Running a Day Centre for homeless people near London Bridge
The Manna Society started life in 1982 with the support of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Southwark and the relationship with St. James’ extends back to 1991, at a time when the RC priest in that area was talking to the Anglican priest covering the same territory. It just so happened that the Anglican clergyman had been at theological college with our own incumbent at that time thereby sowing the seeds of a long and fruitful relationship which has done nothing other than to gather momentum over almost three decades.
The twice yearly appeals for ambient foodstuffs, toiletries and other essentials (according to the needs of the centre) continue to be well supported with a full “Transit” sized van going from Weybridge to Southwark in the spring and at Harvest Festival. Is this now a tradition, a habit or is it something that simply falls into the category of “lacking a good reason for not doing it”?
Open every day between 08:30 and 13:30, the Manna Centre offers breakfasts and lunches, hot showers (soap and towels provided!), clean clothes and a long list of other services including advice on housing and welfare as well as support for refugees and migrants. The centre also hosts visits from various clinicians such as nurses, osteopaths and chiropodists and provides access to computers and IT support so that clients can look for work, create a CV, log on to email accounts and claim benefits. Alternatively, clients can just sit quietly with their thoughts or read a book without fear of harassment.
A typical day will see between 120 and 150 clients, usually about 95% male and 5% female. Every one of these people will have their own back story but about half will be street homeless / rough sleeping, a quarter will be homeless but staying in hostels or “sofa surfing” and the remainder will be living in the socially rented housing centre. They will have their origins from all over the world but about half will be from the British Isles and the balance could be from anywhere but with a high incidence of people from Eastern and Central Europe and Africa.
The period of lockdown caused by the Covid 19 pandemic brought with it many challenges as face to face services had to be suspended. Meals prepared on the premises were still provided, initially as takeaways and then delivered to the temporary hotel and hostel accommodation. Advice and support services were switched to online and telephone and the situations in respect of all aspects of service provision remains subject to constant review – but always aimed at the optimisation of the offer based upon prevailing circumstances.
Over almost 40 years there have been many changes in how the charity operates, the geographic origins of the clients and the reasons for their being there but the fundamentals remain unchanged in that the provision of services is non-judgemental and always delivered with the love of God for all mankind.