50 years on: Why a Preston homeless charity is needed more than ever

The Foxton Centres Jeff Marsh and Karen Lambert of Happy Creative
The Foxton Centres Jeff Marsh and Karen Lambert of Happy Creative
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For 50 years the Foxton Centre has reached out to Preston’s most needy and vulnerable.

It’s long tradition of commitment to the local community is being celebrated today, with a clear message that its work is needed now more than ever.

A shelter that has been built by users of the Foxton Centre in Smiths Rec, Preston

A shelter that has been built by users of the Foxton Centre in Smiths Rec, Preston

What started off as a simple goal has developed into multi-strand approach to address ever-increasing demands of a changing city, with the charity stepping in to fill gaps left by changes to care provision and the benefits system.

Jeff Marsh, chief executive of the Foxton Centre, said: “People always say, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know you did that much. “This has always been an area of high deprivation. We started off as a children and young people’s centre, but over the years the clients have changed and the world has changed.

“We still do the youth work, and we’re very proud of that, but we’re better known for our work with homeless people.”

In fact there are three main strands of work for the 20 members of staff and 40 volunteers at the Foxton Centre – children and young people, sex workers, and the homelessness.

The Streetlink project is run by the Foxton Centre in Preston

The Streetlink project is run by the Foxton Centre in Preston

To celebrate the half-century milestone, the charity is calling on Preston’s community to support them with a series of fund-raising events with a ‘50’ theme, such as a 1950s day or support from a 50th birthday party.

Money raised will be channelled towards supporting the charity’s Housing First scheme, which sees rough sleepers moved into permanent accommodation.

Latest figures show that in October, the Foxton Centre was used by 65 people who had been rough sleeping at some point during that month, two thirds of them men, the youngest 18 and the oldest 73.

Many have multiple needs in terms of substance abuse and mental health problems.

Last year in the North West, the number of rough sleepers was up 39 per cent on the year before – something Jeff believes is the result of changes from Central Government.

“There’s a clear correlation between Universal Credit coming into force and a rise in rent arrears and a rise in food bank use”, he said.

“There’s other benefit changes too. For instance, if you’re under 35 and single, you qualify for £53 a week towards rent. But all you can get in Preston for little money is a room in a shared house for about £90 a week, and even then, there’s not a huge amount of that housing around.

“There’s big structural problems, such as mental health provision, changes to benefits, a lack of housing.

“Needs change all the time. Fifty years ago there weren’t the same amount of people on the streets, there wasn’t the level of drug problems as there is today.

“We’ve changed because we’ve had to change.

“The need in this city will grow and change again over the next 50 years.

“I think we’ll be busier in terms of homelessness, vulnerable women and young people.”

Homelessness and the housing first scheme

“This is what we’re best known for”, said Jeff, despite it only being a service that has developed in the past 12 years.

“We focus on the sharp end of the triangle.

“We’re at the front end, on the street in the city centre, going to visit people in car parks and doorways. People are out at different times of the day and night and want to stay out of sight, so we need to be creative about how we approach things.

“We’ll go and introduce ourselves and ask if they’re alright and whether they need anything. We take food, hot drinks and a mobile phone, so we can help put them make medical appointments or meetings with the local authority.

“We also encourage them to come to our building, but not everybody wants to come.”

The Foxton Centre runs a day centre offering free hot breakfasts and practical needs such as a shower, a washer and dryer, as well as a place for homeless people to meet social work students from UCLan who can start to make an assessment of needs and develop a plan.

“Whatever the person needs, we will do it,” said Jeff.

“We can put them up tonight in emergency accommodation and we can offer money for reconnections, for example, if a person is away from a strong family unit elsewhere, for the sake of £40 for a train ticket, it’s a much more sensible option than emergency accommodation.

“We also have close links with the city council and work with them to secure long-term accommodation.”

Three years ago, the charity began its Preston Housing First scheme, which takes a new look at the idea of housing homeless people.

Jeff said: “It turns the approach on it’s head.

“Traditionally, you would move from a hostel to semi-supported living, then eventually you’re on your own.

“But many of these places are dry - you can’t have a drink or drugs - and for a lot of people that’s too far away to achieve.

“People live in the moment, they want to know where their next bag of smack is coming from. Anything beyond that is too much.

“So we put them into stable accommodation first, then address their support needs.

“It’s part of current Government thinking, but in Preston we’re already well ahead.”

Local company Mitec have provided properties for the Foxton Centre to use. Currently in the Preston area, there are 10 shared houses with three people in each, with two more one-bed apartments.

Jeff said: “We are getting people off the streets and providing an intensive package of support, so they don’t fall apart.

“What we see is people stabilise their lives and start to normalise. Then very often, mental health issues start to come to the fore.”

Other problems also become apparent when a person’s life starts to stabilise, something the charity is working to address.

Jeff said: “When people are in recovery, they have lots of time on their hands. There is a yawning abyss people are worried about falling back into, so we look at how we can fill that time positively.

“We get people in recovery serve breakfast for rough sleepers as a way of giving back, giving them pride and confidence, and showing other people what can be achieved.”

The charity also has wellbeing classes and runs football teams, yoga sessions and craft days.

Jeff added: “We’re adding to people’s lives. Most people have had no enjoyment at all, and it’s about addressing that too.”

To support the charity in its 50th year, download a sponsorship pack from: https://www.thefoxtoncentre.co.uk/donate
The charity, which has a turnover of around £600,000 also needs ongoing donations of cash and goods such as toiletries.

Volunteers are also always wanted.