Imagine hitting rock bottom and feeling drowned by despair. All hope is gone and everything seems black and bleak and lonely.
Imagine finding a place that is full of light and hope, where a warm welcome is extended by people who care. Safety and peace provide a cushion and paths are laid to other places that can provide support and help towards a better future.
This is the vision of the Night Light Cafe.
A few years ago I was hearing time and again of local people who had found themselves at crisis point with their mental health and had not known where to turn. With clinical services overstretched, there was clearly a gap in provision for crisis care, particularly out of hours. I had a notion that the church could fill this gap, and began to prayerfully consult google to see what solutions other cities had found. I came across the concept of crisis cafes; safe spaces, open out of hours, to provide support for people who were experiencing a crisis in their mental health. In the past, when chatting with friends about times when we had found ourselves in that dark place of a mental health crisis, we had reflected that our situation would have been improved by the availability of such a place, being met with complete acceptance by people who are committed to providing time and attention to those in dire need of some support. So when I came across the idea of crisis cafes, I knew that this was something the churches in Lincoln could help to provide. With the assets of owning many buildings in the city and an army of people whose foundational belief is based on loving others, I wholeheartedly believed that we could achieve this dream. But how?
At Lincoln Foodbank we have always said that we ‘provide 3 day emergency food parcels for local people in crisis’ but really it’s about so much more. The heart behind Foodbank is to build genuine connections with people and help empower them out of their current situation. So many different people come through the doors of our Distribution Centers from different walks of life and each persons circumstances are unique. In 2020 Lincoln Foodbank provided 2649 vouchers to 5722 people making it our busiest year ever. Our volunteers ensure that each person is met with love, compassion and is made to feel that they matter, that they are important and that we care. Lockdown has created some challenges in this but the Foodbank volunteers continue to push forward and continue to seek connection.
We have 4 Distribution Centers around the city and I caught up with the team leader based at the Bridge Community Hub, here’s what a typical day looks like for them:
Our food bank is open for two hours a day, four days a week. We’ve had to change the way we work during lockdown which has been frustrating but important. Instead of having plenty of volunteers and time to sit down with every guest for a brew and a chat, we’re having to socially distance, run on minimum staff and try to minimise the time people spend here. Despite all that, we can show love and honour through the way we talk to people and welcome them in to the building. It also helps that we’re able to offer not just food but also toiletries, pet food, fresh fruit and veg (thanks to Fareshare and Gousto) and even clothes.
We have a different team of volunteers every day and we try to arrange it so each team includes one person from the church and one ex-foodbank user who is keen to help out. As the team leader, it’s my job to look after the volunteers and then they in turn create a culture of welcome and care for our guests.
Before lockdown, we’d be fairly busy every day but we seem to have at least one quiet day most weeks now. A lot of other amazing organisations are distributing food and helping cover the city and we’re a bit of a trek for a lot of people, particularly those in the north. I’m not sure we have an average day but today we supported four single people, three couples and four families. That’s twenty five people helped out thanks to the generosity of people from all over the city. Sometimes we see fewer than that, but even if we only help out one person, that one person is worth two hours of anyone’s time.
Of the people we saw today, one was a young lady who has struggled with drugs all her life. She’s been coming in daily for months now and we’ve all got to know her. She’s cut down on drugs, stopped smoking and leaves for residential rehab on Tuesday. She’s put on a bit of weight and looks healthier and happier than she has in years. Another family we met have been moved to emergency accommodation by the council and had nothing: between us and Life church, we supplied food, toiletries, some vouchers they can use to buy cleaning products and some free clothes to keep them warm and dry.
This morning we did our first shop for the vegetable exchange scheme we’ve set up and we’ve got three local chefs preparing cooking videos and meal packs that we can supply to food bank users from next week. We’ve got a befriending scheme starting to match isolated people up with members of our local church and one of our volunteers completed a funding bid to help us set up a lending library for slow cookers, hobs and pots and pans.
After two hours of pretty intense activity, we have a chat and make sure the volunteer team are all well and feeling happy before they head off to do all the other things they do for free. Soon I’m on my own again making a brew before I crack on with the cleaning. Next week, we’re off again.
Let’s face it, we’re all feeling a bit rubbish at the moment. Living through another lockdown, homeschooling, isolation, grief, loss, winter weather and short, dark days – these things are all taking their toll and it can be difficult sometimes to keep our spirits up and our outlook optimistic.
Sometimes, when the challenges around us feel like mountains, we all need to be reminded there are things to be thankful for.
A review by a Board Trustee
The last year has been challenging for all of us navigating our way through the obstacles we have faced in living in a community facing a global pandemic. As a charity Acts Trust has had to adjust and adapt to ensure it is still relevant to those in our community who we aim to support. At the start of the pandemic we set ourselves four main objectives to enable us to thrive despite the harsh climate we were facing. These were to a) maintain public and staff safety; b) adapt service provision to ensure we continue to provide essential services; c) maintain good communication links with all those we are in relationship with and d) ensure the charity is financially sustainable to continue to provide a community service throughout the course of the pandemic and long into the future.
Each of our core service provisions has had to adapt enormously to ensure they are able to continue to serve the community in a safe manner. We reviewed our service models to a) identify those services that were essential, such as Foodbank and Night Light Cafe’s for people struggling with their mental health; b) identify services that needed to change in order to be safe and effective and c) decide which services we needed to suspend because they could not function under the government guidance. We adapted service provision such as introducing delivery options for foodbank, online provision of Night Light Cafe support, virtual mentoring for school students, online youth club activities and developing an online Life Skills Course. Where we suspended services, such as our community groups like Butterflies, ESOL and Youth Clubs, we have maintained regular communication to support these people and maintain good relationships. We even developed new initiatives to respond to the circumstances such as the Shed Slow Bikers Club to remain connected with isolated men in our society.
Similar to other charities and businesses we faced difficult financial challenges. Due to cancellation of most of our Energize services, resulting in severe financial losses, and the need to continually attract additional funding just to maintain our project provision, we have had to be very active in finding new resources during a very difficult financial climate. We sought to minimise the loss by seeking continuing support of key funding partners. This included Alive Church, our founding organisation, and BBC Children in Need. Both have continued to provide funding throughout the pandemic. We also have received local government funding via business grants and national government funding through the furlough scheme. We have been able to access local and national grant funding to support our projects that are responding to support local people adversely affected by Covid-19. Lincolnshire Community Foundation has particularly been helpful in supporting our applications. Finally our local communities have been extremely generous, both practically and financially. Local people have responded tremendously to requests for extra volunteers and additional food for our Foodbank. We have also received some very generous financial donations from local and regional organisations such as Rockstar International, RAF Waddington and Platform Housing. In addition we have received an astounding amount of individual donations to support our work. For all these gestures of support and generosity we are extremely thankful!
Our greatest asset during this difficult year has been our amazing team of staff and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to ensure we have been able to continue to respond to the changing needs of our local community. We are deeply grateful for their innovation, flexibility and generous hearts. Despite the challenges that we have faced we are in an excellent position moving forward to ensure we will be able to continue to not only maintain our current activities but be able to respond to new opportunities that come our way in the future.
Author: Nigel Woodcock, Vice-chair, Acts Trust Board of Directors
Are people truly empowered if they have had good things done for them? Or to them? When we see a problem and we know the solution, if we jump in and fix it, we may feel great about it, but did we really help?