‘Nobody’s chosen to be here’: Stories from the winter night shelter

St Thomas Church Charlton-1
St Thomas’ Church hosts a winter night shelter for homeless people.

Charlton’s winter night shelter, at St Thomas’ Church on Woodland Terrace, opens its doors for the last time this evening. Since November, it has provided Friday night accommodation for homeless people as part of the seven-day Greenwich Winter Night Shelter network, whose programme for this year ends next week. Local Democracy Reporter TOM BULL met some of the shelter’s users, and the volunteers who help to run it.

Builders, chefs, and nurses are guests at the Greenwich Winter Night Shelter.

They are also rough sleepers.

The shelter has room for 15 of society’s most vulnerable to get a night’s rest. But more are waiting.

Volunteers are preparing for the “heart-breaking” final week knowing that the end brings uncertainty for clients and workers over where they will go next.

Guests, volunteers say, are people who haven’t chosen homelessness, they have fallen into it.

Their stories show the scale of rough sleeping in the country – one guest this year has been a student nurse, another a chef – one man last night needed a night’s sleep ahead of a job interview and had brought a shirt and trousers to be ironed by the volunteers.

‘No work, no money, no rent’

Rough sleeping in London has reached “inhumane levels”, one homeless builder told us last night.

The man, who didn’t want to be named, had his tools robbed nearly three weeks ago.

“No tools, no work – no work, no money, no rent. It’s simple ain’t it?” he said. He’s been sleeping rough for 16 nights, and this was his first time at the shelter.

“It’s been rough as f***. Last night was the worst. It’s so cold. You couldn’t sit down because you’d feel yourself freezing. You have to get up and walk – not a wink of sleep. If I was out tonight I don’t know what I would do.”

He knows that the shelter’s services are coming to an end, but he has no other choice but to take it up while he can.

“It’s inhumane how Britain is. It goes against human rights. If it wasn’t for here tonight, I’d be out there. These people should be given knighthoods.”

The shelter opened earlier than usual in this, its fifth year in operation, starting in November and working every night out of six different churches and a community centre.

One guest – who previously managed hotel kitchens – has got a job in a café during his stay. He had come over from South Africa in January looking for work and was pickpocketed at Waterloo station.

“I was sleeping rough, I had nowhere to go and I had no money. A woman walked past me and then came back. She asked how much it would be to get a night’s rest. I told her it was about £9, so she went and got me money –  she gave me a hundred quid. It was beyond belief.”

The volunteers said they worry about what happens once the project finishes. Come Wednesday, some guests will have found housing, but others will be back on the streets.

A council snapshot in November found there were seven people sleeping rough. Last night, all 15 beds were booked out.

Between playing pool with guests and organising dinner, volunteers found the time to say how important shelters are.

One co-ordinator, Jo, has been involved with the project from the start. She’s seen a big increase in take-up, putting it down to increased awareness – but said it’s surprising who comes through the doors.

“Nobody here has chosen to be homeless,” she said.

‘It has cost me my marriage’

Sat next to his bed for the night, a 43-year-old father of two said that without the shelter, he didn’t know where he would be.

He said he’s been rough sleeping for six years, and on the housing waiting list for three. He said the council provided a two-bedroom flat for him, his wife and two kids. His now 15-year-old daughter is still sharing a room with her mum, and he’s now on the streets.

“That’s the overcrowding that the Royal Borough of Greenwich can’t sort out,” he said. “It has cost me my marriage and I’ve ended up on the road.

“I’ve been sofa-surfing with friends, but I’ve exhausted everything I can. Absolutely, people don’t get the scale.”

The dad said he is in conversations with a housing officer for a plan to be put in place before the shelter closes.

“My fate is in their hands – I don’t know where I will go. Day to day it’s a challenge.”

Last year, the shelter had 30 different guests who stayed from between five and 85 nights. At least 20 were supported into some form of accommodation. Others either went back to the streets or had sorted another arrangement.

It’s estimated the hours put in by volunteers, at minimum wage, would be the equivalent of £66k.

94 rough sleepers in Greenwich borough

In Greenwich there were 94 different people thought to be sleeping rough over the course of last year.

Councillor Chris Kirby, cabinet member for housing, said that the council is currently reviewing its homelessness strategy.

He said: “We have an excellent track record of demonstrating the strength of working with partners to support homeless people and make the best use of our skills and resources. This includes a Vulnerable Adults Pathway, which provides housing-related support for ex-offenders and/or people with a substance misuse history.

“Official statistics show that rough sleeping in England rose by 169 per cent from 2010 to 2018, coinciding with when the coalition government came to power. We are doing all we can to help those sleeping rough in our borough.”

For more information about the night shelter, and how you can help, see our story from October.


LDRS logoTom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
See more about how The Charlton Champion uses LDRS content.

Classical concert in support of Charlton’s Night Shelter for the homeless

The Charlton Ensemble will perform ‘popular classics for cello, voice and piano’ in support of St. Thomas’ Church’s night shelter for the homeless on Sunday 27 January.

