One year ago, a small group of community-minded volunteers resolved to take a stand against the scourge of homelessness in their home town.
Led by Sandgrown’un Chris Conway, they vowed to feed the hungry, come rain or shine, on the streets of Blackpool.
“When I was younger, about five or six-years-old, I asked my mum why there were people sleeping in doorways,” Chris said. “Last year I was out shopping with my niece and she asked me the exact same question I asked my mum 20 years ago. That hit home for me. It made me think that nothing is getting better, nothing is changing.
“There’s no reason why, in 2019, there should still be people sleeping on our streets.”
Chris and his friends started handing out hot meals to Blackpool’s homeless population every Thursday night.
What began as a modest group of five quickly evolved into a 40-strong team from all walks of life - nurses, doormen, shop workers and councillors.
They marked their one year anniversary in typical Thursday night form - heading into town with ‘enough curry, sandwiches and chips to sink a battleship’.
Chris said: “We’ve grown as a group, but we’ve grown as individuals as well.
“As the year has gone on I’ve provided the volunters with first aid and safeguarding training to make them the best they can be on the streets.
“We’ve helped rehome 30 people in the last year, and that’s not just homeless people but people who are living on their friends’ sofas or in their cars. We’re feeding 40 people every Thursday night. We’ve not missed one in the past 52 weeks.”
The group has also taken their community efforts off the streets and into the coast’s schools, giving talks at Montgomery Academy and Hodgson Academy with Mark Butcher, founder of the Amazing Graze soup kitchen.
They are due to speak at Highfield Leadership Academy in March.
“A lot of the time, young people don’t really know about homelessness,” Chris said. “When they’re out with their friends, they see a homeless person and think ‘drug addict’. You’re looking at 200 or 300 kids in an assembly, and the response we get from them is really positive. We get a lot of messages from parents.”
He added: “For me, when I walk into the town centre and every single homeless person I see will smile at me and say ‘how are you doing?’, I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile because they recognise me as a friendly face.
“For someone who has to sit every day in the cold, being treated like scum and looked down on, a friendly face can make a brilliant difference.
“Outside of the outreach nights, we do a lot of work supporting people going with them to their job centre appointments and housing appointments.The stuff we put out there is just a fraction of what we do outdoors.
“I passionately believe we are making a difference. We have been called the guardian angels of Blackpool.
“I feel very proud of all the volunteers. They are some of the most amazing people in the world and I feel lucky to have been gifted with their help.”