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Spirit Story Winter 2016

We collected five stories during November and December 2016 highlighing the work of charities and voluntary organisations over the winter period.

Growing in the City - Using waste for social benefit
On Wednesday 30th November, Growing in the City held their regular Men’s Shed Manchester session in Openshaw. People can drop in to take part in outdoor activities such as woodwork and gardening and the sessions are open to anyone. Working with people who are in similar situations, fellowship and social interaction are just some of the reasons that participants get involved. It is mainly men who attend and their ages have been anywhere from mid-30s to past retirement age.

On Wednesday, they were making a log store, collecting materials donated by Manchester College and moving a 20 tonne mound of soil that had also been donated with wheelbarrows and shovels. A volunteer runs the session and there are also volunteer mentors who run activities for small teams. The sessions provide social benefits for both participants and the local community by increasing interaction and improving the local environment.


Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter - It is a crucial part of having a faith

On the night of Thursday 1st December, Church of the Resurrection & St Barnabus provided food and accommodation for 12 people as part of the Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter project. This six month project involves seven churches within a mile and a half of the city centre. The shelters are advertised and people are also referred from organisations such as the Booth Centre.

Thursday nights are the turn of the Church of the Resurrection & St Barnabus to offer shelter. They offer hot food, showers and a bed for the night for up to 12 people. Eight volunteers work in shifts from evening to the next morning, and their approach is to offer warm hospitality to their guests. The church sees it as part of their role in promoting social justice. There are not less than 8 people staying each week and they can build relationships by talking with others as well as choosing to watch TV or read. It can also be a first step to finding permanent accommodation. The Greater Manchester Winter Night Shelter has a website - https://gmwns.wordpress.com/ - where people can donate their time or money to the project.

“The shelter provides a safe, caring and welcoming environment for people to feel human. It’s about feeling normal for a few hours and we can support them in a potentially difficult transition to permanent housing. It shows that churches and people of faith can act in a socially just manner to support people. It is a crucial part of having a faith.” Clive Hamilton, Church of the Resurrection & St Barnabus

Helping at an expensive time of year - Wood Street Mission

December 2016 sees the opening of the first Wood Street Mission Christmas Shop. On Friday 2nd December, preparations were being made and they were busy on what was the deadline date for referrals. Families already referred to other Wood Street Mission services within the last year can access the Christmas Shop or those newly referred by a social worker, support worker, health visitor, midwife or from refuges, other charities or schools. On this day, 9 members of staff and 45 volunteers, both regular and corporate, were working at the Wood Street Mission office. The donations of food were mainly from churches and schools and the toys from corporate supporters and individuals.

In 2015, Wood Street Mission distributed Christmas toys and a bag of food items to over 2000 families which benefited over 4500 children. However this year, families will be given a number of points, based on the number of children, and they can then make their selection from toys, gift wrapping and Christmas food in the shop. The shop will be open from Tuesday 6th December from Monday to Thursday. Another first for Wood Street Mission is that on Friday 9th and 16th, they will take the shop to community venues in Gorton and Langworthy. This will make it easier for families to collect goods at a location local to them.

This project benefits children and families, and it is just one part of the work that Wood Street Mission has carried out since 1869, and helps families at an expensive time of year. They can also give people information about their other activities such as SmartStart and school holiday book clubs, and signpost families to other organisations who may be able to provide support.

Southway Housing Trust - Older People and Winter Warmth
Southway Housing Trust are based in South Manchester and manage about 6000 homes. They hold three to five Winter Warmth events every year to give people over 50, and not just their tenants, easy access to information about keeping warm in winter. These events provide a range of advice and services including nutrition and exercise information, energy efficiency, and advice on local voluntary sector groups which offer activities and support.

At the event on 24th November at Old Moat Community Centre in Withington, there were 10 people working at the event including Southway staff, and benefit and health advisors who were available to answer questions. There were a number of volunteers and all people attending were told about volunteering opportunities they could take up. A hot lunch was provided and everyone who came along received a Winter Warmth Pack which included soup, hot drink sachets, biscuits, a thermometer, blanket and a range of information booklets.

The benefits of these events are that they can help people to stay warm, save money, be more informed about activities in their area and it helps to build relationships in communities with older people feeling more connected. They attract 30 to 40 people at each event and are part of a wider programme of Southway Age Friendly activities. Cathy Ayrton, Naturally Occurring Retirement Community Project Officer at Southway says “50% of our tenants are aged over 50 and these events are very much about supporting them to keep warm and connecting with others in their area. Volunteers are an essential part of these events and we encourage everyone attending to take up other volunteering opportunities within their community.”

Greater Manchester Law Centre - Free advice to help people navigate the system
On Tuesday 6th December, the newly opened Greater Manchester Law Centre held an Employment Support Allowance (ESA) Appeals Service session in Moss Side. People have their needs assessed by a volunteer prior to the session and appointments are booked for cases such as being ineligible for ESA following a Work Capability Assessment or a declined appeal. Staff find that there is a lot of confusion about the different stages of the process.

They had seven bookings for this session on 6th December. Reception volunteers speak to the users in the first instance and they then see volunteer experienced welfare rights advisers. At this time, the service was run by volunteers with no paid staff. There are usually three volunteers on reception, the volunteer centre manager, four volunteer advisers, and a supervising welfare rights person.

Open since September 2016, the Greater Manchester Law Centre also has solicitors offering free advice coming in when they can, usually once a week, to help people with a wide range of enquiries about all benefit issues, family law, employment law, probate, housing and tax. They also campaign around access to legal services and provide training.

"The main problem people face is not understanding what they can do if their ESA application has been refused but they themselves know they are not fit enough to work. The Centre provides free advice to help people navigate the system and to be aware of their rights." Norma Turner