Tony Pickles, a member of St John Henry Newman parish in East Leeds, writes:
Months of preparation were involved in enlisting the help of people from the Parish of Saint John Henry Newman Leeds and most of our neighbouring Churches and some further afield, together with people with no Church connection, to make the Night Shelter week at the end of October a magnificent community event.
People generously donated toiletries, clothes and non perishable items of food and money. Children from St Theresa’s Primary school collected and donated toiletries. Help was offered by the ASDA Community champion, who donated non perishable food, snacks and bottled water and she also helped us set up, by making beds. The Halton branch of Dodgson’s kindly donated tea, coffee, sugar, biscuits and bottled water for our guests and volunteers. The owner of the Wash House, on Church Lane, allowed us to use their facilities to wash the bedding and towels of our guests, without charge and even included the washing powder. The Ward Councillors from Killingbeck and Seacroft; Crossgates and Whinmoor; and Templenewsam generously gave MICE money; even our Lord Mayor gave some of her MICE money, all of which helped to defray expenses during our week. One of the volunteers negotiated bus passes and leisure centre passes for each guest during their stay with us.
WYDAN Night Shelter is a Leeds based charity in its fourth year. The charity provides beds, bedding and towels; the host community provides a base for the asylum seekers (some of whom have been in the country for more than 10 years). The Night Shelter is ‘home’ for the week with food and warmth and the care of loving, generous people.
There was a small “army” of over 60 volunteers, including two Anglican priests and 3 religious sisters/nuns. Our volunteers offered to help in different roles and at different times of the day and night; e.g. preparing breakfast – eggs were extremely popular – omelettes, fried but mostly hard boiled, the record consumed at one sitting by one guest was seven! Others tidied up and washed up; having had 10 guests on some days during our week, this turned out to be a big job. Some volunteers stay overnight with our guests, sleeping in a different room, one of them stayed awake in the case of an emergency, with the Night Shelter phone, if needed, to make contact with one of the Steering group who was on call.
Our guests were out from 8.30 am each morning; some of the places they went to were a drop in at PAFRAS to meet with their caseworkers to gather new evidence to pursue their claim for asylum, for their leave to remain, Meeting Point at Christ Church in Armley, the Conversation Club at Mill Hill Chapel in City Square and St Vincent’s on York Road. Some of our guests have become members of the Library so were able to keep warm and dry there. The guests came back to the Newman Centre from 5 pm onwards; some were so tired after walking the streets in the cold wet weather they just wanted to go bed and rest.
For the evening meals we enjoyed a mixture of dishes from different cultures and traditions prepared by a variety of people including a former asylum seeker from Afghanistan who travelled up from London to make a traditional meal for our guests. This meal was particularly well received and during conversation, she discovered one of our guests lived only 5 miles away from her home in Afghanistan and although they did not know each other, they knew people in common – what a small world!
Another evening some parishioners from Kerala in India, produced an amazing meal. That evening we had a very important visitor to the night shelter, our Lord Mayor, Cllr Eileen Taylor and her consort Mr Audley Taylor; Councillor Taylor is proud to be the first Black Lord Mayor of Leeds. The Lord Mayor came to meet our guests and we quickly discovered how sensitive, and caring she was in the way she actively listened, very carefully, with interest, to some of our guests describing their personal journey and how frustrating it is that they cannot contribute more fully to society since they are not allowed to work, they are not entitled to any benefits nor have they any claim to housing, and effectively they are destitute and street homeless. The Lord Mayor also engaged with members of the WYDAN Night Shelter Steering group, making helpful suggestions as well as meeting with the volunteers who had made food, served and cleared away afterwards; in fact even after spending more than two hours at the Shelter, she was in no hurry to leave.
One of the guests, had skills which were put to very good use during the week as he was a barber and several other guests benefitted from a haircut and beard trim. Not many places of worship have a shower, so we arranged for the guests to use the local council Leisure centre facilities.
Because local people were very generous in donating non perishable food stuffs, toiletries and small items of clothing and money, this helped to defray the cost of buying bus passes for the week and phone top ups, not a luxury item but a communication tool, to enable our guests to keep in contact with their case workers and to notify the Lead volunteer if they were delayed or were unable to come back that evening. Most importantly, a mobile phone is the only way they can keep contact with family, loved ones far away in their home country.
Our week was particularly wet, lots of rain and temperatures dropped quickly, it was suggested that we purchase from donations, umbrellas for our guests and flasks, so they could take a hot drink out with them during the day.TK Maxx at The Springs our newest retail park, very generously donated £100 in vouchers to offset the cost of 10 flasks.
The hope is that the Night Shelter will run all year round but it can only work with the help of willing volunteers. If you or your parish would like to help on a future Night Shelter week please get in touch with me.
Tony Pickles Tel: 01132 600844 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lead Volunteer and Member of the Steering Group, WYDAN Night Shelter