There’s nowhere in Banbury for people experiencing homelessness to shower or clean their clothes unless they pay to use facilities at a leisure centre or a launderette. Until now.
Thanks to support from local community members, The Salvation Army has opened showering and laundry facilities at its hall on George St, for people who are homeless to use, completely free.
Lee has been homeless and is looking for permanent accommodation. He said: “Before I knew The Salvation Army had a washing machine, I’d always end up throwing out my clothes when they got too dirty. Someone gave me a really nice jumper that I couldn’t keep because I had no way of keeping it clean.”
Captain Xander Coleman, the local Salvation Army minister, said: “This has been a long-awaited project with much community support, so we are thrilled to finally launch our shower and washing facilities, and want to take the opportunity to thank all the people who have invested so much in getting us here.
“Something as simple as being able to have a shower, shave and wear clean clothes can make all the difference in the world for someone’s self esteem, dignity and sense of self-worth. Offering this service could be life-changing for someone going to a job interview or trying to hold it together while living rough.”
Many individuals and groups in Banbury, including The Salvation Army, have been concerned about the support available for local people experiencing homelessness; they felt more and more people were visible on the streets. Such was the concern that individuals came together on social media and a page on Facebook called ‘Help Banbury’s Homeless’ was created – local people were able to come together to comment about the issues and challenges of homelessness in the area. The page became pivotal as people began to exchange information about the services and provision of care available. Front-line organisations such as the Beacon centre and Cherwell District Council, working together with the police, were working hard to find the best solutions for people experiencing homelessness.
Individuals began asking The Salvation Army what more could be done to help people experiencing homelessness. It was then – in September 2015 - that Captains Xander and Vanessa Coleman, the officers at the corps (church), began holding meetings for people to address some of the challenges. Discussions centred around fundraising ideas as well as helping local understanding and awareness of the services available to people experiencing homelessness, which would enable them to get off the streets and into safe accommodation. The group, made of local people who represented other churches, businesses and individuals with all types of skills and connections, would place posters around Banbury that helped to raise awareness about homelessness.
One area that was identified by the group during the meetings was the lack of free facilities for cleaning clothes and areas to shower in Banbury, so they came together to see how they could build such a facility.
Jo Hobbs, an interior designer, drafted a plan for use within The Salvation Army building, while another from the group asked a builder friend to help with the labour. Everyone came together to contribute something, such as towels for the shower room. In addition, Cherwell District Council donated £5,000 and Banbury Charities donated £3,000 to help with materials and fitting. In addition, the public has donated funds to support ongoing costs to run the facilities and toiletries.
Captain Vanessa Coleman said: “The Salvation Army wants to thank all those who poured so much love, passion, encouragement and support into this project - for all the offers of donations of materials and labour, for the giving of towels, toiletries and money for ongoing upkeep. We are particularly grateful to Banbury Charities and Cherwell District Council for their generous financial support in helping us achieve such a professional and high-end facility that will last for years to come.
“It is with great gratitude and deep sadness that we remember Jo Hobbs, who designed the shower space, before passing away in October 2016. Jo was a passionate advocate of this project and invested many hours and much love into creating a space that would be beautiful and accessible for the people of Banbury to use.”
In addition to these facilities, The Salvation Army serves a light lunch four days a week, from Wednesdays to Fridays, open to anyone in the community. The shower and wash facilities are available Tuesdays to Fridays from 10.30am to 12 noon.
Vanessa said: “We meet to pray together for our community on these mornings and have our food bank open, where people in need can access food, sleeping bags and toiletries. We are delighted to add washing facilities to what we can offer.”
The Salvation Army recently opened their big charity super store in the town in February. Xander said: “We are excited about our new super store, which seems to be thriving, as a gathering place for community and a really great place to buy some serious bargains.”
If you are concerned about someone you’ve seen sleeping rough, please contact StreetLink on 0300 500 0914 or www.streetlink.org.uk, to connect rough sleepers to local services. See more information about The Salvation Army here: www.salvationarmy.org.uk/banbury