Financial problems, poor mental health, loneliness, homelessness, chaotic lives – these are just some of the issues facing the people who turn to St George’s Church in Stamford for help. What the church offers in return is prayers, hope, friendship, mentoring, food, shelter and support.

The church has a number of facilities available for those in need which are all provided by the generous support of churchgoers. This includes the church office called ‘The Hub’ which is open for people to drop-in every weekday between 10am-2pm as well as Friday Connect, the community café, where those in need can go for a cup of tea, a piece of cake and a chat. Food vouchers can also be picked up here if people are struggling financially. The church also benefits from the generous support of volunteers and a number of full-time staff.

Louise Rose is the church’s Fresh Hope coordinator and she also runs the foodbank which has seen over a 50% increase in referrals over the last three years, part of which is due to the change to Universal Credit.  She works with around 30 people at a time, all with varying and sometimes multiple, needs and problems. Although Stamford is, on the whole, a wealthy area and the people that Louise sees are not ‘typical church goers’ but are those on the edge of poverty or on the breadline with ages ranging between 20 and 90.

Many people have serious money issues.  People with debt problems may be referred to the Christians Against Poverty (CAP) office that is also housed within the church. Louise gave an example of one such client, “An elderly lady came to us asking us to read a letter for her. The letter she was holding was an eviction notice, telling her she had to leave her flat due to rent arrears. Because she was illiterate she had no idea what the letter said or indeed that she was behind on her payments. We liaised with the council and referred her through to CAP to help her with her payments and budgeting, and also referred her through to a homeless charity, P3, to support her with her housing.

“Access to benefits or other help frequently depends on being able to adequately ‘prove’ a number of different things; so if you struggle with literacy and can’t correctly fill in the forms that is one immediate barrier, so I help them with this. It’s not about rescuing people but walking alongside them and being their advocate. A lot of the people I see have no support network and feel lonely and isolated already so the other problems they have to deal with are magnified.”

Described as being the ‘glue’ between various agencies, the church has good links with local housing estates, schools, doctors’ surgeries, the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) and job centre so those in need can be appropriately signposted to where they can get help. And they do come - between 50-70 people attend the Hub for Friday Connect. Given its success one potential development is that local agencies are looking at having a ‘One-Stop shop’ to be held at Friday Connect.  This will bring together people from official bodies and those needing help in a less formal setting that enables both parties to talk more easily.

Another key part of Louise’s role is helping with those who are homeless whether that is rough sleeping (on the street) or sofa surfing. During the summer months there are few, if any, people that are rough sleeping and need help. However, in the winter there can be as many as seven per week. If someone seeks help from the church reporting homelessness there are a few practical ways in which St George’s Church can help - from buying them a tent and a mobile so they can keep in touch to rustling up a sausage sandwich and a cup of tea.  She also liaises with the national charity P3 which supports rough sleepers, helping people to find safe and secure accommodation.

Louise said: “The overriding feeling I have from the people I help is the need for people to feel valued and how the lack of community affects people. The Hub offers people someone to talk to and I hope it helps to prevent some of the crises that people experience and our befriending service ensures that people don’t have to travel down these difficult roads on their own.  Some people we help do find God and come to church and find the light of Christ and hope after the darkness, which is wonderful.”