'Listeners' open a new chapter at the People's Kitchen
By the Revd Jean Skinner (pictured below with listeners)
People’s Kitchen is one of Newcastle’s best-loved charities providing food, clothing and friendship to the homeless and destitute for the last 25 years.
Based at the Alison Centre, Bath Lane (named after founder Alison Kaye), we provide 650 meals a week either at the centre or through the outreach van at Trafalgar Street, Old Eldon Square or outside the West Road cemetery at different times.
People’s Kitchen provides a safe community centre when all other agencies are closed. It serves as kitchen, community centre, social club, and church for those who attend the monthly café-style ‘Tea Break Fellowship’.
The kitchen is the heart of their community and by being ‘Generous Open and Engaged’ I can provide church for people who don’t go to church. Communion might be over a cup of tea.
The number of people using the Kitchen has grown by 30% in the last year, probably due to the economic downturn. We have a good number of 18-25 year olds, and many of our ‘Friends’ have complex needs.
Recent research helped us understand better the needs of those who use People’s Kitchen, and to identify which agencies might help us be more pro-active in encouraging our friends towards independent living.
The ‘Your Future’ project was launched in August, supported for three years by funding from the Northern Rock Foundation.
We have identified key pathways where we seek to work in collaboration to support our friends in making step changes. We will be able to monitor the ‘big’ steps that encourage them towards independent living.
We have asked agencies to come into the Kitchen where the friends can access help in a place where they feel safe and comfortable. You can see the services we offer at www.peopleskitchen.co.uk.
To achieve this we are training new volunteers to be good listeners, enabling them to sign-post our friends, connecting them to the specialist pathways.
It’s what you do with what you hear that makes the difference
I became chaplain to People’s Kitchen in February with the brief to set up this team of Listeners. There are currently eight listeners and we are interviewing for more. Of course all 170 volunteers listen, but it’s what you do with what you hear that makes the difference. The ‘Listeners’ are learning to ‘Be’ and not ‘Do’. They are not there to cook, serve meals or clear tables, but simply be there for the friends with dedicated time just to listen, engage and signpost to the pathways.
This comes more naturally to some than others, as ‘being’ is not everyone’s cup of tea. We recruited 11 people initially but this has now settled at 8 who have been able to commit to this new role.
Only time will tell how successful this new venture will be - but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I am very excited by this development at People’s Kitchen and look forward to watching those who wish move towards independent living.
People’s Kitchen is very grateful for all the support from churches and schools especially at Harvest time. Without that help we could not provide food for the most needy and vulnerable in our city.
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