Two years ago the parish of Our Lady and St Thomas, Harrow on the Hill partnered with St John the Baptist Anglican Church to run a Welcome Centre for the lonely and marginalised.
The centre is based in the back of St John the Baptist church which is round the corner from a busy shopping centre. Every Wednesday and Saturday a team of volunteers from Our Lady and St Thomas’ take over the hall at the back of St John’s church. working in teams of 3 or 4, the volunteers (26 in total) provide a friendly, welcoming space for just over a thousand guests, about half of whom are regulars.
Although the centre does offer a warm place to sit down with a cup of tea, the volunteers also provide information on help and services available in the local area. The vicar and curate are often available for anyone who needs to talk at a deeper level.
Relationship is at the heart of what happens at the Welcome Centre, and is the foundation of everything the Centre wants to be for people. This is what happened with one regular guest, “Peter”, who had been his sick parents’ live-in carer. After their deaths he was jobless, grieving, confused about benefits and eventually became homeless, which is when he started coming to the Centre, initially just looking for warmth and hot drinks. Over time, as volunteers gained his trust, he opened up to them, and they were able to refer him to Firm Foundation, a local project working specifically with single homeless people. They in turn have been able to help him rebuild his life, including supporting him as he moved into secure accommodation.
This project, which does such important work in a time when many people find themselves falling through the cracks of society, has been supported by Caritas Westminster throughout. The Welcome Centre benefited from a Caritas grant in 2017, and the Caritas Development Worker for Harrow, Sr Silvana Dallanegra, is part of their steering group, to provide ongoing support and help with training and development. The Welcome Centre has been a great success, and continues into 2018, still offering the same warm welcome.
The Welcome Centre is just one example of several Caritas-supported projects and initiatives around the diocese, aiming to support social inclusion and belonging, as per Caritas Westminster’s values and mission.