The Charlton Ensemble consist of professional instrumentalists and singers who live, work and/or worship in the Charlton area. They promise a varied programme ranging from Baroque to Bernstein. The concert will take place at St. Thomas’ Church on Woodland Terrace, starting at 7pm; tickets cost £10 – phone 07989 740 252 to book.

St. Thomas’ night shelter for the homeless forms part of the Greenwich Winter Night Shelter Network, which provides overnight accommodation for rough sleepers in the borough of Greenwich. You can read more about the project – and how to get involved – here.


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Listening to the community: Why Charlton’s C of E churches have launched an action plan

St. Luke's Church, Charlton
There has been a church dedicated to St Luke in Charlton since the 11th century

Charlton’s two C of E churches, St Luke’s and St Thomas’, are pledging to do more in the community over the next few years. REVD LIZ NEWMAN, the rector of the Benefice of Charlton, outlines its new action plan, which includes setting up a youth cafe and schemes to combat loneliness and social injustice.

What is mission? In the Church, one short answer to that question is that it’s “finding out what God is doing and then joining in!” But before we can join in, we need to listen to what’s happening.

At St Luke’s and St Thomas’ churches, we’ve been doing a lot of listening over the past year. Listening to our community, to ourselves and to God. As a result we’ve come to some conclusions about what we believe God is calling us to be and do. And we’ve decided on our priorities for the next three to five years.

So what is top of our list? Where are we going to put energy, time and love?

  • Engaging and nurturing children and young people
  • Sharing our faith confidently
  • Reaching isolated groups
  • Better community engagement

The recent United Nations report on poverty in this country highlighted shocking statistics about the impact on our poorest communities of living with little. Knife crime and gang culture is taking and ruining far too many young lives in our city. We live in challenging times of injustice, and that is a concern to people of all faiths and none.

Jesus was on the side of the poor and dispossessed, and following his example means we need to be as well. We are already part of Greenwich Winter Night Shelter, which houses 15 homeless people through the coldest months of the winter. And we have plans to start an open access Youth Café, to strengthen and extend our existing Schools Project, to run fun activities for children during school holidays, to develop a mental wellbeing project and a social justice project and to grow a project that will combat loneliness.

Charlton is a place that is set to grow hugely in the coming years. We need to be able to live together well, so that everyone can belong and flourish. St Thomas’, St Luke’s and St Richards Church Centre want to work with our local communities for the good of all.

We have plans to make connections with people and places in our local area that we haven’t had relationships with before, to develop our churches as community hubs and to continue to work with other local people and the council to ensure that Charlton Riverside becomes a true community where there is plenty of affordable and social housing.

Our faith motivates who we are and what we do. Because we believe in a God of love, in whose sight we are all precious, we want to meet people where they are and help them discover that good news for themselves. So we’re building our own confidence and aiming to grow new congregations at St Luke’s, St Thomas and St Richard’s. They won’t necessarily look like traditional church, because traditional church isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s fine, because if church listens and adapts, there is room for everyone. And of course, we’ll be aiming to grow traditional church as well!

The teachings of Christ underpin all that we do. We’re striving to be people who are joyful, live in loving relationship with God and our neighbours, are good listeners, forgive, work for justice and celebrate diversity. We have a lot of plans and we know we’re being ambitious! But we are trusting and living in hope. And on the way, we’re expecting to discover what we’re here on this earth for.

We believe Charlton is the place that God has given us to love and we look forward to doing just that over the years to come. If you want to know more, please visit our website at www.charlton.church. And, whoever and whatever you are, you will always be welcome at our churches and to join in the adventure that lies ahead.


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Can you help St. Thomas’ night shelter to help the homeless?

St Thomas Church Charlton-1
St Thomas’ Church on Woodlands Terrace, SE7.

We’ve written before about St. Thomas’ Church night shelter for homeless people, but with winter approaching and homelessness rising, we thought we’d catch up with what’s happening this year, and how local residents can help:

Every winter, thousands of people in the UK end up with no home. It’s a national problem and sometimes it feels like there is nothing we can do. But there is. Greenwich Winter Night Shelter is a team of people from local churches and communities who provide beds, food and company for people without a home. From 14 November 2018 to 12 March 2019, volunteers will give a few hours each week, helping dozens of people get back on their feet.

Would you like to join a team that makes a big difference to people’s lives?

Volunteers are needed for evening, overnight and breakfast shifts – particularly overnight and breakfast shifts. The Shelter operates at a different venue each night of the week, and full training is provided.

For more information, please contact project manager Helen Othen – email: gwnsprojectmgr[at]gmail.com.

The Greenwich Winter Night Shelter network:

Sunday: St James’ Church Hall, Kidbrooke Park Road, SE3 0DU – Nearby buses: 178, 286, 132, 89
Monday: Christ Church, Trafalgar Road, SE10 9EQ – Nearby buses: 177, 180, 286, 422,
129, 188, 386

Tuesday: St George’s Church, Glenluce Road, SE3 7SQ – Nearby buses: 286, 108, 422
Wednesday: OneSpace Youth & Community Centre, Kidbrooke Park Road, SE3 9YY – Nearby buses: B16, 178
Thursday: St Mark’s Church Centre, 22 Greenwich South Street, SE10 8TY – Nearby buses: 386, 180, 199
Friday: St Thomas’ Church, Woodland Terrace, SE7 8EW – Nearby bus: 380
Saturday: Blackheath & Charlton Baptist Church, Marlborough Lane, SE7 7DF – Nearby buses: 89, 178, 386

Make a donation

If you’d like to donate food, clothing or money to the night shelter you can contact the project coordinator above or additionally for St. Thomas’ Church, contact Revd Bennett Spong or Churchwarden Jim Kinsella.


