THE Christmas spirit of goodwill doesn’t end once the trimmings are taken down at CARE Dewsbury, for this is an organisation which lives up to its name all year round.
Nevertheless, at this time of year there is a particular poignancy about the work which takes place in a former store room at Dewsbury Baptist Church, in Manor Road.
For the past four years, this has been the base from which Churches Together in Dewsbury has provided a lifeline for countless destitute people, offering advice, companionship and a listening ear – as well as the only hot meal many might eat that week.
Volunteer Brian Taylor said: “Since we began, we’ve provided more than 8,200 hot meals to people who are in real need and the number who visit each week has almost doubled. We help people in all kinds of difficulties who often don’t know where to go, as the number of different organisations can make it a daunting experience.”
CARE, which stands for Care And Respect for Everyone, has a regular team of around 10 helpers from among the 14 congregations represented by Churches Together, plus more it can call on if needed.
Every Monday and Thursday morning, the group provides advice, counselling, assistance with filling in forms and helps people, who are often grappling with a crisis in their life, to find their way through the confusing mass of agencies and local authority departments.
Fellow volunteer Liz Exley said: “We don’t receive any outside funding but we get a tremendous amount of help from all kinds of local organisations.
“Churches, schools and individual people send us food, then every Monday and Thursday morning Sainsbury’s brings us bread and cakes.
“Demand has gone up a lot over the past year or so. When we started, there would usually be 20 to 25 people per session but now that can be 40 or more.
“When the housing benefit changes come in next January, we predict those numbers will go up again.”
CARE Dewsbury grew out of a sandwich and hot drink service provided by Dewsbury Minster, when volunteers found themselves struggling to cope with the number and nature of clients it attracted.
Mr Taylor said: “Kevin Partington, from the Minster, brought the issue up at a Churches Together meeting and we felt called to do something, especially for homeless people. The baptist church had a spare room and we got funding from Kirklees Council’s area committee and Dewsbury Rotary Club to help refurbish the room.”
Work included installing a kitchen, while more recently the Manor Road base also has a number of computers donated and maintained by St John Fisher High School, where the son of another volunteer, Malcolm Brooke, is a teacher.
Mr Taylor believes one of the reasons so many people entrust themselves to CARE is that they feel a sense of ownership.
He said: “People are happy to come here, they regard it as their own place. One thing that’s very important to many of them is that whatever goes on here is confidential, so there’s a lot of trust.”
A typical client is Malcolm, 44, who was recently released after two years in prison and, like many others in his position, had no accommodation.
He said: “There are lots of organisations to help you but this one is the best. I’d sooner come here than anywhere else.”
Jason, 34, has been a regular visitor since the project began. He said: “When it started I was living on the streets and it was freezing.
“The people here know how hard it is living rough so Brian put me in touch with housing and they found a place for me.”
Today, CARE is serving its final meal of the year, a Christmas buffet accompanied by carol singing.