DEVASTATED volunteers and vulnerable people who use Stratford’s homeless drop-in-centre say its closure has left a huge hole in their lives.
The Stratford District Council-run Link Project has been closed seven weeks while a safety review is carried out after an unspecified incident prompted concerns.
The centre on Waterside provides help, support and advice to rough sleepers, those in temporary housing and the socially isolated, as well as providing showers, washing facilities, food and clothing.
Following the sudden death earlier this month of Link-regular and volunteer Bryn Burn, which raised fears for the mental health of other users, a drop-in session was held at the United Reformed Church in Rother Street to provide an opportunity to talk, and also get hot food, clothing and laundry vouchers.
Jill Harris is a volunteer who relies on the Link for mental health support and to help cope with the loss of her partner in 2016.
“I have gone from volunteering five days a week to nothing.
“I have got mental health issues myself. After Bryn died I could have easily started drinking again but I have been going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) for help. It isn’t the same as the Link though.
“After my partner died it sent me totally off the rails so I re-engaged with the Link. It’s really hard to get out the door sometimes but the Link helps me do that.
“But now what do I do to keep busy? It’s a major lifeline for me and it has left a huge hole. I am devastated.”
Volunteer Di Hartley added everyone was missing the project.
“It doesn’t matter what happened to people in their life but it’s a way to care whether it means putting their washing on or cooking them a meal.
“It’s not just for us it’s for them. We are one big family.”
Rough sleepers who benefit from the centre include Jonas who has been living in a tent in the town for the past two years.
“I’m so sad that it’s closed. It’s really useful not just people on street but vulnerable people. I see a lot of people struggling. I’ve made friends and we share things but having the Link makes it easier.”
Another man, who did want to be named, was forced to leave his home following family issues. He has been sleeping rough in Stratford to be near his son who is receiving medical treatment in the town.
“It’s humbling to see so many people here who care. I’m so glad I came here today. The few belongings I did have got stolen – both my sleeping bag and rucksack.
“The Lifeways charity has supports me and always lends an ear but otherwise there’s just no help. I have been out of accommodation for three years.”
The district council has confirmed it is looking for other potential venues while the Link remains closed.
A spokeswoman said the centre’s value was recognised by the council which stepped in to run the service in 2016 after the former provider Bromford Support stopped operating in Warwickshire.
She added: “Consequently, the frustration that is being expressed over the closure is shared by the district council. But it also falls to the district council to be sure that the service is delivered as safely as is possible for all involved, including the volunteers, and that the outcomes which the Link was first established to achieve are sufficient for today’s Stratford.
“By reviewing how this service is delivered it is possible that more can be achieved than just re-opening the Link as was. While the service is closed, the district council is considering other potential venues from which to offer support, and will happily work to evaluate any suggestions made by local voluntary/community sector organisations, businesses or members of the public.”
* The United Reformed Church runs a soup kitchen between noon and 2pm on a Saturday and Sunday, and St Gregory’s Church also provides food on Tuesdays from 6pm to 7.30pm.
Help and advice for rough sleepers is also available from rough sleeper officer Ann Johnson on 07929 369273.
Visit www.stratford.gov.uk/homes-properties/the-link-project.cfm for details of further support available.