ONE of St Helens’ best kept secrets.

That’s how Sarah McDonagh from the Hope Centre thinks about the charity that has been supporting the people of St Helens since 2004.

Even before it was given charity status, the voluntary organisation had been helping people for several years.

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Today, the Hope Centre, based at St Helens Christian Life Centre in Atherton Street, runs a number of projects, all with the aim of supporting people when they need it most and equipping them with the tools to go it alone.

The charity’s most notable endeavours are the St Helens Foodbank, which links in with The Trussell Trust’s UK-wide foodbank network, and Hope House homeless day centre.

Hope House, based in Church Street, provides a basic needs and personal care service for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Since April, they have provided 9,656 meals and supported 350 people.

In the same period, St Helens Foodbank has supported 2,569 people.

The charity has also seen an enormous level of generosity from the people of St Helens, with 44 tonnes of food donated.

St Helens Foodbank received so many items during the national lockdown earlier this year that it had to use churches, which had been forced to close, to store donations.

During first lockdown, a number of pop-up foodbanks opened up across the borough as communities rallied round each other.

These have now tailed off significantly as people have returned to work, and as such, St Helens Foodbank is expecting a sharp rise in demand as the pandemic tightens its grip on the region.

St Helens Star: St Helens Foodbank is ran from the Christian Life Centre in Atherton Street St Helens Foodbank is ran from the Christian Life Centre in Atherton Street

But while logistics remains a challenge, the charity is confident donations will still come in aplenty.

“The challenge is maintaining the food supplies,” said Angela Metcalfe, project director at the Hope Centre.

“However, that has never been an issue. If it comes in, it goes out, but it tends to come back in again.

“We’ll put out calls saying we’re short on certain items, and it just gets responded to.”

The charity works closely with The Job Centre, which refers into St Helens Foodbank and Breathe, the Hope Centre’s mental health service.

Sarah McDonagh, the Hope Centre’s development and quality manager, said the charity is planning for a big rise in unemployment in the months ahead.

Hope House is also bracing itself for an influx of people trying to access the service, largely in part to the ban on evictions expiring.

Rough sleepers who were temporarily housed during the first wave, following instructions from the Government, may also find themselves back on the streets.

Sarah said: “With the changes in the restrictions on the landlords being able to evict people, then there’s that potential that there’s going to be more people who are going to be out, homeless.

“Sofa surfers, right at the beginning of lockdown, they were heavily impacted because they would go spend a couple of nights in one friend’s house, a couple of nights in an uncle’s house, couple of nights with another friend.

“But because of the restrictions and not being able to interact with people and have people in your property, they basically became street homeless. Fortunately that provision was made by the Government and the local authories, which was an absolute blessing.”

The Hope Centre runs Baby Basics, which provides a Moses basket and starter packs to expectant mums and families who need a little extra help to welcome their baby home.

St Helens Star: Mums in need of some extra support receive Moses baskets as part of the Baby Basics projectMums in need of some extra support receive Moses baskets as part of the Baby Basics project

It also runs Breathe, a mental health service for people with mild to moderate mental health issues, such as depression, stress and anxiety, and a digital skills class.

Over the course of the pandemic the Hope Centre has had to adapt to the restrictions, while also being met with a reduction in its volunteers.

As the dreaded second wave now looks upon us, seeing tighter Tier 3 restrictions placed on the region, the fear is that people could end up falling through the cracks.

“The biggest thing for everybody is the unknown, because we just do not know,” Sarah said.

“Obviously with the Tier 3, is the Government at some point going to turn round and say, actually, Tier 3 needs a Tier 4, and going back to where we were in March.

“It’s making sure that we can help the people who need our help and as safely for us through our volunteers, for the service users, for the people who’ve come in.

“And we don’t want people to fall through cracks, and it’s making sure those cracks have got enough cover over them to make sure people don’t fall and get lost.

“That’s my biggest worry.”

Whatever happens, The Hope Centre and its army of volunteers are determined to continue to offer a lifeline to those who desperately need it, like they have done for the best part of two decades.

“The longevity’s great because it shows that we’re faithful to the town,” Angela said.

“The fact that we’re still here when there’s been crises of grant funding, local authority cuts and things like that. But it’s just to support the people of the town,

“Should they need us – then they know where to come.”

For more information about the Hope Centre, visit the Hope Centre’s Facebook page.

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