Unity Outreach - 19/11/2021
“Looking back, I was so green at the start of all this. I researched Sheffield soup kitchens online, found Bobbie’s number, and rang her up saying ‘I want to start a soup kitchen’. I had no clue what I was talking about really”, says Aaron.
Aaron runs Unity Outreach, a voluntary project attached to RiteTrax, a Sheffield-based social enterprise and events company. RiteTrax provides ongoing outreach programmes with key collaborators in the city, including Sheffield Treatment & Recovery Team, Sheffield City Council and Ben’s Centre. In recent years, they’ve engaged hundreds of adults and young people through education and wellbeing interventions, including some of the most and ‘hard-to-reach’ individuals in the city such as street drinkers and ex-offenders.
Over lockdown, Aaron spoke to a friend who runs RiteTrax to ask if he could use their location to store food for running a soup kitchen in the city. He had no idea what support existed, as despite asking people on the streets, he got lots of different answers. He came across the Help us Help website, and found Bobbie’s number, so gave her a call. Bobbie explained about the support available in the city, and why soup kitchens were no longer running, due to issues around congregating groups and antisocial behaviour.
Bobbie introduced Aaron to Tracey Ford, Risk & Vulnerability Manager for the city centre, and they talked through options for offering support, agreeing that weekly outreach using trollies to transport hot drinks and pot noodles would work well.
“Tracey asked for donations for flasks and kettles, and Shelter donated four pump action flasks to us, which was brilliant. We got personal donations too enabling us to buy our trolley, and everything just grew from there in an organic way. Morrisons at Halfway have been great. Their Community Champion arranges for regular donations to us, tinned and dried products such as cup-a-soups, individually packed biscuits and sweet treats, and fruit. We’ve now received funding from the Council too”, explains Aaron.
The Unity Outreach team goes out into the city centre every Wednesday, at 4.30pm, and engages with around 40 to 50 people each evening, handing out sandwich bags, hot drinks and soup.
“I learnt early on by attending the Street Outreach Forum, that the best thing to do was to just build trust by showing up, being reliable, and that gradually people would start to trust us and we could then build rapport. Initially, we all thought we knew what people needed, and how they should be helped. But by listening to others with more experience, we learned to take a step back and wait for people to start opening up to us. Now we’ve built that network of contacts in the sector, so we know who to refer concerns to”, says Aaron.
“The success of the Unity Outreach project has been possible thanks to loads of individuals and businesses. 400dc restaurant runs an amazing scheme where customers can add £3.50 to their bill, for a 3 course meal for a person on the street, including starter, main and dessert. So far, their customers have donated over 150 meals, and we’ll be taking those freshly cooked meals out onto the streets as part of our project once we’ve figured out the logistics. A sandwich bag is great, but a freshly cooked curry is on another level!” commented Aaron.
“I feel so much more informed by being part of the Street Outreach Forum. Just recently I met with Michaela, a Carver Street Parish Nurse, to pick up some health packs to give out to people on the street. We talked about the difficulties some people face in accessing healthcare and other services, so I now feel equipped to chat to people who may have those issues. Had we not joined the Outreach Forum, we wouldn’t have made these connections, and much of our work, however well intentioned we were, would be like working in the dark”, said Aaron.
If you're interested in finding out more or getting involved with RiteTrax or the Unity Outreach project, or supporting what they do, then please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alison Wise for Help us Help, Nov 2021