Peterborough’s rough sleepers have their lives turned around

“If the Garden House was not here I do not want to think where I would have been.”

Monday, 4th March 2019, 5:00 am
Staff, volunteers and guests outside Garden House in the Cathedral Precincts

A short time ago dad of three Kevin was living on the streets after a relationship breakdown. Now, he is on the up and hoping to shortly find new employment.

“I’m becoming the old me,” he declares while enjoying a warm drink.

Kevin, who did not wish to give his surname, is one of many rough sleepers (or “guests”) who have found support from Garden House, a scheme run by Light Project Peterborough. The charity also operates a Winter Night Shelter in the city.

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Shax Beker with some of the guests' artwork EMN-190226-133509009

Garden House is tucked away within the Cathedral Precincts, but word is spreading of the wide range of daytime support being offered to help rough sleepers transform their lives.

Such has been the success, that a six month lease from last October has now been extended for two years.

Steven Pettican from Light Project Peterborough said: “There’s been amazing work by everybody on the ground.

“We have up to 30 volunteers here in the house. They are good people from across the city - primarily from the Christian community, but there are people of different faiths, or no faiths.

“We are all working together in a welcoming environment.”

The project works as a hub for the city’s Safer Off The Streets partnership, which involves 17 different organisations working together.

Funding has come in part through more than £7,000 of donations from a contactless card donation card window placed outside Argo Lounge in St Peter’s Arcade, next to Bridge Street.

‘Guests’ at Garden House are able to see GPs, hairdressers and chiropodists, and they can get support with health checks, debt counselling, job searching, CV writing, benefit claims or referrals to a food bank. They can also enjoy art therapy, or activities in the garden.

City council outreach support workers, including Rebecca Jones, are also present to offer their support.

Rebecca said: “It’s a really good balance between a statutory service and working with charity partners.

“It targets people new to the street and helps them get off really quickly.”

She explained that there have been numerous success stories, with support transforming the lives of people from those who have left prison, are battling addiction or, in the case of Kevin, have been left on the streets after the end of a relationship.

Reliving his personal story, Kevin recalled: “I was sleeping on the streets for four nights - I did not know what to do, where to go or who to speak with.”

It was only when Kevin went to the council’s offices at Bayard Place that he first heard about Garden House, which he soon paid a visit.

“When I walked in I did not know what to expect,” he said. “But it was a case of welcome to the family.”

Kevin has been given shelter over the past few months, and support to gain a new employment qualification. He is now waiting to hear back after a job interview with Perkins Engines as he seeks a return to work.

“Everything you need is in this house,” he added. “Whether it be help with Universal Credit or what worries you have.

“If the Garden House was not here, I do not want to think where I would have been. I would have ended up as a statistic.

“This place has been brilliant. From day one to now I feel like a different person.”

Shaxawan Beker is a 19-year-old asylum seeker from Iran who came to this country on his own nearly four years ago, aged 16.

Shaxawan did not wish to go into detail on why he sought asylum, but said it was because he was not safe in his home country.

He has spent his time in the UK either sleeping on the streets or in a car, until he moved to Peterborough and his local church directed him to Garden House.

He said: “I can’t explain how good the staff and volunteers are.”

Garden House is currently liaising with British Red Cross and the Home Office to help Shaxawan as he is not allowed to work or receive benefits in this country.

In the meantime he is volunteering at different organisations. He added: “It was very, very difficult to come here, but Garden House care about me.”

Every weekday (and soon every day), council outreach workers comb the streets looking for rough sleepers to help. When they find people needing a hand, one place they suggest they visit is Garden House.

Support is also offered to other vulnerable people, including domestic abuse victims who are placed into refuge.

Mr Pettican added: “We are trying to create a safe environment for people when they come through those green gates.”