BeAttitude is a community based at St Mary le Wigford Church in the centre of Lincoln. We are a community that welcomes and includes people from all walks of life and we are made up of professionals and the unemployed, young and old and people of differing abilities and backgrounds. A large number of our community have been or are currently homeless and many are migrants from Eastern Europe. We welcome into our community people with addictions and those who have been released from prison, those who struggle with mental health issues and those who find it hard to fit in elsewhere.
We aim to provide a place where no one needs to be excluded because of what has happened to them in the past or because they are currently in a difficult situation. Instead we look to find a way to include everyone and work together as a community to build the foundations of a better future.
BeAttitude is often described as a family by those who come along and we strive to provide the sort of consistant loving support a family can give as well as the boundaries and challenges to behaviour that a loving environment needs to have.
We offer hospitality to those in need as a means initially of engagement but then as a way of fostering relationships within the community and providing platforms upon which support, advice and friendship can be built. We signpost people to and support them in accessing a wide range of other valuable services in the city; The Nomad Trust, Adaction, Mental Health Services, AA to name but a few. For many people BeAttitude is the 'family' that they do not have and as such we offer the help that a family offers through our open (almost!) all hours approach, our 'family calendar' – reminding people about appointments – and by accompanying people to those appointments as well as through the engagement of the many different characters that offer support from mother and father figures, to uncles, brothers, sisters and many others!
How we started
BeAttitude began one cold November evening in 2008. A small group of us were talking and praying in the church about social justice issues and asking God what to do when a young man came in through the front door. He had all he possessed inside a couple of plastic carrier bags and he carried a sleeping bag under his arm. "Can I come in?" he asked "It's cold outside". We offered him a hot drink and chatted for a few minutes and then he asked if his friends could come in too. In just a few minutes another 5 people. 4 men and one woman joined him. We talked to them for a while and invited them back again the following week. Over the next few weeks, as the weather got colder we regularly had 15 to 20 'rough sleepers' visit us and we managed to offer soup and bread as well as cups of tea. Our conversations with our guests led us to ask them what would help them most through the winter months and they discussed this before suggesting that their biggest problem was having somewhere to go on a Sunday in particular. We decided that we would open the church on a Sunday evening and provide a hot meal for those who came along. By January 2009 we had about 50 people coming along regularly, many homeless or 'vulnerably' housed (in insecure accomodation or 'sofa surfing') but others with different problems and some simply lonely.
The motive behind offering food was always with the intention of engaging in a way that would not happen except around a table. The simple act of sharing meal with people meant that barriers were broken down and conversation could happen in a natural way. It also meant that those who came along had the opportunity to serve one another. From the very beginning our guests were part of a serving community. They offered to cook the meal themselves and we encouraged them to plan the meal, budget for it and do all the preparation too. We found a voluntary services organisation willing to put a number of our community through basic food hygiene certificates as well as first aid courses.
As the community grew, so did the number of volunteers. In fact most people who came along wanted to offer to do something and so we soon had rotas for peparation, cooking, washing up, drinks, setting out the tables, laying out the cutlery – as many jobs as we could think of!
It became apparent that as we built strong relationships with those who came along on a Sunday night, we were also identifying areas in which they needed help and support that was beyond our ability to provide on a Sunday evening. We decided to open on a weekday so that we could make the neccessary phone calls to benefit agencies and others in order to resolve the issues that were being presented.
Over the year the people who joined our community with different gifts grew. We had some who came who were wonderful cooks, and others who were brilliant at being friends. Others were good at practical things, like washing up and some had mentoring skills, support worker skills or even a house that they were willing to allow us to put people into.
By the end of 2009 it was clear that a real community had developed and all the marks of true community were visible. People supported one another in difficult times and good wand wanted to celebrate life events with one another – we had weddings and baptisms, parties and thanksgivings. We also, sadly, had to hold funerals as members died and as a community based in a church we were able to meet the needs of many those who came on a spiritual level as well as physically.
A community is a group of people who work together for the good of the whole and of the individuals. Everyone who came along wanted a role to play no matter what their circumstances. We found people amongst us with the skills for organising volunteering and rotas and training needs and we are now able to offer volunteering opportunities to anyone who requests one. It may be a formal placement arranged through the Job centre or probation, with set hours and required outcomes, or it could be an informal arrangement between ourselves and an individual who wants to fill spare time. Many of our volunteers have problems which would exclude tham from volunteering elsewhere. Mental health issues, a criminal record an alcohol problem or something else is usually a barrier to volunteering. We made a decision very early on not to allow these issues to exclude and we work hard with the individual, the leaders in the community and the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer to ensure that everyone finds their place.
