The winter of 1990-91 was very severe and, with an estimated 150 people sleeping rough in Manchester, volunteers from Lifeshare responded and opened two night shelters at the Methodist Central Hall and the Church of the Ascension in Hulme. Again, very quickly it became obvious that this also wasn’t what people wanted or needed. They were glad to have the opportunity to come off the streets but people wanted their own homes and support to address their problems, rather than a mattress on a church floor.
By 1994 people were telling us that they wanted much more than soup runs. They wanted to take more control over their lives. We took a group of people to London to visit the Big Issue, which had just started, and came back and wrote a Manchester supplement and the Big Issue in the North was born. People were requesting a place where they could get support during the day and more activities to get involved with. Lifeshare wrote to the City Council and to the Church of England to request some land to put a portacabin on. The Council never replied but Ken Riley, the Dean of Manchester Cathedral offered their brass rubbing room. Within 6 months an application was made to English Heritage to put a new door into the Cathedral from Victoria Street, a grant was obtained from the Booth Charities (set up by Humphrey Booth in the 17th century to help poor people of Salford), giving the Booth Centre its name, and the room was converted to include an office, toilet and tea bar, and the Centre opened with a co-ordinator and 6 volunteers on 1st May 1995.
The official opening of the Centre dedicated it to the memory of Mick Leddy and Peter Ryan who had lived on the streets for many years and had died prematurely. The vision was that everyone should have the opportunity to have their own home and good quality of life. The Centre was based on several key principles; firstly, that everyone should have access to good quality advice, so that they can make decisions and take control of their lives, secondly that the Centre should be shaped and delivered with people who use the service and thirdly that everyone needs a purpose in life and that people who are homeless should have the opportunity to take part in activities that are creative, fun and interesting. So, our strapline in 1995 was “drop-in for advice, activities and support”, our logo was a person parachuting and we offered sandwiches and an advice service each morning and ran drama, singing, creative writing, art and circus skills sessions each afternoon. Billy Kennedy, who lived at Mary and Joseph House, arrived the day before we opened and told us he would sweep the floor. He was the first of hundreds of people who came to the Booth Centre for support and ended up helping to run the Centre.
In 1997 the Booth Centre’s registration with the Charity Commission was approved and it became an independent charity with a board of trustees, chaired by Philip Knowles and including the Dean of the Cathedral. It was also the year the Centre employed its second worker and developed more activities including regular outdoor pursuit residentials, giving people the opportunity to try new things outside the city. Later this developed into conservation work, an allotment project and a gardening social enterprise which we ran for a few years before it was taken over by our trainees as an independent concern.
The Centre teamed up with Business in the Community to start a job club and over the last 25 years helped hundreds of people who were or had been homeless get into work. This included employing people at the Centre who were homeless and enabling them to secure and maintain a home through the confidence and skills they gained by working at the Centre.
In 1994 with the expansion of the European Union we began to see people who had come to the UK to get work but who, for various reasons, had become homeless and destitute. We set up a reconnection service to help those who wanted to return home and a support service to help others to get into work and secure accommodation. This was the start of our EU Homeless Prevention Service, which over the last 15 years has ensured that Manchester doesn’t have the problems of cities like London where over 40% of people on the streets are European Nationals (Manchester it is less than 2%). Our EU Homeless Prevention Partnership won a Spirit of Manchester Award in 2021.
Over the last 26 years, the Booth Centre’s arts programme has opened up new interests and experiences to more than a thousand people. It has enabled people at the Centre to, amongst many other things, perform at the Royal Exchange Theatre, The Bridgewater Hall, and The Royal Opera House in London and to stage exhibitions at the Whitworth Art Gallery and the People’s History Museum. We have also taken people to Brazil and Lithuania to exhibit their work and make international links. We have worked with fantastic partners in the arts sector including The Edge Theatre, Streetwise Opera and arthur + martha and have won a number of arts awards. It is one of the many things that makes the Booth Centre a very special and creative place.
The pioneering work of the Centre and the dedication of volunteers, most of whom have experienced homelessness, was recognised in 2015 when we won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and in 2018 when we won the Homeless Link National Excellence award for Co-production.
In 2020 as COVID-19 was emerging we met with people at the Centre to redesign our service to ensure that we could stay open throughout the pandemic and that people were able to get off the streets and look after their mental health by having access to a range of activities which helped them to stay safe and accommodated. We also achieved our aim of delivering Emergency Accommodation Standards in Manchester, through our work with the City Council and all our other partners, which ensures people no longer have to stay in night shelters but have single room accommodation with support.
We have not yet eradicated rough sleeping but the services that exist in 2021 are significantly better than they were in 1991. The launch of the Manchester Homeless Partnership in 2017, which the Booth Centre played a leading role in, has brought together the voluntary and statutory services with the faith-based sector, businesses and people who are homeless to ensure that we have a joined-up approach to ending homelessness in Manchester.
