“When I suggested that it be called Lifeline all those years ago, I had no idea how true that was going to be, providing a lifeline of support to thousands of people over the last 20 years.” ~ Peter Heyward, founder and trustee of Genesis Trust

It’s Lifeline’s 20-year anniversary this year. Today, Lifeline is a day centre providing crisis support for people who are homeless, vulnerably housed or experiencing complex challenges such as financial insecurity, mental ill-health and substance misuse.  We can provide food, clothing, small household items, access to a shower and laundry facilities, phones and IT and much more.

Lifeline also offers one-to-one support where guests can talk to a member of the team.  We particularly focus on the home; tenancy matters and financial problems; but generally, help on a wide range of issues.

But it all started 20 years ago . . .

In 2001, Paul Solly was hired as Genesis Trust’s General Manager.  At that time, Genesis Trust was running the Soup Run, Lunch Box, Sunday Centre and the Furniture Project (now called Genesis Trust Furniture Shop). As Paul and volunteers at these projects were getting to know people who attended these services, there was a realisation that there was a need for something more.  The Genesis team wanted to find somewhere they could meet with people during the day throughout the week to support them better.

Peter Heywood, Founder and Trustee of Genesis Trust since 1995, said, “The launch of the Lifeline Centre came at an important time in the growth of the Genesis Trust, when we were starting to engage with people with serious needs in a meaningful way, and to provide those who were living rough with a place to go during the daytime.”

The pieces were coming together to start the Genesis Trust’s Lifeline Centre . . .

Bath City Church (now Life Church Bath) called Paul to discuss the use of the Forum which the church had designated to help the homeless. The church offered it to Genesis and, in 2003, Lifeline had its first home and was open 2 hours a day, Monday to Friday. Many of the initial volunteers came from Bath City Church.

Lifeline’s first staff member, Gloria Ware, remembers, “I was buying Christmas gifts for my children when a homeless person asked me for help, I realised I couldn’t help due to having handfuls of Christmas gifts.  On the bus home I became convinced that I could help. I completed a course called ‘Life for the World’ and applied for a job with Genesis Trust.”

Gloria was employed by Genesis to run Lifeline which she did from 2003 to 2017. Paul was pleased to have Gloria on board and said, “She had the ability to see the best in people and spoke to the best part of them.  She could see their strengths.  Gloria had a very soft personality but had the ability to be strong when necessary.”

Soon after hiring Gloria, Lifeline opened in June 2003 as a listening ear and support centre with about twenty volunteers helping. When volunteer Sue Hill was asked about those early days she said, “I can remember the very first client that walked in asking for a place he could stay as he was homeless. We were so pleased he came. It was such early days that there was little in place, bar someone to talk to in a safe place and a cup of tea.”

So the team at Lifeline learned and developed . . .

As time went on, Lifeline developed into helping people with any issues they were facing, focusing on housing, benefits and addictions.  They distributed food parcels and had a free clothing store. Gloria remembers particular people who came and stayed involved like Patrick. “He lived in the woods for years and we helped him find somewhere to live. He became a volunteer and a dear friend.”

Paul and Gloria soon began to see a need for more than just food, clothing, and housing.

The guests to Lifeline needed social interaction and activity and so Life Skills was started in November 2004 as a part of Lifeline. Denise Weikart was employed to facilitate the new project which included activities like art & music groups, cooking courses, creative writing and IT courses. Denise still facilitates Life Skills to this day.

In 2012 it was time to move, this time to the vaults of Bath Abbey which was Lifeline’s home until 2016. The Abbey didn’t just provide a building but were supportive in many ways.

Besides practical support, the Abbey provided a community feel with lots of love and support for the guests, which was the kind of atmosphere Genesis had been looking for. Both the Abbey and Genesis Trust recognised the importance of a healthy and loving community and its connection to people’s wellbeing.

In 2016, the Abbey needed to refurbish their vaults, so they generously supported Lifeline’s move to the basement of the Quaker Friends Meeting House.  It was there that Lifeline was able to add much needed laundry and shower facilities and offered breakfast every morning. By 2019, the Quakers’ plans had evolved and so Lifeline needed to move again.

The need to move presented new opportunities when Genesis began conversations with St Swithin’s Church about their Gateway Centre building. In 2019 they donated the building to Genesis Trust which is home to Lifeline today. The building had lots of natural light and enough space to bring Lifeline and Life Skills together under one roof; they had been separated during the moves.

Peter Heywood said, “I am so grateful to all those who have made it possible over the years, to all our staff, to all our volunteers, and to the churches that have generously provided us with premises – Bath City Church, the Quakers, Bath Abbey and St Swithin.”

Since being housed at our Gateway Centre, Lifeline has continued to develop. When COVID forced a change to our practices, an opportunity was given to rethink the support we provided through Lifeline. Social distancing measures caused Paul Solly to set up pre-booked, 1:1 meetings with our clients, which allowed more personal and individually tailored support for each person.

In February 2020, Sue Fourie was added to the team, who had a background in ‘Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’ (an umbrella term that describes a range of difficulties including emotional difficulties and mental health issues).  She introduced the Life Course and a therapeutic focus to Life Skills including music, art and nature therapy groups. Sue has since become Genesis Life Projects Manager and has brought all the individual projects at the Gateway Centre, including Lifeline, under Genesis Life Projects. Our interlinked projects  allow seamless support for all our guests.

Lifeline has been a valuable service in Bath and has helped thousands of people in crisis. We have worked hard over the years to create a calm and empowering environment for our guests, where everyone can feel emotionally and physically safe. At the Gateway Centre our staff can work in creative ways to support and develop positive wellness, with Lifeline as an important part of the offering.

When reflecting on his many years at Lifeline Paul said, “Witnessing how, over the years, the Lifeline team, both staff and volunteers, have related and assisted Lifeline guests has been a very great privilege.  As I look at Lifeline operating today, within the Genesis Life Projects umbrella and with its emphasis on people’s wellbeing, I have a huge amount of optimism and excitement.”