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The Winter Refuge

For the second year in a row, One Big Family have been nominated for the Pride in Medway awards, for their amazing volunteer work revolving around the homeless community.

They won the award in 2017, and have gone above and beyond yet again this year, opening a brand new homeless emergency winter refuge centre for the rough sleepers of Medway.

The scheme was set up to provide a warm place for the homeless to sleep on any night that the temperature drops below zero, between November 1 and March 31.

Under the current government and the severe weather emergency protocol, local councils must provide warm refuge for the homeless if the temperature falls below zero for three nights in a row. This means that it could be a bitter and dangerous minus five for two nights, then one degrees on the third and no shelter would be provided.

Liz Shaw, who runs the centre, said: “We’ve been running the charity for three years now, with a soup kitchen every Sunday, and we support homeless people with accommodation, take them to appointments, and this year we’re running an emergency refuge in Chatham.”

Liz has been working every time that the shelter has been open so far, a grand total of 35 nights dedicated to helping the homeless, with over 350 beds provided since the end of November.

“It requires a lot of work, a lot of volunteers, a lot of training, but we’re doing it, and it’s been very successful. It won’t be just for this year, we’re going to carry on.”

One Big Family have four volunteers who stay the night at the shelter to help run things, with a further three or so in the evening to help set up. At 10pm their doors open to the homeless, even providing light snacks when needed.

The bedding is donated, and they provide old army camp beds to anyone who needs them. Each night they usually have around 17 homeless people using the shelter, but they always try to avoid turning anyone away.

Darren Shaw, who runs the shelter along with Liz, said: “We do it to give something back to those less fortunate. When we started we didn’t realise how huge the problem was, and we’ve ended up getting more involved than we’d ever planned. Liz even gave up her job two years ago.

“Some of the people we see are now our friends, and we do what we can for them. We work very hard with other agencies to give them the best support possible.”

The centre will remain open on nights below zero degrees until the end of March, and can be found at Emmaus Church in Chatham. The Sunday soup kitchen is located at Globe Lane Car Park in Chatham.

If you want to volunteer with One Big Family, email or call Liz on 07825254224.

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