We also provide training opportunities in Food Hygiene, Health and Safety, First Aid to name but a few and we are hoping very soon to be able to work with NVQ assessors to offer recognised qualifications.
On November the 30th 2010 snow fell heavily. The weather had already been very cold and we were providing day time shelter to many of the homeless and vulnerable around the city amongst them some 20 Migrant Workers from various parts of Eastern Europe.
The Nomad Trust implemented its Severe Weather Action Plan and took in at night allthe people who had recourse to public funds (people who are entitled to benefits and therefore housing benefit which pays for their bed at The Nomad). This left the Migrant Workers who had no such entitlement with nowhere to go and so, following discussions with The Nomad, St Mary le Wigford Church opened its doors at night. The first night we opened we had 22 people sleeping on the floor of the church hall on bunks, camp beds and inflatable mattresses. Through the wonderfully generous support of many people in and around Lincoln we were able to sustain over 40 men and women over the winter months. We funded 7 to return to their home countries, we helped another 9 obtain passports and documentation to allow them to work. We helped others to move very quickly into their own accomodation and others to access services for mental health and addiction issues. At the end of the winter, when we had no option but to close the night shelter we provided tents and on going support to those still without housing. Of course the 22 that stayed with us on the first night were not the same ones who were with us on the last night – but many of those who engaged with us over the winter have remained a part of the community and regular visitors. There are still many migrants to the city in need and we have been funded in part by the police to work with this group of people.
One of the wonderful things to happen during our night shelter days was the way that we sat down as a community every morning and evening to share a meal. We opened the meal up to some of the British rough sleepers who were struggling to access shelter and many barriers between the indigenous population and those from overseas were broken down over the meals.
The success of the meals at building bridges and encouraging understanding was such that we decided to continue to some degree into the spring and summer. And so on the 1st May we launched our breakfast club. Our target clients were rough sleepers of any nationality and street drinkers. We decided to make a small charge for the breakfast as a way of encouraging good choices in those who came along. Many of our clients are alcoholics or drug users and many of these would rather spend their money on drugs/alcohol than food. If we gave food to them for nothing then it allowed them to spend even more on their addiction.
The breakfasts have proved a great success with up to 30 people coming along and many of the street drinkers reducing their alcohol intake as a result of having to choose between the companionship and support that comes with the meal and drinking. A number also began to stay with us into the day and volunteered with us, which further reduced their drinking.
The breakfast club is now a platform for engagement for The Nomad Trust who are able to meet with and offer support to rough sleepers that come along. Adaction and the Mental Health services are also regular visitors as many of their hard to reach clients congregate with us.
A number of men are referred to us from the prison and our staff will sometimes visit a prisoner prior to his release and let him know about our community. We also maintain contact with those of our community serving sentences so that they know they are still very much part of BeAttitude and can return to us upon release. We work closely with the probation service in supporting men released from prison and helping them fulfil their responsibilities and occupy their time.
We are fortunate enough to have the use of a number of allotments and regularly take volunteers there where they help with maintenance of the land, planting and harvesting food. We are working towards being able to offer NVQs in gardening and horticulture.
A novel initiative at St Marys church is our roof top bee colonies. Currently we have two hives that are beginning to provide honey. The hives also provide us with more volunteering opportunities and potential training routes.
BeAttitude is based in an ancient building of significant historical value – parts of St Mary le Wigford church dates back to 984AD. We welcome visitors to our building and are working to improve tourist information and facilities. To this end we have started to open a cafe in the church on a regular basis offering Fair Trade drinks and snacks. We include many of our community in the running of the cafe which forms part of the training opportunities that we offer.
We need a constant supply of sleeping bags/blankets, socks, clothes, toiletries and tinned food.
If you are able to donate any of these items please get in touch with Liz Jackson tel. 07799 724908
If you would like to support BeAttitude, either through volunteering, collecting clothes etc in your local area or financially please contact:
Liz Jackson tel: 07799 724908
Training: BeAttitude is currently able to offer training on site in the following: Basic Food Hygiene , basic 'Save a Life' first Aid and Personal Safety and English lessons. If you would like to join one of these training opportunities, please get in touch.
We want to share what we are doing. We’ll talk to anyone, from Accountants to Zumba classes. If you would like us to come and present what we do to your group we can discuss with you the size and composition of your group, and what areas they will be particularly interested in.