Pre-pandemic, if you asked Paul Solly what the best thing about the new Gateway Centre was, he would say the growing sense of community and the opportunity to nourish people’s wellbeing in a calmer, brighter space. The Gateway Centre is filled with light from floor to ceiling windows and so both metaphorically and in reality the light shines in!
Having to stop the busy and buzzy morning breakfast and drop-in sessions in March was disappointing. But nine months later we see silver linings shining through the COVID secure changes we had to make. Managing the number of people in the building is paramount so instead of coming to the drop-in and waiting in turn for one to one support, visitors now book a personal appointment.
Lifeline is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Life Skills activities including the new Life Recovery Course happen on Tuesday and Thursday. Visitors can book in and come to the centre from 9am to 5pm instead of just the morning. The Gateway team are still able to give focussed support, hospitality and provide for people’s basic needs such as food, clothing, equipment, showers and washing facilities. Importantly these days, basic needs also include access to the internet and a telephone to contact benefit agencies, other services and landlords.
So what are the silver linings? Paul recognises that “We need time to properly deal with people’s to-ing and fro-ing and uncertainties in their lives. So having one to one appointments allows us a more concentrated time to try to address the issues at hand.”
What issues would a typical day bring? On a recent Monday, 24 November, Paul helped visitors to access Citizens Advice support, make a grant application to St John’s Foundation for household items, plan a budget and manage the paperwork around benefits and tenancies. The highlight of the day however was un-knotting a problem that had been going on for a very long time. With the benefit of three months’ dedicated support a man finally had his gas reconnected in his flat – six years after it had been capped!
“Procrastination can be one of the biggest difficulties to overcome. People become stuck and then the issues are too big to face alone. The appointment system means that we can work intensively with people. We can also help the more disadvantaged Lifeline visitors away from the Gateway Centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays if needed. This can be going to the shops with them or building more of a trusting relationship over a takeaway coffee.”
These silver linings will guide Paul and the team in how the Gateway Centre will continue to support homeless and vulnerable people in the year to come. Another blessing is that the community spirit and focus on wellbeing has not been lost at all – the atmosphere at the Gateway Centre is still one of friendship, light and hope.