When Emma Faunch was declared Most Dedicated Volunteer in this year’s Hammersmith & Fulham Civic Honours, it shone a spotlight on one of the borough’s most vital resources for homeless people.
It was, says Barons Court Project director Michael Angus, a richly deserved award for Emma. Her first contact with the centre was as a service user, but she’s now run the kitchen for 13 years, serving more than 50,000 nutritious hot meals made from donated food.
As the winter cold starts to really bite, demand for the project’s services is greater than ever before.
Located in a mid-terrace townhouse in Talgarth Road, between Barons Court and Hammersmith, it began in the 1980s when psychiatrists and social workers created a base for people with mental health issues.
“Volunteers bring life to this community, and they bring their own gifts, skills and talents,” said Michael, who has managed hostels in London for 24 years.
The project, whose slogan is ‘to enable everyone to live the life they deserve’, does everything it can to assist rough-sleepers with basic human needs - food, shelter, clothes, showers and mobile phone charging.
In the basement there’s a kitchen, cafe and garden. The ground floor has a TV lounge for a dozen people, and a discussion room. “Every day we solve Brexit… and then try again the next day,” laughed Michael, 49.
There’s a laundry, with one-day turnaround for those who only have the clothes they’re wearing.
A computer suite with six terminals and support staff helps people fill in benefit claim forms. On Thursdays, one-to-one help is given for writing CVs. There’s an arts and crafts room and library, where activities include T-shirt printing and card-making.
When the building’s lease was due to end two years ago, Hammersmith & Fulham Council gave the project a lifeline by transferring the building’s freehold to the trust which controls it.
“We went from being at the point of having to close to being on a much firmer footing,” said Michael. “We were paying £16,000 a year in rent,” he explained. “Although we get grants from the council, austerity has meant those grants have been declining.”
The council makes a substantial contribution to the charity’s running costs. But it is the setting of a peppercorn rent for the centre, by landlords H&F, which ensures their great work can continue to benefit homeless people in the borough.
How to support
Last year it benefited from being the H&F Mayor’s chosen charity. “We’re now the only drop-in centre for homeless people or those living with mental illness,” said Michael.
The project serves lunches. Another local charity, The Upper Room, serves evening meals.
How can H&F residents support the project? By becoming a Friend and donating a fiver a month to the centre’s work. Or, you can back the Small Tap, Big Change scheme, which encourages £2 donations via contactless payment points in the borough’s shops, pubs and offices.
When Emma Faunch was named Most Dedicated Volunteer it was not only important recognition for her work, but also of the difference volunteering can make to charities across the borough.
“As well as being a creative chef, she’s an excellent kitchen manager; organising deliveries, managing stock, monitoring food storage and the safety of perishable foods, cleaning and ensuring hygiene standards are maintained and preventing food going to waste,” said Michael.
Thanks to Emma’s efforts, the project has received a 5-star hygiene rating from the council every year she’s been in the kitchen, with the meals proving an important lifeline for homeless people who are unable to cook for themselves.
As with so many charities, the Barons Court Project is all about the volunteers. “Quite simply, they make everything possible,” said Michael.
Seven people assist each week, with another 140 lending a hand through the year, as well as corporate support with company staff giving their time via community programmes. The centre gets by with three full-time staff, and a part-time fundraiser.
On drop-in days, up to 40 use the project. Last year, 337 unique users made 6,000 visits to the project.
“Rough sleeping continues to rise,” said Michael, as winter adds fresh urgency to the project’s work. “In the past two years, we’ve seen a 59% increase in the number of guests needing our services.”
The complexity of centre users’ needs also grows. Many have chaotic lifestyles, and most have overlapping issues which are harder to address as specialised services which were once available close through lack of funding.
“We had one person who had a flat, but just couldn’t cope with things, and his housing benefit had stopped,” said Michael, when asked for an example of the type of people the project helps. “We were able to work with his GP, and with Charing Cross Hospital, and helped him sort out his arrears… preventing him from ending up back on the streets.”
In January, we’ll launch the 2020 Hammersmith & Fulham Civic Honours, allowing you to nominate the unsung heroes of the borough for recognition of their contribution to the community... culminating in a gala awards ceremony in the summer. Watch this space!
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