How Newcastle Cathedral became a spontaneous homeless shelter
A woman from Blyth gathered volunteers within a day so that Newcastle Cathedral could stay open overnight to enable homeless people to take shelter from the ‘Beast from the East’ – some of the worst weather the city has experienced in recent times.
Donna Robinson explained how she was looking out her window and couldn’t do nothing: “Yesterday, just sitting in the house, watching the weather outside and thinking about people, you know, not having a home to go to, how cold it must have been and thought ‘you know what would be nice would be if church and community centres opened up and let them in over night’.”
She put a post on Facebook, found the Cathedral’s Facebook page and asked if the homeless could come in. The Cathedral agreed and said that if she could find people to help at short notice the building could stay open beyond 6:30pm to continue offering a shelter for the homeless overnight as well.
Donna continued: “I said ‘I’m sure I can get a team together’ – less than 24 hours later we’ve got piles of quilts, blankets, countless food, tea, coffee, clothes, people coming from all over the place.”
The impromptu social media campaign escalated and soon people from across the community gave up time and money to help. Amazed at the response of a simple Facebook post, Donna said: “It’s escalated pretty much beyond control really! We’ve just got people coming left, right and centre wanting to help.”
Over 70,000 people got in touch with the Cathedral in one night and it was completely inundated with donations of sleeping bags, duvets, blankets, clothing, shoes, toiletries, soup and food from local cafes.
The Venerable Geoff Miller, Acting Dean at Newcastle Cathedral, said: “If you have been in Newcastle long enough you will know that Geordies are generous people, and this proves it yet again. There is a lot of goodwill around. It moved me to tears to see one of our altars just covered in bedding because people have turned up and said, ‘We do not know what to do, would this be any use?’, and you just think, wow, aren’t people great.”
He continued: “There are a few ladies making a bolognese sauce in the kitchen, there are people serving teas and coffees – it’s just amazing really. We’ll do our best to stay open for as long as it takes to clear the weather, though I’m not saying this is going to be a permanent activity – this is a response to something. And of course there are other charities and people who are working day-in day-out and we know that they’re the experts.”
Liz Jenkins, of North East Homeless, said: “Having the opportunity to work with the charities that are supporting this is a God send. The Cathedral has opened its doors and the number of donations we have got is fantastic and it does give a roof over their head for all the people who really need it.”
To listen to Donna Robinson explain how it came about, The Venerable Geoff Miller, Acting Dean at Newcastle Cathedral and Angie Cane, a family support worker speaking to Premier’s Ian Britton, please click the following link: http://bit.ly/2D3CUjG
Here are a selection of pictures capturing the generosity of locals, volunteers, charities and staff who all came together to help the homeless at Newcastle Cathedral last Friday and Saturday.
Based on an original article by Cara Bentley (multimedia journalist for Premier)