We are living in difficult times and the rapidly escalating situation concerning Coronavirus has affected us all in ways we probably hadn’t begun to think about only a few weeks back. Social distancing is perhaps the hardest part for many people. Not being able to go out and enjoy the company of others whilst taking part in social activities like the cinema, theatre, dance classes, football or even just relaxing at the pub, is going to hit people hard.
Perhaps we take these things for granted. When we can no longer do them, we realise just how important social activities are in our lives. Imagine then, how important social activities are for people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness?
At St Martins we know that putting a roof over a person’s head is only one part of the solution. Under 1 Roof is a vital part of the service we provide, but unfortunately it is having to close because of the risk to its members from Coronavirus.
Under 1 Roof is something of an unsung hero. It is entirely funded by your generous donations and provides drop-in access to a host of different classes, all completely free of charge, including yoga, cookery, gardening, creative writing, art, managing finances, and much more besides. There are computers for members to use and comfortable seats where people can catch up with friends over a coffee. The centre is used by around 70 different people every week.
Members of Under 1 Roof are people who are homeless, or who have been homeless. They might join on the recommendation of the Pathways team, who reach out to people who are on the streets, or they might hear about the service whilst staying at our hostel, Bishopbridge House. Many attend the centre regularly and keep coming as they move on into other accommodation and become more independent. Under 1 Roof is a constant in their lives as their housing situation changes. It’s there to support them at every stage of their journey.
You might be wondering how yoga classes could be important to a homeless person. Well the classes offered at Under 1 Roof are important in exactly the same way as social activities are to all of us. Humans need social interaction. We all need company, and doing things together, like exercising, learning or creative activities, helps us to feel we belong to humanity. People who are homeless are no different.
In fact, it’s not really about the activity itself. Whether it’s yoga or cookery makes no difference. It’s about feeling that sense of belonging, being able to interact with other people and rebuilding self-esteem. Being homeless is a traumatic experience, and the issues that cause a person to become homeless are also traumatic. Under 1 Roof provides stability, a place of safety and belonging.
Centre manager Phil knows from first-hand experience how important Under 1 Roof is to its members. Six years ago, he was homeless himself. He was supported by St Martins and became a member of Under 1 Roof, taking part in lots of the activities on offer. He later started volunteering at the centre, then in 2017 a job became available and Phil was appointed to work for St Martins at Under 1 Roof. In 2019 he was promoted to centre manager, a job he loves with a passion because he sees how transformative Under 1 Roof is for its members.
The current closure of Under 1 Roof is a devastating blow for the centre’s members, who will feel the impact of the closure acutely. A telephone service will be operated, which will provide support for people who need it, but there is no substitute for the usual varied programme of activities and social contact.
At times of crisis, our thoughts often turn to those less fortunate than ourselves. Please spare a thought for the members of Under 1 Roof for whom the challenge of social distancing may be a particularly difficult struggle.
If you would like to make a donation to St Martins, you can do so via our website, https://stmartinshousing.org.uk/donate/ or by sending a cheque payable to St Martins to 35 Bishopgate, Norwich NR1 4AA.
Pictured: some of the team, activity providers and members of Under 1 Roof