Amazing Graze celebrates 'rollercoaster' decade of caring for community's homeless population
For the past ten years, Amazing Graze has transformed from a tiny movement on the streets of Blackpool to a community campaign with its own headquarters on Bolton Street, where it serves up hundreds of hot and hearty meals to the town's homeless population every week.
The charity has faced numerous challenges along the way, from its hunt for a new home in 2018 to the rising homeless death rate, to the scourge of drug addiction affecting many of the people it hopes to help.
Now it celebrates its 10th birthday - and looks to what the future holds in the ongoing fight against poverty.
The group's founder, Mark Butcher, said: "It has been a decade of organised chaos. I feel nostalgic about the whole thing. There's a lot of people who have been and gone in that time. Weve lost a lot of good friends, and gained some new ones as well. It's been a rollercoaster of extreme highs and extreme lows.
"Amazing Graze has turned into something that nobody ever expected. I had a vision to help people and Amazing Graze has surpassed that. It has been put through the furnace many times and we have come out stronger and better every time.
"We lost out home on Boothley Road in 2018, we didn't have a place, we had £1,000 in the pot, we were on our knees. The place was crumbling around us. It very nearly failed.
"The people got behind us and were encouraging us from Australia and other countries. It set me off thinking this was bigger than just Blackpool There were churchs from out of the town encouraging us, sending us messages of support and supplies. The community itself, the people of Blackpool, came out in their hundreds and thousands. We went from nowhere to Bolton Street.
"I think we have made a different in people's lives in a unique way. It has been a stable and consistent place for people to come for the past 10 years now. We have never closed our doors. The people we have helped directly have been our service users, but the people we have helped indirectly have been our volunteers. It gives them a structure to their lives."
Despite the best efforts of Amazing Graze and other homeless outreach groups in the Blackpool area, the problem of homelessness on the Fylde coast remains.
An estimated 17 homeless people died in Blackpool between 2013 and 2018, according to the most recent figures from Office of National Statistics. Five of these happened in 2018 alone - although experts believed the true figure could be around seven.
The mortality rate for local homeless people was 65.9 deaths per million population - significantly higher than the 16.7 per cent average across England and Wales.
The outbreak of Covid-19, too, brought fresh challenges as mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment and money woes spiralled.
However, Mark insists Amazing Graze will continue to support those in need - and is even looking forward to expanding the service with the creation of a the Big Red Night Bus, a bright red double decker which that charity hopes to renovate into emergency overnight accommodation for rough sleepers.
"We have got a committee set up, £11,000 in the bank, and we're looking at raising the rest of the money ourselves," Mark said. "I'm feeling optimistic about the future, but really we shouldn't need Amazing Graze. It's the 21st century, we're the sixth richest country in the world. We would like for Amazing Graze not to need to be here. But we have become almost part of the furniture here in Blackpool. So we just continue with our work, the best we can.
"We're now operating in such a way that we're helping homeless people into education. We're sending more people to rehab than ever before.
"I have a positive outlook for the future because our services have improved so much over the years and we have become very skilled at what we do and understand the system better than ever before."