In the beginning, that is 1994, Mrs Pat Tilley met Neal, a rough sleeper in Tunbridge Wells. In conversation with Neal she realised that there must be several men sleeping rough in the town. With advice and support from David Gilpin, founder of The Bridge Trust, and with encouragement and funds from several churches, Pat Tilley founded what became The Bridge Trust Street Teams. In January 1995 Pat led three teams into the Crescent Road car park for three nights a week with 20 volunteers. Soup and sandwiches were served from the boots of cars. It soon became apparent that this was not sufficient. We are now more sufficient serving hot food from tables with chairs for customers to sit on. Sleeping bags, blankets and warm clothes are provided. As time passed two more teams have formed giving cover for five nights. In the early days we would have up to 15 customers a night. In 2013 this number has risen to 25 on average, some nights over 30. In 2009 The Street Teams separated from The Bridge Trust and reformed as the Tunbridge Wells Churches’ Street Teams voluntary association with its own management committee and constitution. Local churches and individual donors have always supported us and some kind people have made regular donations since our beginning. Our customers have never been only those who are homeless, others come to us – the lonely, those who are short of money, those who, for whatever reason, need a hot meal or just to meet the volunteers and have a chat, and the distressed. Over the years some 27 customers have died, the youngest in her early twenties. Some have died without family contact and have gone to be remembered by a few and soon forgotten. It is the donors and volunteers who make everything work. Three volunteers have served since 1995; others have served for over a decade. They are prepared to work on even the coldest evening, every week without thought of reward.
"Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, How can I help?" Romans 15, 1-2 (The Message)
"Trust in the Lord and do good" Psalm 37
If you would like to donate in any way, we would be pleased to let you know what our current needs are. Items such as warm, clean clothing, sleeping bags, toiletries, dry food, tins of soup goods etc are generally in demand.
Do feel free to email us at Twstreetteams@yahoo.co.uk
All guests who visit us are in need. Some more than others but we must give to all who come to us for support.
Although we have nearly £3000 in the bank our expenditure has increased massively. This is due to the increase in consumables, which has nearly tripled. Donations are still coming in which we heavily rely on but we must be aware they won’t cover the bill for next year’s outgoings. We will need to look into some other form of fundraising. However, Tesco Pembury have just started to donate food. It is too early to comment on what and how much is being donated and if it will make a difference to our consumables bill. There will be more discussion as Tesco are very keen and can possibly donate some toiletries and clothes from other stores.
There are a few different organisations in Tunbridge Wells who help the homeless and destitute, all in slightly different ways. We would like to integrate with them more which will help both our guests and us. The communication lines are open. Also we have more of a relationship with the Borough Council Housing, who came to one of our meetings and were very helpful and grateful for our work. The Council is very aware of the problems with the homeless but they don’t want the honeypot effect. One problem that keeps arising is the lack of storage for sleeping bags etc.
Again, last winter was very cold and seemed to go on for ever; the winter shelter was extended for an extra week. Last winter we trialled Luncheon Vouchers to cover Friday, these were extremely successful. However, they were open to a small amount of abuse in that some people tried to buy alcohol. This year we have been in contact with Café Bliss in Southborough. We can issue vouchers and in return customers can get a hot meal and a drink – we only pay for the vouchers redeemed.
Earlier in the year we had a distinct lack of volunteers and some had to do some double shifts. It’s not nice to see the general public give us a wide berth when walking though the car park, banners have been made for each night so the general public are more aware of who we are and what we do. We would like to thank our amazing volunteers, cooks and donors who have dedicated their time to supporting the Street Teams over the past year. Without them we would not be able to provide this valuable service. Thank you also to the local churches and businesses that have generously supported our mission this year with wonderful funding, donations and gifts of Harvest Festival produce. Not forgetting the volunteers who donate food each week.