Newbury CLP member Thomas Tunney writes about his experience helping out with the Soup Kitchen in Newbury.
Last winter I noticed my first homeless person bunking down in the doorway of the building society in Thatcham. I went back with food, drink, warm clothes and a sleeping bag. I sat with him for about an hour and he shared some of his life with me. From that point on I knew I wanted to do something to help.
Through my wife’s work at the Foodbank and other CLP members I was led to the soup kitchen. I contacted Meryl Praill who set up the project, read all of the paper work and applied to help. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I turned up at the Salvation Army Hall (who kindly let Meryl operate there) and was thrown straight into it.
There were so many different reasons for people being there – homelessness, unemployment, bankruptcy and more. Low levels of pay affect some customers; others have been sanctioned and have to use their money on travel to the job centre in Reading instead of eating.
Honestly, it has been difficult for me. How can I relate to the clients when I have no idea of how it is to live in those circumstances?
Each week, as I get to know the clients, it gets a little easier. Now I see and speak to them all the time in Newbury, whereas before I wouldn’t have even noticed them. I guess in that way I’m making a difference by making them feel they are not alone. Granted, a lot of them have social problems and issues, but who wouldn’t, faced with a life of uncertainty? If I could take one thing from it, it would be to encourage more people to give time rather than money to any causes.
There are so many kind hearted people volunteering in Newbury and the surrounding area to try to plug the void that the councils and government have created. Not only the Soup Kitchen, but the Two Saints Hostel (currently at capacity), Loose Ends, the Trussel Trust Foodbanks and West Berkshire Homeless are providing a lifeline, yet they are also providing the West Berkshire Council with a get out of jail free card so they can ignore the problem.
If you want to help, please do!