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The Hope Centre: We are going to stand and fight

Robin Burgess at the Sleep Out when it was held in Abington Park

The Hope Centre has been given 12 months to leave its purpose built home at Oasis House in Northampton. Chief Executive of the Hope Group Robin Burgess explains why they are fighting back…

If you have grown up in Northampton and around, many of you will remember, at school, collecting tins and some pasta for the harvest donation to ‘Hope’. You may have had someone come to your school, and tell you what your donation would mean to homeless people in desperate need. As an 18yr old worker in a shop said to me last week, ‘Everybody knows the Hope Centre’.

They know us because Hope does fantastic, invaluable work, that everyone who sees it recognises. Thousands of people support us with donations of money, food, clothes and their time. We fund ourselves, to the tune of nearly £600,000, from the support of the people of Northamptonshire, not governments, not councils, because they see the value of what we do. We feed, clothe and sustain people when they are desperate; help them progress in their lives through control of their addictions, gaining skills for work, we offer training and work opportunities, and advocate their needs for housing.

I say everyone sees this, but it’s not strictly true: there are a small group of people who take a different view. They have given us a notice to quit Oasis house, our current home, within 12 months, without consultation nor engagement with the wider community of Northampton.

We believe it is a small group of people who have made the decision to evict the centre, to snuff out all that brilliant work and cast us, our service users and our supporters, onto the street. They have decided that what we do is not what they want, rather than what the public or our service users want. They believe that we support people to stay homeless, offering them a comfy place where they can get stuff for free and maintain their ‘scrounger’ lifestyle. They say that we offer all this with the effect that people actually travel to Northampton to be homeless here, because of the free bread we provide, instead of being homeless in Milton Keynes or wherever else. Instead, they say we should kick them all out, and only offer them services if they work for it, and only if they magically overcome their mental health and addiction problems, cast off years of self-hatred and abuse, appalling childhoods and horrible recent experience of rape and violence and insults and contempt, and suddenly become ‘worthy’ model citizens, deserving of some cast off clothes and food no-one wanted.

If only it was so easy. But Hope is no soft touch; we charge for hot food and clothes (although at low prices); we do no outreach, making people come off the street to get support; and when they come in, we work hard to offer training, get housing, and the chance to volunteer (i.e. work) to earn a cooked breakfast. But we still believe that you can’t, and should not, deny a starving man a crust unless he begs for help and shows his ‘worthiness’. We treat people with compassion and respect, and encourage them to change with support, not unrealistic demands and bullying.

The people who made this decision propose to replace us in the building we occupy, Oasis House, a building built for us to our specification with government money specifically assigned for us to be there, with their re-located nightshelter.  Whatever the merits of a night shelter, as a good night shelter is very much needed; it can’t replace the services a day centre offers: the clue is in the name, they are as different as day and night. To suggest one can replace the other is manifestly untrue.

It’s 45 years since we set up shop in Northampton, and in that time we have showed compassion, love and encouragement to generations of people in need – including those poor people who are not homeless, who we also help, and who will also be out in the cold when we close. We want to continue to help people for many years to come.

The loss of the Hope Centre will be a disaster for Northampton, and the year’s notice we have been offered is far too short to find and equip, and get planning permission and funding for a suitable building to move to. Oasis House took four years to set up.

That’s why we have decided to take a stand and fight this decision, because we simply have to. We owe it to the people of Northampton and our service users. We feel sure that if the decision is reviewed in the light of facts and proper information, and consulted on by a wider group of people, others in the council and at the landlords, Midland Heart, will conclude that a terrible mistake has been made.

We ask simply that the decision be revoked, and we be allowed to continue to offer the same compassionate services to carry on in the building built only 6 years ago for our use.

At this stage we are supported by a petition set up by one of our patrons, former MP Sally Keeble, which at time of writing had 6000 signatures and rising steadily. You can see it at https://www.change.org/p/midlands-heart-save-the-hope-centre/u/23477981 and please add your name if you feel Northampton needs Hope.

If this article has inspired you to get involved, to help us campaign, or just to volunteer in our day centre, call us on 08455199371 or email volunteering@northamptonhopecentre.org.uk or office@northamptonhopcecentre.org.uk .

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