As the national lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak took hold, one of the most vulnerable groups in need of help and care was the homeless.
In Blackpool, on Lancashire’s Fylde Coast, a partnership involving local churches, Blackpool Council, Blackpool Food Bank and others, including support from the Blackpool Business Leaders Group, has led to an innovative solution that means people who were homeless now have shelter and meals.
Rev Peter Lillicrap, Area Dean of Blackpool and Vicar of St Mark’s Layton, St Luke’s Staining and Hope Community Church Grange Park tells the story below of how it all came together in a short space of time …
"Things around us are changing very quickly and each day brings a new challenge.
On the Thursday 26 March the Government announced that all the homeless should be provided with accommodation by the Sunday 29 March to prevent the spread of the virus within a potentially very vulnerable group.
Everyone involved had to move very quickly to adapt and change to the crisis. Blackpool Council started to work on housing the homeless and by the end of the weekend most of them were housed in various bed and breakfast locations near the centre of Blackpool.
Alongside this, those groups that were working with the homeless were reviewing their provision in light of the latest government instructions. This effectively meant moving from a sit-down meal provision to a take-away or doorstep delivery provision.
The new residents of the B and Bs were now in a safe environment and had a roof over their head, but no access to cooking facilities. So a solution was sought that would be simple for them to access and also nutritious in its content.
The government guidelines on 'social distancing' also needed to be observed at all times to ensure the safety of both the residents and the volunteers.
For many years Blackpool Food Bank has organised a network known as Blackpool Food Partnership, to encourage collaboration amongst the many small charities dealing with the needy in the town. As a response to the situation some of the homeless groups in the Partnership, led by The Well Community Café that operated out of the Parish hall at St Mark’s Church Layton, immediately started work on a new solution.
Through a call by Blackpool Food Bank to the Blackpool Business Leaders Group, the owners of the HIVE Café in Blackpool offered their premises and staff to help the cause. St John’s Church also offered their kitchen.
An appeal was issued through the Blackpool network of churches for volunteers, menu plans were drawn up and, in conjunction with Blackpool Council, clarity on the numbers to be fed were made.
To provide three meals a day (including two hot meals) Blackpool Food Bank supplied the food, the Council offered a van and driver and on Tuesday 31 March the service commenced from the Hive Café and the first meals were delivered to the B and Bs.
From this week 80 people are now being fed three meals a day. A weekly meeting is occurring coordinated by Blackpool Council with representatives from the NHS, the Council and the voluntary sector as we seek to provide for and protect this community.
Working together is key in situations such as this and we send a huge thank you to The Hive Café, Blackpool Council, The Blackpool Food Bank and all the volunteers involved in making this happen.
In addition, there are many other individuals and families who are confined to their homes with no means of accessing food.
If you want to help with this town-wide effort, Blackpool Food Bank, in association with Blackpool Tower, is coordinating a food collection ‘Feeding Blackpool’ at Blackpool Tower front entrance on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9am until noon. Again, all safety precautions are in place."