People know that the Booth Centre never gives up on anyone and won’t give up on them - quite uniquely people aren’t barred from the Centre but we work with people to ensure that they can attend safely.
Fundamentally the Booth Centre is a family and is described by most people who visit as a safe place where they feel welcomed and where they matter as an individual. This is shown very strongly each year when we hold a memorial service and come together as a community to remember friends from the Centre who have passed away. It’s a Booth Centre family event, people write and perform songs and poetry and we ensure that people who have attended the Centre are important and won’t be forgotten.
Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving the Booth Centre and a new CEO will be recruited to help guide the Booth Centre on the next stage of its journey. I do not doubt that it will continue to develop new and innovative ways to try and achieve its mission of ensuring that everyone has a secure home and a good quality of life. I’m sure that the new CEO will find it a life-changing experience, just as I and most of the people who visit, volunteer or work at the Centre have done.
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the Centre over the last quarter-century - you’ve helped to create a very unique and special place.
As cold weather approaches, Manchester City Council and other members of the Manchester Homelessness Partnership have been working together to ensure the right support is in place to help people sleeping rough off the streets this winter.
Every year during the colder winter months, the council expands its accommodation provision with additional help for people sleeping rough over and above the year-round services that are always available. Extra provision is initiated when the temperature is forecast to drop below freezing, as more people are likely to engage with services and come inside due to the life-threatening temperatures.
Learning from the experience during the pandemic, which included the success of bringing people into safe spaces for longer, the council will be offering Covid-safe accommodation with the focus on individuals accessing extensive support services to help them rebuild their lives until they can be moved on to more permanent accommodation.
Building on that success, this year, the council’s extended accommodation offer will run throughout the winter months from early December to 31 March and will include space for 50 individuals with en-suite rooms in an ex-hotel, outside the city centre. These bed spaces will be targeted for people who have been identified by partners and outreach teams as having high priority need and who have been on the streets for a long time and meet the criteria as set by the Homelessness Partnership. The Booth Centre will run the daytime Referral Hub to give easy access to the accommodation.
In addition to this, there will be 50 bed spaces provided in a hotel close to the city centre. These bed spaces will only be activated during prolonged cold weather, when the temperature is forecast to drop below zero, and will offer secure and Covid-safe spaces with support services in place to help people until they can move into more permanent accommodation.
To enable the city’s winter plans to run smoothly, additional support has come through successful partner bids to Homeless Link’s Winter Transformation fund. This £85,342 will fund a full-time Cold Weather Support Co-Ordinator working for Barnabus charity, one of the members of the Homelessness Partnership, who will help coordinate the winter provision. It will also fund a part-time worker at Centrepoint, a Mental Health worker, and will fund specialist support from MASH (Manchester Action on Street Health), On the Out, and the Boaz Trust. The Council will also receive funding from central government through the Rough Sleeper Initiative scheme and the Winter Pressures Fund.
In addition to the enhanced offer in winter the council also has access to 186 - A Bed Every Night - spaces jointly funded by Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority, plus 30 additional spaces in a hotel in Fallowfield which is now an annual council scheme for people sleeping rough. (Both schemes have also had funding through the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Rough Sleeper Initiative).
Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, deputy leader of Manchester City Council said:
“Our preparations this year have taken on board lessons from during the pandemic how we and our partners helped support people who had been sleeping rough into accommodation.
“We understand that as the weather gets colder more people are likely to accept help and want to come inside out of the cold. That is why there is additional emergency provision, and why we must focus our resources on the people who most need our help.
“They are often the most difficult people to reach and our experience shows that if we, along with the help of the partnership, can help them to balance their lives by keeping them in accommodation for that little bit longer, we are more likely to get them to engage with the services that they need to help them to gain the confidence and the ability to move forward to a better and hopefully more stable way of life.”
Amanda Croome from the Booth Centre, one of the organisations involved the Manchester Homelessness Partnership said:
"As a city, we work together to try and ensure that no one needs to sleep rough. We work as a partnership to ensure we have an overarching city approach so that services complement each other without duplication so people don't fall through the net. We have had the help of people who are homeless in designing the new service and they will also be involved in delivering (through our supported volunteering programme) and reviewing it, to ensure that we have the right service to get the best outcomes for people."
The city's cold weather response is being delivered through an expansive public, voluntary and community/charity sector partnership involving Barnabus, the Booth Centre, Coffee 4 Craig, Centrepoint, The Men's Room, On the Out, Reach Out to the Community, MASH, Shelter, Boaz Trust, Greater Manchester Mental Health Services, Urban Village Medical Practice, Street Engagement Hub, Caritas, Greater Manchester Police alongside the council.
Anyone who is worried about someone sleeping rough can report them to the council online at www.streetlink.org.uk