthony, who, with a volunteer, covers the night shift at every shelter, every night from November to April. This is a ‘staying awake’ shift!
FCENS is a wonderful project and it has been an amazing privilege to be part of it. A huge thank you to all of you who supported us and made this happen. We look forward to being part of the scheme next year.