Supporting society’s most vulnerable

Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently. Clients Mia Winfrow and Beth Witzenfeld talking to a support worker
Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently. Clients Mia Winfrow and Beth Witzenfeld talking to a support worker
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n Cherrytree was founded in 1863 but ceased to operate as an orphanage in the 1960s.

Social services may be facing cuts, but one charity keeps marching ahead, as it has for more than 140 years. Star reporter Rachael Clegg visited Sheffield’s oldest charity – the Cherrytree Support Service.

Homeless and on the streets

Homeless and on the streets

FOR most young people, everyday worries are limited to their Facebook status, revision and homework. For others, life isn’t so straightforward.

There are hundreds of young people across Sheffield who have nowhere to live – either because they have no family or because of bad relationships at home.

It was bad family relations that prompted Beth Witzenfeld, 17, to flee to Sheffield from Lowestoft in Suffolk.

“My house was so cramped with brothers and sisters and dogs that there was a lot of fighting and arguing,” she says. “The atmosphere was so bad you could cut it with a knife.”

Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently

Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently

Beth was referred to the Cherrytree Support Service, a charity that provides supported accommodation. It may be little known but it has been going for 148 years, making it Sheffield’s oldest charity.

It was established in 1863 as an orphanage on Cherrytree Road in Nether Edge by Victorian philanthropist Ridge Taylor. Cherrytree remained an orphanage for 100 years until the 1960s, when it started to provide accommodation and support for young people, rather than orphaned children.

Now the organisation – which is funded by Sheffield Council – has more than 18 staff who work round the clock to support 28 young people who are homeless or have family problems preventing them from living at home.

The charity has two centres: one in Totley and another on Granville Road near Norfolk Park.

Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently . Chris Ward who runs the charity

Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently . Chris Ward who runs the charity

Beth lives at the charity’s Granville Road base – a huge semi-detached Victorian house with enough bedrooms to accommodate seven young people, one boy and six other girls, along with two members of staff, .

The residents, whose lengths of stay can range from a matter of weeks to up to a year, have a lounge, shared bathroom and kitchen.

“It felt like I was moving to Buckingham Palace when I came up here,” says Beth. “It’s great, we all lend each other a helping hand and cook at the same time.

“The atmosphere is good. I feel I can go down to the office at any point and have a cup of tea and a chat and get stuff off my chest.”

But Cherrytree does more than provide beds for Sheffield’s misplaced young people – it teaches them basic skills, such as cooking, managing a budget, taking care of themselves, interacting with other people, and taking responsibility for themselves.

And despite government cuts to the social services sector, Cherrytree’s still going strong.

Chris Ward, the charity director, said: “We provide stability and safe accommodation, which gives people the confidence and support they need to move on when they are ready. We do have a reduction in funds but not enough to affect the service we provide.”

But he’s careful to make clear Cherrytree is not a care home. “We’re here to support young people from a range of difficult backgrounds, such as alcohol abuse or bad family relationships,” said Chris, 52, from Aughton.

Clearly the ethos works. Beth is a bright, articulate young woman – character traits she says are owed to her time at Cherrytree.

“I feel more confident in myself – and I can cook now!” she says. “I had a lot of problems before I came here which affected the way I was. I didn’t really use my imagination, whereas now I do. I’d spend all day doing nothing before, and I also dropped out of college, but here the staff encourage us to go out and do stuff. I’ve even joined a gardeners’ club.”

Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently . Chris Ward who runs the charity

Cherrytree, the oldest charity in Sheffield who take in homeless people. and is currently . Chris Ward who runs the charity

Beth has ambitions for the future. “I want to open my own corner shop and next week I start a City and Guilds course in health and safety and I’ll be doing a work placement as well.”

Fellow resident Mia Winfrow, 16, from Gleadless, who moved in to Cherrytree after leaving home, has goals too – in September she’ll be starting a hair and beauty course at college.

Mia and Beth’s potential futures are much different to those of the children Cherrytree was looking after more than 100 years ago.

One former resident, Annie Fletcher, was admitted to Cherrytree in 1896 after losing both her parents in 1895. She left the orphanage in 1907 at the age of 17 and moved into domestic service in Nether Edge.

“The old records are fascinating to look at and show how much the charity has changed – it was very common for girls to move into domestic service back then, much different to how it is today,” says Chris.

Today the backgrounds of the charity’s residents are hugely varied. “Everyone’s pasts are so different here and some of them, like Beth and Mia, are really willing to engage,” says Chris.

His target is to have 85 per cent of Cherrytree residents move on ‘positively’ – either back to their families or into social housing to live independently.

And, judging from Beth and Mia’s attitudes, the charity’s is not doing a bad job. But the most important issue for the vulnerable young people is summed up in three words from Beth: “I feel safe.”

cherrytree support

Cherrytree was founded in 1863 but ceased to operate as an orphanage in the 1960s.

The charity is funded by Sheffield Council’s Independent Housing department.

Residents are asked to sign a licence agreement before they start living at Cherrytree’s Granville Road or Totley residences, outlining rules such as the prohibition of drugs and alcohol on the premises.

Early records highlight how young people’s lives have changed in Sheffield over the past century. Most orphaned girls leaving Cherrytree in the late 19th century moved into domestic service. Most boys moved into the steel industry as apprentices.

The average stay at Cherrytree for a young person today is six to nine months.