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A warm welcome for people who
'slipped through the net'

by 'JOHN CROSSLEY' (Burton Mail)

DURING the season of giving and with the town centre packed with Christmas shoppers splashing the cash, the work of the Burton Soup Kitchen is a timely reminder of those most in need.

soup kitchen

Vera Bracken, Kaya Satchell, Alison Hall, Major Jane Morris, Sheila Crossland, Danni Bishop, Sharon Withers and Mick Cramp

A hot meal, a place to meet friends and to shelter from the bitter winter cold can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Mail reporter JOHN CROSSLEY met volunteers at the kitchen’s annual Christmas meal, as well as some of those being helped by the tireless efforts of its volunteers.

A SHARP gust of wind cuts across the street as a small crowd huddles outside one of Burton’s hidden gems.

Tucked away in Mosley Street, the Burton Soup Kitchen is based in the Salvation Army rooms, offering hot meals to those desperately in need three days a week.

“If there is one place that deserves Government funding it’s the soup kitchen,” said 52-year-old Linda Goring, who is currently homeless.

“We’d all be stuffed if it wasn’t here.

“There are people who go with all sorts of problems. Everyone is like one big family.

“Without it, I think a lot of people would be back to square one.” Stepping out of the cold and into a packed kitchen for its annual Christmas meal, you are greeted by a small team brimming with enthusiasm.

The smell of sizzling sausages wrapped in cloaks of bacon is equally matched by the tantalising prospect of a hot oven packed with turkey and roast vegetables.

It truly is a dinner fit for a king.

However, it is the warmth of the tightknit team of volunteers which make this such a worthy cause.

Sharon Withers is the chairman of the soup kitchen.

“We offer a service to people who have fallen through the net and who have found themselves on the outskirts of society,” she said.

“These are people who are isolated — they could have mental problems and they could be fighting alcohol and drug addiction.

“We give them a non-judgemental place to go.

“You don’t have to be homeless to use our service.” Earlier this year, the Mail revealed Trent and Dove Housing was reporting a shock rise in the number of people seeking help amid fears of becoming homeless.

The housing association blamed spiralling living costs and pay freezes for the 50 per cent increase in the number of people taking advice from its housing options team — with 1,494 people coming for help in the last year.

Poised on the front line, Sharon said those figures matched up with what the soup kitchen was seeing, with it witnessing a sharp rise in demand in 2011.

The group saw around 1,300 people through its door in 2009 and 2010, but this number had already been topped by October this year.

“There are certainly a lot more young people in to use our services, and some of them have been struggling to find accommodation,” Sharon said.

“On top of that there are people that have had their benefits sanctioned.

“People are finding it harder and the benefits system is tightening up. But on top of that more people are finding out about what we are offering.

“I think that trend could continue. We are seeing some people who aren’t struggling with alcohol or drugs — it’s fairly normal people who were working and doing okay but are now in need.”

The kitchen works with agencies like the YMCA and the Heart of Burton Partnership to help people in those situations.

It is not just a hot meal, but a reprieve from the bitter weather and a regular meeting place three times a week.

Laurie Roberts, 27, said she had been using the soup kitchen for the last four years.

Ms Roberts, who has a five-month-old baby, said one of the most frustrating problems was being unable to secure any housing.

“There is nothing in Burton if you are homeless,” the young mother said.

“We go down there and they give you food, clothes, quilts and anything that you need.”

It is feedback from the people using the service which makes the hard work of the volunteers worthwhile.

“It’s wonderful,” Sharon said.

“There was a chap that came in when I first started here three years ago.

“He was homeless so we took him in, gave him some soup and pointed him in the right direction.

“He came back six months later and he said’ thank you’ and that we had saved his life.

“For some of these people, this is like a lifeline and it keeps them goimg.”

It’s not just a hot meal, but a thick coat and a kind steer of advice on offer.

The group has also given out more than 100 food parcels this year.

It relies on the generosity of the people of Burton, but a small amount of money can make a huge difference — just 50p can give a person in need three hot meals.

Volunteer Mick Cramp, who also serves as a parish councillor in Hatton, told of how he first got involved and what the charity means to him.

“I am lucky that I have never been in the position of ‘want’ — although I have known people who were, and heard some of the stories.

“Since finishing work and having time during the week, I thought of giving something back.

“It was a toss-up between Burton or Derby because both have large homeless and vulnerable sections of the community.

“Burton won when I saw an appeal in the Mail asking for volunteers, but I was a bit wary, because of it being in a place of worship.

“I thought religion might be a big topic, but it doesn’t matter one iota whether you believe or not.

“Since working there I have made some new friends and have a better understanding of some of the problems and needs of the unfortunate groups that come to rely on groups like ours.”

Sharon said the group ‘owed a great deal’ to the Salvation Army for letting them use the facilities in Mosley Street.

“Without their support, we would not be able do the service we do,” she added.

The mum-of-two is starting work at the YMCA in January, as the charity looks to utilise her skills and experience.

However, she said she will stay on as chairman at the kitchen.

extract from the Burton Mail 24th December 2011