WITH pallid face and darting, nervous eyes, a girl sits with hands clenched across her pregnant belly.
She’s been told by one of the volunteers to wait in the front room of St Wilfrid’s Centre, where she is seeking help for herself and her unborn baby.
This is how everyone starts at St. Wilfrid’s, a day care centre whose innovative method and approach helps Sheffield’s vulnerable and homeless get their lives back on track.
And it works.
So much so that St Wilfrid’s could become the blueprint for a national programme of help for the homeless.
Director of St Wilfrid’s Kevin Bradley believes the programme could be applied across the nation as he looks to build on the £250,000 already collected towards the £1.8 million needed to fund the creation of a 50-bed residential unit on Queen’s Road to further help clients back into society.
The centre’s appearance on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire has helped start to raise the money, but there is much to be done by the new fundraising committee.
“We are unique, I think, because we have more services under one roof than any other centre,” said centre director Kevin Bradley, who came to St Wilfrid’s to volunteer 21 years ago after he lost his sales director job.
“We have all the educational services that work in conjunction with the residential side. I think Sheffield could be a national flagship.
“I want to involve all Sheffield because I believe we can do this without government money. Homeless people are not generally supported in their own accommodation and that perpetuates the problem. If we can break that cycle perhaps the problem would lessen, if we gave more time people would feel more secure.”
“What happens at the moment is that homeless people are perhaps given keys by the council to a flat,” said Kevin.
“But some can’t read and write, some have mental health issues, they get in there and they have no idea how to exist.
“There’s no furniture, they don’t know how to go about things, they perhaps can’t read the bills that come through the door. So they get frightened and run away. It just perpetuates the problem.
“We want to cut that cycle by helping them live here, teaching them social skills and work skills, then help them get settled in their own accommodation.”
Most of the centre’s clients - 60 to 80 a week arrive at their door - will have a history of mental health or abuse. Many have never learnt any basic skills such as reading or cooking.
The centre’s unique model has its clients making products to sell, learning new skills and helping fund the centre’s work. The work process and friendships made at St Wilfrid’s help boost their lives and they learn painting, woodwork and sign making.
A Victorian church converted in 1991, St Wilfrid’s has a café, a cafeteria, a games room, several classrooms, 15 core staff and more than 100 volunteers.
“St Wilfrid’s is a God-send because a lot of people like us don’t know what to do with ourselves,” says Tom, a street-hardened man pleased to be asked about the difference St. Wilfrid’s has made to his life.
“We’re talking to the same four walls and thinking that we really are cracking up but this place gives us a big boost.
“It’s only for a few days a week but those days we meet other people. I’m scared of going out sometimes, because I’m frightened because of my past and a really bad childhood. And it hurts because of things people did to me and I have no family so I didn’t know what to do, this place is a God-send.”
St Wilfred’s reputation also attracts some noteable visitors.
Figures like Brazilian football legend Pele who visited the city in 2007.
Lifelong Sheffield United fan Kevin speaks with pride of the shirt Pele signed, now framed and displayed in the café of St Wilfrid’s.
“Pele came to visit Bramall Lane and he actually requested to come to the centre. We even made a clock to remember the date,” says 61-year-old Kevin who lives in Dronfield with his wife Lorraine.
Kevin also met the Queen in 2004 when he was honoured with the Voluntary Service award, received the Silver Award from the BBC champions of 2000 and the 2011 High Sheriff’s Yorkshire Award for Community Service - not too shabby for some one who only came to volunteer for two weeks - in 1991.
“Everyone who comes to St Wilfrid’s is welcomed with a smile,” he said. “The clients are all happier now than when they first knocked on our door.”
The frightened young woman sitting in the waiting room may have been there for any number of reasons; depression, desperation, abuse or unwanted pregnancy.
But the compassion and friendship she and so many others meet at St Wilfrid’s could turn out to be a lifeline.