What is Devizes Opendoors?
It is a charity that has been set up to help people in the Devizes Community Area to find solutions to homelessness; to offer support to local people when they are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless and to benefit local individuals in need, including the marginalised and vulnerable.
Opendoors exists 100% for the benefit of others, in particular those who are homeless or at risk of becoming so.
For the last few years it has provided three cooked meals a week at St. John’s Parish Rooms, Long Street and there are about 15 – 20 people there at most sessions. Along with the good food and company there is the chance of a shower and a few other things (see Opening Times)
The guests are a mixture of rough sleepers, those sleeping in sheds, vans and old boats, sofa surfers and those with their own homes but with issues that can make their tenancies vulnerable.
The team has two paid staff members, a coordinator and a deputy coordinator, and about 50 volunteers on a rota with between 7 - 9 on per session. Together they prepare the food and the hall, welcome the guests and chat, serve meals and discuss issues in one-to-one conversations. Concerns that get followed up include health (mental and physical) issues, alcohol and drug dependency, criminal activity, financial matters and of course housing issues.
This is a list of companies, organisations, groups or individuals who have made contributions either in cash or in kind to Devizes Opendoors
Colin Harrison Design Ltd - Graphic Designer based in Melksham
Devizes Opendoors Annual Sponsored Sleepout 2018
News from this year's sleepout
This year's sleepout took place from 8pm Saturday 1st December to 8am Sunday 2nd at St. Mary’s Church, New Park Street, Devizes
We had 10 participants who were willing to brave the elements for one night to raise awareness and funds for Devizes Opendoors. The ages of the group spanned the generations of 7 adults and 3 children, and it was lovely to see some young faces step up to the challenge. These students, who attend Lavington School had also donated the money from their non-uniform day to Opendoors. Settling down at about 8pm for some games and warm drinks, the group then bedded down in the church and porch and passed an uneventful night, waking early to the welcome smell of bacon butties.
This annual event has raised almost £1000, and as John Saunders, Chair of Trustees and on the right in the picture above explained, 'It was a useful opportunity for conversations about further fundraising opportunities'.
If you would like to get involved with us, volunteering on a regular basis, or in a one off event like this, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Thinking of Volunteering with Opendoors?
Volunteers Week: Jess Foord
If you are considering volunteering with us, but would like to know what it is like, take a look at what student Jess Foord had to say:
Student Jess Foord admits she was daunted by the prospect of volunteering at homeless charity Opendoors in Devizes, but six months on she enjoys it so much she never wants to leave.
Jess, who is due to start a Master’s degree in music therapy later this year, wanted to do some volunteering and came across Opendoors online.
“I was quite daunted when I first went in,” she said, “but the other volunteers are so welcoming and the guests at Opendoors are so nice and friendly. They go against every stereotype, they are not scary they are just people that need help and to me they are equals.” She works every Wednesday morning at the charity’s shelter in Devizes, mostly on the reception desk greeting guests when they arrive. She also organises the clothing store where guests can get clean clothes including underwear, jumpers and sleeping bags. Sometimes she also helps in the kitchen, serving hot breakfasts.
“It can be very busy,” she said, “when the weather is good it can be quiet because the guests are out and about, but when the weather is grotty we can get about 30 people in. They arrive in dribs and drabs, but it can be quite hectic.” She enjoys getting to know the guests and finds that understanding the reasons they have for sleeping rough is the key to understanding them. “Once you get to know their story you get to understand them more and you understand more about what makes someone decide to become homeless,” she said.
“When you see how giving someone a pair of shoes or a jumper puts a smile on their face it is amazing and when you remember their name you see how much pleasure they get from that. When they first arrive, if you remember a problem they told you about last time and you ask how they are getting on with it, their face lights up because you have remembered them. That is very rewarding.” She said she has no regrets about signing up and would urge anyone to do what she has. “It has been an amazing experience for me. I just love it here and when it is time to go home I just want to stay forever,” she said.
“When I leave here I am in a happy mood, it is not depressing at all. If you do something that helps someone you feel very fulfilled. If anyone was thinking about any kind of volunteering I’d say “do it, you’ve got nothing to lose. If you can give up bits of your time you can really help a charity and you will get so much out of it.”
The Wiltshire Community Foundation has supported Opendoors Devizes with funding. Volunteers Week, which ran until June 7, celebrates the work and dedication of the millions of people who give up their time to help others. Hundreds of events will be taking place across the country to mark Volunteers' Week. The annual campaign, which was established in 1984, recognises the contribution volunteers make to our communities every day.
You might also like to take a look at our current Volunteer Newsletter.
Night Shelter Update
Opendoors would like to be able to offer the possibility of overnight accommodation for the coldest part of the year, to those would might otherwise be sleeping rough here in Devizes. However, finding a venue to act as an emergency shelter is proving harder than first imagined. The place needs to be suitably equipped, scarcely used by others and acceptable to those living in the area. There is a premise currently being considered. The likelihood of shelters in Trowbridge and Salisbury are looking more certain. Opendoors might set up a transport scheme over the coming winter to get homeless people to these shelters, rather like the Link Scheme gets people to hospitals in Bath or Salisbury.
