by James Mudd
The St Anne’s Day Centre is based in Kemptown, Brighton and operates from a hall owned by the church next door. It opens its doors to everyone, every weekday morning. They provide breakfast, homemade lunch and other services for those in need. On my way to meet the Centre Manager, Shelley Eldrdery, I loaded up with t-shirts, underwear and some baseball caps from Primark which I handed over as a donation.
Hi Shelley. Great to meet you. How long have you been the Centre Manager?
I have worked here for seven years, as catering manager for five then two as the center manager.
What drew you to working for the St. Anne Centre?
I came across the job through the church next door. They were advertising for a chef. It was only supposed to be for five weeks but I fell in love with the place and agreed to stay on and have been here ever since. This place holds a lot of feeling for me. It’s more than somewhere to get something to eat.
It has a real community feel. You get to meet real people here. People that the public tend to avoid on the street. No one is born homeless. No one is born an addict. There are real reasons why people end up like this and if we can offer some help we will. This job is really rewarding. I’ve met so many local rogues, so many different characters. Once you’ve worked here for a while you just fall in love with the place.
What happened during lockdown? What services were you able to run?
There was an announcement back in March last year that we had to close and we all thought “what we’re going to do?”. We had to close for two months and draw up an action plan, then we reopened for takeaways only which continued for six to eight months. We were getting 30-40 people a day, socially distanced, queuing up outside.
There were lots of places distributing food but it was the other support that came crashing down. Obviously there was no one at the council. It was all being done by phone. Great if you’ve got a phone but if you are outside it was a bit of a nightmare. We had street support from St Mungo’s, people who I could call and connect clients with. Lately we have been getting new homeless, people that are struggling and want some advice and some people who just want to come in and chat because they’re lonely.
How do you work with the street support team from St. Mungo’s?
A lot of what we do here is signposting. For example, if someone says they are sleeping rough on the sea front, I can ring up St Mungo’s and say “look, this person is going to be at a certain place at a certain time. Can you go and meet them?” This is because 9 times out of 10 they won’t have a phone to connect with. St Mungo’s often tries to distribute £10 pocket phones but not everyone wants to connect. Everyone’s got their own reasons for that and that’s not my business. I’m not here to judge anyone. If people want to ask me for help then I will signpost them as best I can. But from experience I don’t promise them anything unless I can deliver it as it will be taken as a guarantee.
What meals do you serve at the moment?
At the moment, we are open from 12 till 1 for a dinner of soup, main course and a pudding. Hopefully we can eventually go back to normal where we open for Breakfast and lunch. Tea and cereal at 9:25,then at 10 o’clock there is toast, jam, cheese, pate. It depends what’s in the fridge. We don’t open for an evening meal because we rent from the church so we’re limited. They do other things here in the afternoons.
Can you tell me about the connection to St. Anne’s church next door?
The connection with the church is that they are the landlord. I do say a little prayer before we eat. It’s short and sweet and it’s not really religious. ‘Bless this bunch as they munch on their lunch. Amen’. Sometime they even write their own short silly verses that I will read out as well. It’s not really a religious thing. We have so many religions between our clients that it really wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s more about recognizing where the food came from and thanking the people who prepared it.
Do you have any rules?
We have a few rules and the clients all know them. Be kind to each other, no drinking and no drugs on the premises. We don’t tolerate drugs in here. I get that people have addictions, but if you want to do it don’t do it here, there are so many other places. The police will close us down and nobody wants that.
Have you seen a rise in volunteers over the lockdowns?
We have had a continuous flow of good, honest volunteers that want to come back. Some are regulars who have been doing this for 30 or so years. Before lockdown we used to get volunteers from Brighton College up the road. The chaplain would bring them down on a Thursday. We should be reconnecting with them again soon. We have a couple of volunteers with special needs from John’s School that have been working with us for ages. The only paid staff are myself and the cook. I’d like to say a big thank you to all our volunteers. You do an absolutely cracking job and we absolutely couldn’t run without you.
We have some ex-clients who actually now volunteer with us as well. A couple of them did time in prison. The way I see it no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance. It’s good for our clients to see these volunteers and how they have turned themselves around so they know it can happen, but only when they are ready.
What sort of food do you serve?
Good, solid, wholesome meal. If you’re out on that street, you need something solid like shepherd’s pie something that’s going to fill you up and keep you going. We are limited to what we get coming in. We rely on FareShare and donations from the public. One thing we do need is a vehicle. Without a vehicle to pick up supplies, we are limited to what we can do.
Do your clients pay for their lunch?
That’s right. We ask them for a 50p donation. This is to encourage them to take a little responsibility with their money but of course if they don’t have it I’m not going to turn them away. If someone wants a meal, they’re going to get a meal. But also we’re an independent charity so it helps to offset our expenses.
I hear you’ve just had a new shower installed
I would love to show you our new shower. It is a fantastic addition to the Centre as it means our clients now have a space to shave, wash and clean themselves as well as getting a decent meal.
Shelley and I are off to see the shower together now. So thank you very much Shelley and that concludes our interview.