Friendship, support and trust during Covid times - 21/02/2021
“It’s not about doing good. Not really. It’s about people. It’s about friendship, support and trust. And no matter what’s come before, all we can do is offer support, and gently get to know them, at their pace, signposting and encouraging them to access services. A need for food might be what propels people to visit a soup kitchen, but it’s rarely the main driving force”, explained Bobbie, who set up Sheffield Churches Soup Kitchen 33 years ago.
In the early days, the Soup Kitchen in Sheffield was just a handful of volunteers, including Bobbie, walking the city at night, flasks of hot soup in hands to offer to people on the streets. The team soon realised that by building relationships with people they could help them to make progress, so approached the Council about establishing a base. The Soup Kitchen has run from several locations in the city centre; West Street, Eldon Street, Kings Street and then Silver Street, often being moved on as areas were redeveloped, with the final move happening as there has been an increase of anti-social behaviour in the area.
Staffed entirely by volunteers from numerous churches in the city, running seven days a week, and with some of the food donated by local businesses, the Soup Kitchen became a vital part of the wraparound support available to those in need in the city of Sheffield. The volunteers who ran the Kitchen each evening were able to look out for regular faces and notice when they’d not seen people for some time. If somebody slipped off the radar, team leaders passed on messages among the other teams, and alerted services.
And then the pandemic struck!
“It’s the first time ever in 33 years that we’ve not been out there”, explained Bobbie. “This past year has been the worst we’ve ever known. We couldn’t continue for a variety of reasons, all of them related to safeguarding. We needed to protect our volunteers, many of whom are elderly, but also to protect the people who were visiting us.”
The volunteers tried to carry on for a while by giving out bags of food, but small groups soon started to form. Bobbie explained, “we couldn’t blame them, as they all wanted to chat and let us know how things had been. For some of them that social contact is vital, but we accepted we couldn’t keep going in a socially distanced way.”
Bobbie and the volunteers were concerned that without a regular presence on the street, people may get missed, so she continued to provide outreach support in the city centre, handing out sandwiches, gloves and whatever was needed by people. That continuity with a friendly, familiar face remains important for people on the streets.
Keeping volunteers safe and linking up with services has always been a key priority of the Soup Kitchen team. From running training around safeguarding, drugs and alcohol and first aid, to educating volunteers about the work that services do in the city, how to pass on concerns, and how to refer in to the Winter Plan provision, the team follows guidance, links into services, and looks to strengthen existing partnerships.
Sheffield City Centre ASB Manager, Tracey Ford says - Until about three years ago, the Soup Kitchen played an integral role in offering food and a friendly face to the city's most vulnerable. Over the past 3 or 4 years the city has seen various new soup kitchens being set up, knowing members of the public wanted to help was brilliant but they had started creating new problems for the city centre, as Bobby mentioned, just prior to lockdown the soup kitchen relocated due to increasing problems with ASB around Kings Street. During the first COVID lockdown organisers of the Wednesday night soup kitchen, joined forces with charities, such as Archer and Bens and established the meals on wheels service, which is still continuing. The Saturday street kitchen also joined forces and now offers food every Saturday on an outreach basis, doing it this way means we don't have large groups congregating and helps reduce the risk of transmission. The Sunday Centre, have also adapted and now do regular outreach sessions in the evening and weekends.
Last year we established the Sheffield Street Outreach Forum, which brings together anyone and everyone doing any form of outreach or street engagement. The group has only met three times, but is already working together to produce some guidance, quality standards and tips for anyone wanting to get involved, with a view to ensure the safety of not just volunteers but people on the streets. The forum is also proving beneficial for volunteers and staff to air any concerns, gain access to training understand the referral pathways.
Who knows what the future holds for the Soup Kitchen in Sheffield as lockdown eases. “I’m so passionate about the work we do and how it positively impacts people's lives, that I don’t want to stop now! It’s about doing things differently, and keeping everyone safe - that’s the most important thing”, says Bobbie.
You can read more about the work of the Sheffield Churches Soup Kitchen on their website: https://sheffieldsoupkitchen.com/
Alison Wise for Help us Help, February 2021