It’s not been easy for any charity this year during the coronavirus pandemic, but Exeter-based homeless charity St Petrock’s has not only managed to remain operational in some capacity throughout but has also radically changed the way it helps the city’s rough sleepers.

The turning point for the charity came in March when 90 per cent of Exeter’s rough sleepers were taken off the streets in one weekend and were placed in emergency accommodation under the government’s Everyone In initiative after lockdown was announced.

Exeter County Council figures state that 102 people who were rough sleeping or at risk of rough sleeping were accommodated on special emergency Covid grounds.

As St Petrock’s was no longer able to open its centre in Cathedral Yard as usual for its clients to access its services such as hot food at breakfast and lunchtimes, it instead launched a delivery service as food was problematic in many emergency accommodation settings.

St Petrock’s Church Exeter

Since March it has provided and delivered 11,000 takeaway meals.

In September, it began trialling a new mobile service for rough sleepers in Exeter to tackle hunger and anti-social behaviour.

Each weekday morning, St Petrock’s rough sleeper team distributes food packs to those sleeping on the streets instead of giving it out from its centre.

It is an attempt to engage with rough sleepers around the city by giving them parcels which contain breakfast and a packed lunch between 8.30am to 10.30am.

Now it has launched its 12 Days of Christmas campaign which invites people each day, or at their own pace, to either undertake a daily action challenge or raise funds for the featured need.

Lucy Patrick, external communications manager who helped deliver food to some of the places their clients had been housed during lockdown, said: “Our charity’s remit is to help rough sleepers. We just adapted such as by introducing our on the streets service.

“In March pretty much everyone was in emergency accommodation, but some of the hotels and hostels they were put in had not been set up for the needs of that client group so there were no cooking facilities or launderettes.

“We did our best to support them during that time in the very new situation they found themselves in.

“It was extraordinary for them to suddenly have something secure over their heads. On the whole they adapted really, really well which was thanks to the work of ourselves and other agencies around Exeter such as the Freed Food Network. It was a huge collaborative effort.

Kitchen volunteers John Crawley and Petra Tilly
Kitchen volunteers John Crawley and Petra Tilly

“One of the biggest positives that has come out of this dreadful situation is the council and Exeter agencies have been forced to react to the situation in collaboration by working much more closely with each other.

“As we progressed through the year, more and more rough sleepers came back on to the streets. During the months of lockdown we couldn’t open the centre, but we continued supporting people through our online welfare service.

“Mental health was a big issue when people suddenly found themselves in emergency accommodation. Those issues came to the fore so having that online service was really useful for them.

“As a team we were also supporting people online so they could sustain their tenancies. It has been about training our clients to adjust to how to access the services they need.

“We have been very stringent about meeting government guidelines. After the first lockdown we did not open in the same way as before. We have been open for more tailored one-to-one appointments, but it has not been open for access in the same way as before.

“Our food provisions have been radically changed. Over night we had to adjust from having clients coming into the centre for breakfast and hot lunches everyday to providing takeaway meals, which is where the emphasis is now but with less volunteers because of social distancing.”

The majority of St Petrock’s clients have remained in emergency accommodation. This time last year it was seeing up to 90 people in the centre a day. That figure has reduced to between 10 to 15 people, but it is still supporting the same numbers.

The dinning area inside St Petrock's
The dinning area inside St Petrock’s

Lucy said: “Although a lot of people are still in emergency accommodation, for the 20 to 25 people that are on the streets at the moment, not having the same capacity night shelter will have a massive impact when it gets colder. There are government plans in the pipeline, but we don’t know what yet.”

Although it has been well publicised how charities are struggling financially more than ever this year due to the pandemic, St Petrock’s says it can still offer the services it does thanks to the invaluable support of the local community.

Lucy said: “It has been doom and gloom in the charity sector, and we are really, really appreciative of the local support we have received. That’s how we keep going.

“We thought donations for our harvest festival this year would be really diminished as we were not offering our full hot food service and a lot of people would not be bothered as it was for takeaways, but it was really well responded to.

“We have already had a lot of people ringing up to say they want to help this Christmas. The wonderful thing about the campaign we have launched is that it directs people about what we need such as the smaller things that really help us on a day-to-day basis.

“But our main message is a massive thank you to the local community.”

The charity is hoping that people will get behind its Christmas campaign 12 Days of Christmas campaign.

Participants can either take on the 12 challenges listed in the campaign or choose which needs they might like to support with a financial donation.

St Petrock’s will be sharing challenge prompts via social media from December 1, but people are welcome to get started at any time.

For more details about the campaign click here

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Devon Live has launched Hidden Devon, a series of campaigns highlighting issues that lie beneath the surface of our county.

The first concerns the issue of homelessness in the county’s cities, towns and villages – exacerbated by the grim impact of the global pandemic.

Not only do scores of people sleep rough on streets, in parks and even on farmland, there are those labelled ‘of no fixed abode’ for other reasons. They may have fled to a refuge, they may have been temporarily housed in a bed and breakfast or they may simply be living in one of region’s dedicated homeless hostels.

Devon Live campaign Hidden Devon is shining the spotlight on homelessness in 2020

How to give

A big part of our campaign is recognising the institutions across the region that are desperately trying to help those in need. In many instances, they are staffed with volunteers giving up their own free time.

You can donate to various charities including PATH Torbay via this link, the Julian House Christmas Appeal covering Exeter and other parts of Devon via this link, or St Petrocks in Exeter via this link.

Are you a charity that would benefit from our fundraising? Contact us at newsdesk@devonlive.com

Find more Hidden Devon stories here





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