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Inside the drop-in centre where the homeless and the poor are ‘treated like family’

PUBLISHED: 19:30 24 December 2019

Ladies helping out in the kitchen L-R Melanie Mills, Katie Alexander, Cynthis Williams,Trish Muxlow  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ladies helping out in the kitchen L-R Melanie Mills, Katie Alexander, Cynthis Williams,Trish Muxlow Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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If we ever hit rock bottom, we would all hope a good samaritan would come to our aid.

Rosemary Morris, Kevin Bullock and Louise Bailey helping out at the drop in centre  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRosemary Morris, Kevin Bullock and Louise Bailey helping out at the drop in centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

At a drop-in centre in Bury St Edmunds, scores of volunteers gladly give their time to ensure whose who are vulnerable and needy have a hot meal, a warm, dry space to socialise and the contacts that could help them turn their lives around.

At Bury Drop-In, which is based at the Trinity Methodist Church in Brentgovel Street, those who are homeless, financially poor, succumb to addictions and/or struggling with poor mental health are treated like family.

Open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11am to 2pm, 60 to 70 volunteers from a broad spectrum across the community welcome the guests who are living on the fringes of society, normally 40 to 50 people per session.

Friday, December 20, was a celebratory occasion as Christmas dinners were served to dozens of people, with the food donated by the Buckingham Emergency Food Appeal.

Janice Blows and Phil Broad are homeless and say the drop in centre has saved their lives   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJanice Blows and Phil Broad are homeless and say the drop in centre has saved their lives Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

David Bonnett, who runs Bury Drop-In voluntarily on an almost full-time basis, said: "Our main aim is to make our guests feel welcome in a world that for many doesn't make sense any longer.

"One of our guiding principles is that we will never judge the guests, but will treat them as we would treat other friends and our family members."

He said as a Christian organisation, its core belief can be summed up by the parable of the good samaritan: "When the 'establishment' had declined to help the victim who had been assaulted on that lonely road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the samaritan, although knowing the sense of animosity between his people and the Jews, and at considerable personal risk, was prepared to offer unconditional help. This came at a personal cost."

He added the "dedicated" team of volunteers showed "commitment and devotion in equal measure".

Founder of the Bury Drop In Centre, David Bonnett    Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNFounder of the Bury Drop In Centre, David Bonnett Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

READ MORE: Campaign urges 'don't give cash to those preying on the public's goodwill'

One of those who enjoyed a hot, Christmas dinner on December 20 was Craig Boothroyd, 47, who described the centre as a "lifeline" while he goes through difficult times.

"It's somewhere to come rather than staying at home on my own," he said. "And also when I have the kids on a Sunday, that's when I cheer up. Coming here kind of helps."

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Mr Boothroyd, who is living in supported housing in the town, said his marriage fell apart, he lost his home and his job, and he also suffers with health problems.

Founder of the Bury Drop In Centre, David Bonnett    Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNFounder of the Bury Drop In Centre, David Bonnett Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

There are many who use Bury Drop-In with similar stories and Mr Bonnett said he saw it as a sign of success when they told the organisation "we don't need you any more".

One group of about 15 to 18 people who are not homeless - called 'table one', as that's where they used to sit - have moved on from the centre and are acquiring newly-found independence and skills by the day.

Deb Gibson and Emma Croker, from the social enterprise Realise Futures, have been helping them gain food preparation and cookery skills, as well as others like budgeting.

They said they were "very big on social inclusion and making people feel safe and supported and empowered", adding it was all about them gaining "independence to get to where they want to be finally".

Craig Boothroyd at the Bury Drop In Centre  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCraig Boothroyd at the Bury Drop In Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Mr Bonnett also spoke of the success of Bury Drop In's Looking for Change campaign, which urges people not to give cash to those on the streets but to support the charity in helping those in need, such as a victim of childhood abuse who has managed to stay clean from drugs and start their own business.

There are many agencies that work with the charity, such as West Suffolk Council's rough sleepers support team, and Bury St Edmunds Rickshaw, which uses a specially-adapted tricycle to carry passengers around the town.

Over winter the rickshaw is still put to good use, now to transport donated food past its sell-by-date, but not best-before-date, to Bury Drop In, as well as the Gatehouse and Storehouse foodbanks and other projects in the town.

And it is also used to move donated goods from people's homes to charities.

Craig Boothroyd at the Bury Drop In Centre  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCraig Boothroyd at the Bury Drop In Centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Libby Ranzetta, of Bury St Edmunds Rickshaw, said they are hoping to raise the funds for a dedicated cargo bike.

-To support Bury Drop In see here.

-To support Bury St Edmunds Rickshaw call 01284 339449.


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