A soup kitchen that serves 80 to 90 meals a night to some of Blackpool’s most vulnerable people faces homelessness.
Amazing Graze has been dishing up hot grub – and offering showers, clothes, and other essentials – three nights a week from a building in Boothley Road for the past four years, but board member and founder Mark Butcher said it has since been told it has to leave by the end of the month so repair work can be done.
He said: “We are a homeless charity and we are going to be homeless. We need a new home!”
Mark, a well-known homelessness campaigner in the resort, said the soup kitchen has been paying minimal rent at the building, which is owned by the Well Church, and has yet to find an alternative home that is both cheap enough and suitable.
“The roof is leaking in the building, which is causing lots of issues with the electrics,” he said. “They have had an inspection and they have to do a lot of work and they can’t do it while we are there. The church have been very good to us. They have given us rent for four years at a peppercorn rate, and supported us with lots of volunteers. They have been amazing.”
Amazing Graze opens on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and was described as an “absolute essential” for the town’s homeless population.
Mark said: “They are going to be devastated. They have got so used to us now. I don’t know what these people will do if they have nowhere to go.”
As well as meals, people can have showers and have their clothes washed and dried, Mark said, and are offered sleeping bags and other on-the-street basics.
“We have become part of the furniture,” Mark added. “We do work behind-the-scenes too. We are making a massive impact now – more than ever before. We had a real plan for 2019 but this has put a spanner in the works.”
The Well Church, which describes itself as a “multi-congregational charismatic church in the Blackpool and Fylde area”, has presences in both Boothley Road and Ansdell Road North in Fairhaven.
Pastor Steve Hobin said the church runs two community cafes of its own, often catering for the same crowd as Amazing Graze, at St Mark’s Church in Layton on Thursdays and Sundays, and at the Pensioner’s Hall in St Alban’s Hall, St Annes, on Wednesdays.
The work will take around four months to complete, and there is believed to be no prospect of Amazing Graze moving back in. The church will continue to meet on the ground floor throughout the work, however.
Steve said: “We want to continue the work with the poor but the current plans are to make the space flexible and do a range of other community work, including youth work.
“We have done our best to help Amazing Graze over the past four years, and we wish them all the best for the future.”
Shaun Higgins, 37, said: “It needs to stay open. For one, it has taken us off the streets and given us a home and structure.
“We volunteer three nights a week and it’s keep us free and clean. They have put us in housing and I’m going to detox in a couple of weeks.
“We have just joined a gym. Without it, we’d be knackered. It’s what has kept us going.”
Richard Graham, 40, added: “It’s got me off the streets and helped sort me out.”
And Jenny, 35, who did not want to give her surname, said: “It’s a place where we can go for clothes and food, and Amazing Graze helped me come of the streets.
“There will be a lot of people who won’t have help [if it closes], and there will be nowhere for people and families to go.”
The checklist: What Amazing Graze needs for its new home
Mark said there is a “pot of money there to help with the move, but it won’t last for long”. He said there are things the group could do with in its new premises, which should be in a good location, though not necessarily in the town centre, such as an old community centre, church, or closed down pub or club.
++ Ground floor access, a kitchen, toilets, and shower facilities (or a place to build them);
++ Plenty of storage space for donated items and food;
++ Space for people to come and shelter and develop their personal skills in a secure and safe environment; and
++ Extra room to start community projects.
What other help is on offer in Blackpool?
Charities including The Bridge project at the Salvation Army Citadel and Street Angels provide a lifeline for many rough sleepers, including those who choose to live on the streets instead of between four walls.
The Bridge project offers vulnerable people practical help, ranging from warm meals, toiletry packs and showers, as well as sign-posting them to emergency accommodation where necessary.
The council has two emergency shelters, at Elm House and Vincent House, and, when temperatures fall below freezing for three consecutive nights, additional accommodation is opened.
This is the most basic of facilities, with sleeping bags and mattresses laid out on the floor so people have somewhere to go to prevent deaths on the streets.
This winter it is being provided at St John’s Church following the closure of North Shore Methodist Church.
Streetlife also operates a shelter for 16 to 25-year-olds. It has eight beds and the average occupancy rate is 70 per cent.
In addition, the charity supports around 20 young people each day at its centre in Buchanan Street.
How many people are homeless here?
The exact figure of people living on the streets of Blackpool varies and is disputed.
Late last year, the council said it was 12, which new campaign group United Blackpool quickly criticised.
It said volunteers had conducted their own surveys from Squires Gate Lane to Waterloo Road, from Waterloo Road to Talbot Road, from Talbot Road to Red Bank Road, and from Red Bank Road to Anchorsholme, arriving at a figure of 40.
And a report from homeless charity Shelter showed a figure of almost 100, with a further 79 in temporary accommodation, such as hostel beds or B&Bs.
An estimated 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, which Shelter boss Polly Neate said was “unforgivable”.
She added: “Due to the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts, and a total lack of social housing, record numbers are sleeping out on the streets or stuck in the cramped confines of a hostel room.”