Opendoors wants to work with local people and, through this, increase the general level of understanding of what Opendoors is and how it helps. It is often only when people step outside of their own comfort zones and into a different environment, that they discover that many of their assumptions are questionable and most of their concerns can actually be addressed. You can read about how some volunteers took part in the annual sleepout in a separate article.
The official government annual rough sleeping statistics were published yesterday (25.01.17) following the count which took place in November 2016.
The official definition of the term “rough sleeper” used for the purpose of collecting data, is: “People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or “bashes”).
There are two methods in which this data can be collated – an estimated method and an actual physical count. The former involves specialist agencies, who routinely engage with rough sleepers, submitting information to the local authority based upon self-declared accommodation status. This information is an accurate figure due to the very nature of the relationships established between the agencies and the service users during the months leading up the night of the count.
The actual method of counting is impossible to be conducted due to the rural nature of a county like Wiltshire. In this county rough sleepers are not visible in the same way that they are in the larger towns. Rough sleepers will do whatever they can to remain safe on the streets and therefore they will be hidden away in areas that are not frequented by the public at night. This has meant that it is virtually impossible to conduct an actual count due to the fact that it is not feasible to go traipsing around woods, fields, laybys etc in the middle of the night trying to find someone sleeping in a tent or car.
Both methods of counting, in the north of the county, took place on the night in November with the two specialist agencies, Doorway and Opendoor, carrying out the estimated method and the Local Authority carrying out the actual count on foot in the two town centres of Chippenham and Devizes. Subsequently, there were shown to be significant discrepancies between the two figures with the actual method producing lower results.
Unfortunately, Wiltshire Council opted to submit the lower figures to central government despite our two organisations raising concerns regarding the validity of the statistics.
Specifically we raised concerns regarding the following:
- The narrow definition of the term ‘rough sleeper’ excludes “people in hostels or shelters, people in campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protest, squatters or travellers”. Because the definition includes people in derelict buildings, both Doorway and Opendoor included several rough sleepers who were known to be sleeping in buildings which met this criteria. However, the council redefined those individuals as “squatters” meaning they were subsequently eliminated from the final figures.
- A number of rough sleepers were known to be sleeping rough in rural areas which weren’t visited by council officials on the night of the count and were thus eliminated from the submitted figure.
- Several of the Chippenham based long term rough sleepers moved across the county boundary into Bath the week before the count and were not included in the Wiltshire figures or in the Bath figures since they were not yet engaging with the homelessness services in the neighbouring city. Two long term Devizes rough sleepers also moved out of the county to other Local Authorities the week before the night of the count and possibly were also eliminated from the national figures.
In addition we are raising general concerns regarding the following factors:
- Rough sleepers often alternate between staying out on the streets and sofa surfing depending on whether they can access accommodation with friends or family. It is therefore only a 50/50 chance as to whether they can be recorded as rough sleeping on any given night.
- Due to both the rural nature of the county and the chaotic lifestyles of those living on the streets, people often do not regularly engage with specialist services in the main towns. Therefore, it is impossible to produce an actual figure on just one night of the year. Very often our rough sleepers will also disappear for a period of time before once again re-engaging with our services.
- Specialist support services only exist in three of Wiltshire’s towns, Chippenham, Devizes and Trowbridge in addition to the main service located in the city of Salisbury. Other large towns such as Corsham, Calne, Melksham and all the smaller villages, are not able to provide estimated or actual figures for the night of the count due to the absence of any specialist organisation. We know that there are people sleeping rough throughout the county who are not engaged with daycentres and therefore excluded from the annual statistics.
On a positive note, both our organisations worked very closely with Wiltshire Council and the two hostels in the county, in the weeks leading up the day of the count, in order to successfully accommodate a number of rough sleepers and we will continue to do so. A newly appointed outreach worker has also recently been recruited by the council to help facilitate inter-organisational working relationships and positive outcomes for supporting rough sleepers in the county.
Devizes Opendoors is a registered charity supporting local homeless and vulnerable adults. It runs four drop-in sessions a week at St. John’s Parish Rooms, Long Street, Devizes, SN10 1NN and cooked meals are served at three of these.
Opendoors’ mission is to help people move on in their lives in order to find greater happiness and fulfilment. We are an ambitious charity and plan to develop a range of new services and possibilities over the next months and years.
Our team of friendly and caring volunteers work with guests in a variety of ways and help link people up with specialist agencies that can offer professional advice with housing, drugs and alcohol abuse and financial problems. There is help available to use the phone and laptop, help with bus fares to appointments, access to a clothing store, laundry tickets, a shower and surplus food to take away,
Opendoors wants to appoint a paid Co-ordinator for 10 hours a week on between £11 - £14ph, subject to experience. The person must have a passion for improving the opportunities for disadvantaged adults and have good organisation skills. They will co-ordinate the training and duties of the team of voluntary workers and will have the support of a Deputy Co-ordinator and the Trustees in seeing that all sessions run well.