The volunteers who bring food and warmth to Darlington's homeless (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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The volunteers who bring food and warmth to Darlington's homeless
AFTER a survey by The Northern Echo revealed a huge increase in demand for soup kitchens from struggling North-East families, Hannah Bryan meets the dedicated team who serve much needed meals to Darlington’s hungry and homeless.
AS the sun sets and a cold, wintry breeze begins to blow, the comforting smell of freshly cooked stew fills the streets surrounding a rundown car park.
Car headlamps light up a group of people huddled round a table, chatting away, drinking cups of tea and eating the hot, warming food.
“It is quite a tough life some of these people have,” says Paul Haigh, a community support officer for North-East Health Link Trust. As part of his work with the trust, Paul and the rest of his team set up in the car park every Wednesday and Thursday night to serve hot meals made with fresh, homegrown produce to anybody struggling to afford to feed themselves.
“We get quite a lot of people coming down who are homeless or can’t afford much food, and it’ll get busier when the winter starts to set in,” says the 52-year-old. “I was homeless for three years and lived in a bus shelter so I know what a hard life some of these people have and that’s why I do this job.”
The North-East Help Link Trust was set up in the early 1990s by the late Walter Wilkinson, a minister of the Independent Methodist Connexion. He and his wife started out serving drinks and sandwiches to homeless people in Newcastle out of the boot of their car.
The trust has grown over the years and now, with the help of two paid employees and a band of dedicated volunteers, runs mobile soup kitchens in Middlesbrough, Stockton, Newcastle and Darlington. As well as much-needed food and drink, the soup kitchens also provide a listening ear and advice for those who need it.
Richard Thompson is one of the men who, without the work of the Trust, would still be living on the streets of Newcastle.
“I was left homeless in Newcastle for four days after a family dispute. I am really grateful, and if it wasn’t for Paul Haigh, I would have been stuffed,” says the 30-year-old. “I now live in a shared house in Darlington and I really like it round here. I am doing volunteer work and Paul has sorted my benefits out. I am getting my life back on track.”
The Darlington North-East Help Link Trust soup kitchen sets up in the £2 car park on Brunswick Street, in Darlington every Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 6pm and all food is prepared by the staff and volunteers.
For more information on the Trust, visit nehl.m2host.co.uk