'These people have nothing and nobody' - Janet's efforts to tackle homelessness in Blackpool

When Janet Poyner was 17, her mother died and she feared she would be left without a roof over her head.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 6:00 am
Levels of homelessness in Blackpool are well above the national average. Photo: United Blackpool

Now, 40 years later, she has her own business and gives back to the community, volunteering with two homeless organisations in Blackpool.

The 57-year-old knows only too well how a sudden change in circumstances can leave people on the brink of poverty – and is determined to help others less fortunate than she was.

She is among the army of volunteers supporting the work of Amazing Graze – a soup kitchen serving up to 90 meals a night to some of Blackpool’s most vulnerable people – and Blackpool United, an organisation aiming to make a difference for people out on the streets.

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Every Thursday night, Janet leads a group of volunteers on the streets of Blackpool to provide hot meals, blankets, sleeping bags and, most of all, a friendly chat to people that lost everything.

She said: “Volunteering for organisations that help the homeless is something that I’ve always wanted to do.

“When I was 17, I lost my mum to cancer and my dad left us.

“My brother, my twin sister and I could have ended up in the streets, we have been out in the freezing cold in those days, so I know what it means.”

According to Blackpool Council’s current homelessness review and prevention strategy, levels of homelessness in the resort are three times the national average per head of population, and are driven by chaotic lifestyles, social issues, and poor quality housing.

Most of the recorded cases are single people who are not classed as being in priority need.

Janet and other volunteers in the group distribute food and basic resources to 35 to 40 people every Thursday night, also thanks to donations from St Annes’ Indian restaurant Gemma, which provides free hot meals once a month.

She added: “It is important to understand that this really could happen to anyone, and when I talk to people in the streets and they tell me their stories, I realise how many of them had lots of money and they don’t have anything or anyone anymore.”

After losing her mother, Janet moved in with her twin sister and then trained as a nurse at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where she met John, who worked as a junior doctor.

They married and had three children, and started working together in their own medical conference organisation, MediConf UK.

One year ago, Janet joined the volunteers at United Blackpool, after listening to a radio interview with the organisation’s founder, Chris Conway.

She said: “I wanted to volunteer for such a long time, but I couldn’t find the right group.

“Then I heard Chris’ interview on the radio and managed to get his contact details.

“I started to volunteer with them and everyone is doing such a wonderful job, it feels like being part of a family.

“Abbie and Mark Butcher, who founded Amazing Graze, and all the volunteers are so passionate about this cause.”

Janet’s business paid for a van, which will soon be on the streets of Blackpool, in order to provide a place to sit, warm up and have a hot meal for everyone who might need it.

She added: “My son James came out to volunteer with me in Blackpool and he became very passionate about it.

“He is now volunteering in Manchester with Brewpower.

“When you approach these people on the streets, they are so grateful to be seen and it is just nice and rewarding simply having a chat with them.”

Follow the organisations’ efforts on their Facebook pages: Amazing Graze and United Blackpool