Gillingham Street Angels
Each Christmas we donate to charities local to our Maidstone and Gravesend offices in lieu of sending Christmas cards and this year our combined donation went to Gillingham Street Angels. A relatively new charity which was set up in 2018, Gillingham Street Angels are having a huge impact in Medway and Maidstone.
Paul Mannering presented a cheque to CEO Neil Charlick and Debbie Brooke who we met at the High Street Heroes Awards when she was crowned a winner for one of the employee awards. They also provided a fantastic buffet for us to enjoy.
We met them at their café in Doust Way, Rochester which was packed with lunchtime diners enjoying a fabulous range of home cooked meals. In a warm, comfortable, and welcoming environment open to all, the team explained the work that they do.
Gillingham Street Angels started in 2018 when Neil and his wife Tracy and their friends Matt and Max realised there was a growing issue with homelessness in their community and they wanted to do something proactive to help.
The wider local community heard what they were doing, and volunteers and support grew and soon they had a Facebook page which listed what was urgently needed to keep those on the streets warm and safe. Within a few weeks over 1,000 people had joined the group and Neil started receiving hundreds of calls from people wanting to help.
With the generosity of so many and collaboration with organisations such as FairShare, soup kitchens were established in two locations providing a range of delicious, home cooked hot meals made with fresh ingredients. Friendships were made and many community groups were created to help reduce isolation and provide safety in numbers for those on the streets.
Over the weeks the numbers of service users grew, and the team realised that it wasn’t just homeless people who were using their services, it was also members of the local community, young families and elderly people who were struggling and had no where else to turn. In 2019, the charity rebranded to Gillingham Street Angels, and they began the search for premises for a charity shop. The shop would go on to provide a valuable income stream but also be used as a drop off and distribution point for essential items.
The team then took over a café providing meals for elderly people in a local care home, and they also provided hot meals for the shop to hand out to those in need. Despite having to vacate these premises due to the landlord selling up, the team quickly found new, larger premises which became their Gillingham food bank, which is now used by 21,500 people each month.
The pandemic changed plans dramatically for the Gillingham Street Angels which also saw demand for their services rocket. This included providing 6,500 free school packed lunches for a six-week period for children who would normally receive a free school meal while schools were closed for Covid. This has now risen to around 15,000 during the school holidays and half terms. The Street Angels also provide free school uniforms, shoes, other clothing, furniture and other essentials for children and their families.
The Street Angels have an allotment plot which provides a quiet space for those keen to help but want to be in a less front-line role, helping to grow healthy and seasonal fruit and veg. This also helps people with mental health conditions and those who experience social isolation.
The ingenuity and connectiveness of the charity has seen collaborations with many different organisations including Sainsbury’s, Kent Autistic Trust, Chatham Football Club to name just a few. Also, with a fantastic recycling project called the Crisp Packet Project St. Mary’s Island, which turns crisp packets into waterproof sleeping bag covers, survival bags, woven floor mats and other useful items and helps to reduce the amount of waste going into landfill.
Pets are also supported where needed to help keep families and street homeless people and their furry friends well-looked after.
The charity is now a £1m plus operation and as well as Angels Café in Maidstone, one of our High Street Heroes runners-up, they have two charity shops in Gillingham and the food bank, in Rochester a charity shop, café, seafood bar and they have just started the cooking at the City Wall pub. This is in addition to the food kitchens and community bus which offers walk in medical support for users.
They also have ambitions for projects involving re-cycled bicycles for children and are considering an expansion into other parts of the county.
After meeting with Neil and Debbie we were blown away by the ambitions, innovation, enthusiasm, and the ability to deliver by this incredible team which numbers around 150 volunteers. They also work closely to support victims of domestic abuse, transphobia and they have an inclusive and welcoming approach to all. They support people of all ages and from many different cultures. They work closely with the Police who bring homeless people to them so they can provide them with support to keep them safe.
Neil who has himself been homeless despite an early career in a Barrister’s Chamber understands the needs of those on the streets and comments:
“Ultimately, we want to grow and to help more people, and people desperately need our help. Families are faced with the choice of heat or food, children are in desperate need of uniform and shoes, homeless people need to be kept safe and warm in these winter months. Many people have nothing, and we aim to provide for their needs, no questions asked and to help them to get back on track.”
If you would like to find out more or to support the work of the Gillingham Street Angels go to https://www.thestreet-angels.org/