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Meet Champions 4 Change: the Charlton group changing lives through boxing

Champions4Change boxing academy at St Thomas Church Charlton

The Charlton Champion spent a very enjoyable morning last Saturday finding out about the work that Champions 4 Change (C4C) is doing with young people at St. Thomas’ Church in Woodland Terrace.

An offshoot of St. Peter’s ABC, an amateur boxing club that’s been in the area since the early 1900s, Champions 4 Change “uses boxing, fitness and mentoring as a vehicle for positive change in young people”.

Led by director Scott O’Connor, the team run a number of programmes designed to develop fitness and mental wellbeing through boxing, for children and older people – including programmes focussed on young carers.

Older children work their way through the ASDAN GB Boxing Awards programmes, gaining recognised qualifications as they go, and can then go on to help train other children and adults as they progress, gaining further experience and confidence as part of the process.

C4C works closely with St Peter’s, signposting young people into the club once they have reached a certain level, or if they wish, to take their boxing to the next level and do it competitively. As well as running programmes in schools, Champions 4 Change also runs one-to-one personal training sessions.

Also visiting on Saturday was Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, who took a boxing lesson from C4C director Scott O’Connor.

He said: “I really enjoyed my training session with Scott and the chance to see first hand the difference that Champions 4 Change is making for young people and also older residents. It’s a real asset for our area and deserves more support.”

‘No gym bunnies’

One of the club’s regulars, Helen Jakeways, who kindly introduced us to C4C, says, “I’ve been going to the over-40s sessions for four months now and thoroughly enjoy the friendly atmosphere and exercise provided by Scott and volunteer coaches Jack and George.

“I only go once a week but there has definitely been an improvement in my overall levels of fitness and strength.  I’ve also had a couple of enjoyable one-to-one sessions with Scott which really helped with my boxing technique. Scott and his team carefully manage activity to suit different needs and there is no pressure to work beyond what you feel comfortable doing.

“It’s good fun (and great exercise) to work with the team on the pads and they all have a sense of humour, which is a must when you’re facing shots from beginners.

“Highly recommend this invaluable local resource if you want to up your fitness game in a relaxed and friendly environment and try something a bit different.  No intimidating Lycra-clad gym-bunnies – just nice people who genuinely care about helping others to get fit.”

This writer enjoyed his visit to the Saturday morning session so much that he went back on Tuesday to try a taster of the over-40s programme (6.15-7pm, Tuesdays) – and has promised to return! I’d recommend it for anyone looking to get fit in a friendly, supportive environment.

Champions 4 Change
Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, takes a boxing lesson from Champions 4 Change director Scott O’Connor

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What’s on at C4C this October half-term

Champions 4 Change boxing Bootcamp October 2018
Champions 4 Change will be running a bootcamp for children during October half-term

Get in touch with Champions 4 Change:


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St Thomas Charlton Night Shelter benefit concert: Friday 1 December

St Thomas church

Each year between and March, St Thomas’ Church in Charlton is one of a group in Greenwich borough who collaborate on the Greenwich Winter Night Shelter project.

St Thomas’ opens its doors for one night each week, providing up to 15 homeless people with a hot shower, an evening meal, a warm place to sleep and breakfast, as well as a packed lunch to take away.

Other churches in Greenwich borough pitch in so a volunteer-run service is provided all through the week.

We covered the St Thomas’s Church shelter in February 2016.

Here’s a video showing what happens in the church on Fridays when it hosts the shelter…

All this costs money to provide, and to help raise funds, there’ll be a concert at the church at 7.30pm on Friday 1 December, featuring popular classics for cello, voice and piano. For more information about the concert or the shelter, call 07989 740 252 or 020 8854 0841.

Charlton night shelter poster

Charlton church’s winter night shelter gets council grant

St Thomas church

A winter night shelter at a Charlton church has been given a £500 grant by Greenwich Council as it opens its doors for the first three months of the year.

The shelter at St Thomas Church opened its doors for the first time this winter last Friday. It operates one night each week until March, providing up to 15 homeless people with a hot shower, an evening meal, a warm place to sleep and breakfast, as well as a packed lunch to take away.

Other Greenwich borough churches take part on other nights of the week to provide a volunteer-run service throughout the week during the coldest months of the year. We covered the St Thomas project last year.

Now St Thomas has been given £500 to help cover its costs.

The grant comes out of the ward budget fund, where each council ward has access to a pot of cash to help community groups. Woolwich Riverside ward councillors Barbara Barwick, John Fahy and Jackie Smith put the shelter forward for funding.

With temperatures dropping and snow expected later today, if you know of anyone sleeping rough, you can contact streetlink.org.uk to ensure they are offered help and advice.