“The bus idles and I watch him struggling for five minutes with an old suit coat that is too small. If I got off the bus to help, he probably would not even recognise me even though we speak at least twice a week. He is slight and short, and balding with a white beard whose length tells you when he was last sober enough to shave. Most afternoons he passes out on one of our sofas, first upright and cross legged then slumping back with limbs dangling like bracelets. He is loved by everyone, a gentleman with a charming smile but so trapped that I wonder how he’ll ever survive and what the future holds for him.”

We are so grateful to the churches and individual volunteers who have achieved so much over the years and would like to take this opportunity to thank all who have volunteered with the Soup Run or Lunch Box. We want to build upon that strong foundation to serve and reach even more people with the message that they can experience new beginnings and better futures.

What is clear to all of us who have given our time to serving those who are rough sleeping, in temporary accommodation or struggling to make ends meet is that once you are in that situation it seems very difficult to get out of it. There are so many complexities and challenges which feed into each other. Peoples’ mental and physical health decline, their sense of autonomy gets lost and their hope for the future fades away. Many of us in and around Bath have seen the same faces year after year and built relationships with folk, hoping and praying that something will change for them and that they will experience less suffering and increased peace in their lives.

It can be heartbreaking.

Yet we keep going because we can’t look the other way and pretend that we don’t see the suffering of people. We keep going because we are called to be the visible presence of the love of God.

It is impossible to calculate the Soup Run’s overall impact over the years, starting in 1990, and of Lunchbox which began in 2000. We could estimate how many gallons of soup have been served or how many eggs have been fried but that doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of the real impact.

How many people in desperation were met with a kind face? How many people who haven’t spoken to another person all day got to have a conversation with someone who was interested in them? How many people who spend their days feeling ignored were treated with dignity and respect? We cannot keep a tally.

What these projects did so beautifully was to channel the compassion and love of God and His people onto the streets of Bath. To serve with kindness those who were suffering. The faithfulness of the volunteers across the years is truly amazing.

The pandemic clearly meant that these projects had to be suspended for the good of everyone, both volunteers and visitors. At the beginning of the first lockdown none of us could have imagined that it would go on for so long and be so far reaching.

After what may seem to have been a long period of silence from Genesis about the Soup Run and Lunch Box, the opportunity we now have is to reflect upon the past thirty years and to start to re-imagine what comes next. As we do this one thing becomes clear: the world has changed.

The figures show that the number of people sleeping rough are still significant, with a 52% rise between 2010 and 2020. Clearly these figures only show part of the picture, but they do point to an increasingly complex situation that has been made even more so by the pandemic. And so, as we try to predict what will happen next, the only certainty is uncertainty.

This leads us to the conclusion that, as much as possible, we want to make sure that the work that we are engaged in, and asking volunteers to engage in, genuinely makes a difference. Our hope is that the work of the Genesis Trust has a lasting and real impact, that there is the potential for sustainable transformation. We don’t want to see the same faces week after week because we want to work with people in such a way that they don’t need us anymore. Ideally, we want to work ourselves out of a job!

We must believe that our faith in action can actually make a difference in society. We want all the help that we give to be “good help”, that is, help which supports the individual towards autonomy in their own life. Towards independence, freedom and hope for the future. Help that believes that this is possible.

So, as we look at what we do next, we shouldn’t simply try to restore exactly what we did before because the world has changed. This is not saying that what the Soup Run and Lunch Box did was not valuable. The work was of great value and blessed more people than we could ever know. But the landscape has changed.

There are a number of things to consider. When the Soup Run and Lunch Box began they were much needed as there wasn’t anything else like them at the time. There are now many more projects that offer food and, indeed, much more is now provided by both local and central government.

We want to work in a joined-up way with the other statutory and voluntary services in B&NES, understanding the services that are available so that we are not replicating or duplicating the efforts of others. We recognise that there are specialisms that we do not provide (specialist drug and alcohol services are good examples) as well as recognising that we bring something unique to this overall effort.

One of our unique offerings is bringing together a large number volunteers from many Christian denominations with those who consider themselves non-religious around a common purpose. We recognise the importance of offering an environment in which people can explore healing in body, mind and spirit.

Our purpose is to meet those who are in crisis or otherwise vulnerable and marginalised and journey with them towards independence and their own sense of empowerment.

We have also learned that projects like the Soup Run are not just about calories but are primarily about companionship and community.

By companionship we mean walking alongside people, real relationships which have the power to become transformative. Spaces where people feel safe enough to show their true self. We have learned so much about this through the pandemic and the work that has been happening at Lifeline, Life Skills and the Life Course.

So, as we reflect and re-imagine, we are looking toward setting up new projects that facilitate the church and others across Bath to serve some of the most vulnerable in our community. Our prayerful desire is that any new projects will further increase the chances for people to move forward in their lives towards their desired future.

An example of a possible new project might be to create an opportunity for hospitality and community, a welcoming space where people are free to be together and be themselves. And we’d like to offer people more than a cold and wet car park! So, as we hopefully begin to move beyond the pandemic season over the coming months, this is the sort of project that we will consider once it becomes clear that there is both a need and that clients would value what we may offer.

We understand and honour the power, commitment and passion of our volunteers and the wealth of experience that they bring from different walks of life, so we will, as the shape of any new projects emerge, be asking for anyone who feels drawn to them to consider volunteering once again.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience, and for your support and dedication to those we are trying to serve together.