Sheffield street drinkers and homeless support service Ben's Centre reaches 25-year landmark

A Sheffield centre that helps the city’s street drinkers, addicts, the homeless and vulnerable people is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 4:45 pm

Ben’s Centre is proud to have reached the landmark despite challenges along the way.

In 1996, new town hall bobby Pc Ian ‘Ben’ Sherman recognised a need for a new approach to street drinkers in the Peace Gardens area.

Back then, they were put in cells until they sobered up and then released without support, so the cycle repeated itself.

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Daryl Bishop, the CEO of Ben's Centre

Ben built positive relationships with this group during his rounds and found what they really wanted was their own space, off the streets, to support each other. And so Ben’s Centre was born.

“The cycle needed to change, so I asked street drinkers exactly they wanted. They told me they wanted a place of stability, somewhere to call home and where they felt safe with people who understood their difficult lifestyle," said Ben.

Positive relationships, supportive staff, empathy and kindness are still core values.

A spokesperson said there is more support and collaboration between organisations for vulnerable people in Sheffield now than ever before with nearly 20 organisations and charities offering various services, healthcare and support.

Danny McDonald talking to a client at Ben's Centre

“However, Ben’s is still unique in that it is the only damp centre in Sheffield,” they added. “This means we greet individuals in any condition and they do not need to be accessing addiction services.

“Although substances are not allowed on the premises, we will never turn away a person who is under the influence and needs help, support and a hot meal.”

“We want to offer a full agenda to keep clients off the streets”

One client said: “I was depressed, it’s proper saved my life coming here.”

Launch of Homeless Survival Guide in Sheffield at Ben's Centre in 2019. Pictured are Michelle Dickinson,The High Sheriff of South Yorkshire Barry Eldred.

Challenges that the centre has encountered include being moved from four different premises due to development work in the city, the rise of a spice drugs epidemic, struggles with funding, the deaths of many clients and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic.

The spokesperson said: “Despite only being able to run for less than two-thirds of the year, we made nearly 7,000 engagements with new and existing service users.

“In 2020, we moved to a new building and with the help of local historians and teachers, we are beginning our Plant a Seed project, a daily training and education programme.

“We want to offer a full agenda to keep clients off the streets and giving them an opportunity to develop themselves.”

Chief executive Daryl Bishop said: “With our Plant a seed programme we are moving further towards a progressive approach to enhance the lives of clients.

"We aim to build their confidence and self-worth as well as giving them skills to take pride in and broaden horizons.”

The centre runs on a small team of staff, a group of volunteers and the generosity of the public and grant organisations.

Ben said: “There’s been so many people unheard and unseen that have pushed the project to where it is today. Celebrating 25 years is a big thank you to them.

"We are celebrating, after challenges, that we can still offer a service and we are improving year by year.”