The History of St Wilfrid's Centre, Sheffield
The parish church of St Wilfrid and its associated school were bombed during the second world war. The building was semi-derelict for many years. In 1990 it was decided to renovate the buildings and create a drop-in day centre for the homeless. On 7 January 1991, St Wilfrid’s Drop-in Day Centre was opened in the old presbytery. This soon became too small and after a couple of years the project extended into the old church. In 2006 to reflect the expanding scope of the Centre, the name was changed to St Wilfrid’s Centre. Whilst the Centre is affiliated to the Diocese of Hallam, apart from rent free use of the buildings the Diocese provides no financial support. The Centre is completely independent and autonomous with its own Management Committee.
Although the Centre may at first seem small from the outside, many visitors compare it to Dr Who’s tardis. The old church is a large building over 3 floors with a spacious recreation hall, a range of dedicated training and interview rooms, kitchens, café, showers, laundry and an expansive skills workshops fitted out for woodcrafts and pottery. We run our services with up to 14 salaried staff, supplemented by an amazing bank of over 100 regular volunteers some of whom have been with us for over 20 years. In 2005 we acquired our own allotment which has been a huge success, is now an important part of our work and provides fresh produce for the kitchens. In 2010 we also took on the adjacent allotment, provided by Sheffield City Council.
We work with men and women (at a ratio of around 70:30) who are all vulnerable in their own way. This means that some people who come to us are homeless or are likely to have accommodation that they are struggling to manage. Mental health problems affect a significant number here; caused by abuse, mild spectrum disorders, loneliness or just the basic inability to cope with day to day living in our society. Since 2006 we have gradually changed the focus of St Wilfrid’s away from the strict day centre model to a more holistic approach as we now find that at any one time around 70% of our clients are coping with mental health issues and will not engage with other providers. Many struggle with lifeskills and cannot read and write, others cannot cope with structure. If we were not here for them, they simply would not go anywhere else. We give practical support to overcome barriers of social exclusion particularly for those with high support needs who have been unable to work with other agencies.
We operate a 'closed door' policy in order to protect our vulnerable clients. Clients who ‘drop-in’ are interviewed before admission whilst formal referrals come from social workers, mental health teams, psychiatrists, community psychiatric nurses (CPN's) and GP’s. We are probably the only Centre in the North of England offering services from basic welfare through personal development and education to support for ‘move-on’. We aim to address the basic needs of excluded people and then help them to live with independence, self esteem and dignity. Whilst we do help people recovering from alcohol or substance abuse, St Wilfrid’s operates as a dry centre.
We provide our services for those who are marginalised and socially excluded in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, as well as transient individuals who travel from town to town. The Centre provides a full day centre opportunity for adults (18 to 60+) and is open to clients from 10am to 4pm each weekday and on average 50-80 men and women use the Centre each day. Since the Project began in 1991, there have been over 240,000 individual visits to use our facilities. In 2012 alone over 600 clients sought our help. Around 50% of our clients are repeat users, and 75% are men.
We provide 44,000 hot and cold meals and snacks each year served in our fully equipped Cafe and Dining Room. As well as donated and bought food, the Centre's kitchens also use fresh produce grown on our own allotment and we pour in excess of 113,000 cups of tea and coffee each year. To support the small staff team, our 100 volunteers each regularly give one session per week. Just to run the all-day Cafe, we are given 60 volunteer hours each week.
Clients regularly use our basic hygiene services - showers, hairdressing, laundry, clothing repair and clothing bank. We provide access to supported medical and dental services, advice and advocacy including benefit, housing and personal advice and we run a Credit Union to help regular clients with their finances.
Most clients are aged 36-60 (78%) reflecting the core service users at the Centre. Although most would record their origins as White UK, just under 20% are from a wide range of other backgrounds – Polish, Iranian, Irish, Asian, Israeli, Latvian and Iraqi, economic and political refugees. We work closely with organisations that support Asylum Seekers and when necessary have access to local interpreters although the mix of clients at the Centre often means that we can find an interpreter amongst the men and women already using our services. We deliberately make our Centre a safe and calm place and visitors regularly comment on the atmosphere.
We have established good links with the community and extend our welcome to all vulnerable people no matter what race, creed or colour. At St Wilfrids, we are clear that irrespective of background, all vulnerable people will receive appropriate care.