Post by Julianna
After a few months on furlough I returned to The Whitechapel Centre as their Corporate Fundraiser, raring to go and eager to speak to my colleagues about the amazing work they had been doing (and continue to do!). The name of one company kept cropping up – My Fresh Box. At the start of lockdown their founder, Alex Head, reached out to us and very kindly offered their support with a donation of 50 fresh, tasty, and healthy meals per week – that’s 2,600 meals in a year! We’ve had incredible feedback from our clients about how tasty the My Fresh Box meals are and so I was keen to speak to Alex and find out more about him, his fantastic business, and his motivation for reaching out:
Julianna: Tell us a bit about yourself/your background.
Alex: I’m Alex, the owner and founder of My Fresh Box. Before starting this up, I was a chef for 12 years up and down the country working in Michelin star, then Rosette restaurants. I then decided to open up MFB in 2018 following a similar role I was doing for a few friends of mine. I enjoy football, boxing, running and spending time with my family, nothing out of the ordinary really but keeping fit has definitely been a passion of mine.
Julianna: What made you start up My Fresh Box? Alex: I was quite ill in the summer of 2017, dropping weight down to just under 8 stone. I then started training with a PT who advised I got my nutrition on track (being a chef funnily enough hindered this due to the long and high demanding workload and long hours). I then saw my PT was using a meal prep company who weren’t really providing him with a very good quality of meals, so I just thought that I could do it for him, probably saving him money and giving him better dishes. So I started doing this for him and then a few of his fellow gym PTs also asked for some. This just sort of snowballed from there really, fast forward two years and we’re delivering to all over the UK and rapidly expanding month by month.
Julianna: Why did you choose to support The Whitechapel Centre?
Alex: Homelessness in Liverpool has always been something that troubles me, a few years back in a restaurant, myself and a few of the kitchen staff spent our night off preparing and cooking Christmas dinners for some of the rough sleepers in the city centre. Upon realising we were getting a bit of food waste in the kitchen at MFB, me and the staff decided to utilise it in a better way than eating it ourselves or simply throwing it out. We then got in touch with the guys down in The Whitechapel Centre and came up with a solution of 50 meals per week and it’s going great so far. It really does feel amazing to receive the feedback from the guys at the charity and hear about what a positive impact it’s having on the lives of some of those they help out.
Julianna: How are you partnering with The Whitechapel Centre?
Alex: We’re donating meals twice a week to them, as well as trying to raise some awareness with our social media posts and stories. Whilst chatting to the team, they mentioned donations have dropped this year due to Covid-19, and a lot of corporate events and fundraisers have been cancelled which unfortunately has really affected The Whitechapel Centre and their income. I’ve decided to raise money myself by running a full marathon with my little sister on the Saturday 24th October, I hope this will help to contribute towards what they need.
Julianna: Is this your first marathon? Why did you choose to do a marathon?
Alex: Yes, this is my first full marathon, although I ran the Liverpool half marathon a couple of years ago. I’ve always enjoyed running, and obviously a marathon is a massive task but I think pushing myself to that limit will hopefully make people aware of the commitment everyone involved with the charity puts in and encourage them to donate to this amazing cause.
Julianna: What will you be eating to fuel your training?
Alex: Luckily enough I own a meal prep company so mostly the meals from My Fresh Box, consisting of plenty of carbs for the first few weeks of training to keep my energy up, but then try and cut a bit of weight a few weeks beforehand so I’ll then follow a low calorie diet. I train in the gym three times a week and I am running two to three times a week, plus working seven days a week so I need plenty of energy. I really am quite lucky in the sense that I have access to high quality food, and I know for a fact that the meals I’ll be having are brilliant, and not just processed food you get with a lot of other meal prep companies.
Julianna: How can people help?
Alex: At the moment, donating to the page and sharing it across your social channels would be a great help. Closer to the time we’ll probably be looking for some volunteers to hand out water and food gels to us whilst were running and give us plenty of support on our route. We’re hoping to set up a big finish line at The Whitechapel Centre so any support is greatly appreciated. However, this isn’t just a one-time thing and any support for the charity in the long run would be brilliant and greatly appreciated.
To support Alex with his marathon fundraising efforts, please visit, share and donate: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alex-head5
For more information on My Fresh Box and their delightfully tasty, healthy meals, check out their website: https://www.my-fresh-box.co.uk/
Colin has been volunteering with The Whitechapel Centre since Christmas as a driver, collecting and delivering donations between venues. Colin is also a keen triathlete and when lockdown arrived many of his planned events were cancelled so he decided to set himself a challenge and raise sponsorship for the charity at the same time.
Throughout May Colin was up early running, starting with 1km on 1st, he increased his distance each day by 1km, until 31km on the 31st of the month. In total, Colin ran 496km, and for the last 10 days was running more than a half marathon a day!
Despite Colin’s fitness he found it tough going, “I’ve done endurance events before but to run every day for a month, with increasing distances, is really challenging, pretty much everything was sore by the time I finished.”
Through his volunteering, Colin has seen how the Whitechapel Centre has been supporting people who are homeless during the pandemic. He explains, “I’ve been helping out a couple of days a week, picking up donations from companies and then dropping off food parcels to clients around the city. It’s been good to see Liverpool’s response to the pandemic, people have been very kind.”
You can see all of Colin’s daily updates and sponsor him here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Colin-Vallance-Owen1
Changes to our services & information on how you can help
Now, more than ever, people who are homeless need our help.
The Whitechapel Centre remains open during the outbreak of COVID–19 to ensure that people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, can get into accommodation and be supported to remain healthy. As other services across the country have had to close, we have worked to adapt our services so that we can stay open and meet the needs of people who need it most.
Labre House night shelter and our Day Centre Services at Langsdale Street have changed and have moved. We have worked tirelessly to move all rough sleepers into appropriate, self-contained accommodation. Staff from Labre House and the Enablement Centre are now based at the new venue, providing on-site support 24/7 to ensure our clients can sustain the accommodation and receive the services they need to remain healthy. This means we have moved all food, advice and related services into the new accommodation provision – delivering services at the new point of need and keeping people safe and well.
From today, Thursday 2nd April, both Labre House and Langsdale Street day centre buildings will be closed.
With significant changes to services we have recognised that there is a need to ensure a coordinated access route into accommodation for new people who find themselves homeless from now on. Any Liverpool resident who becomes homeless will be able to access services via the Liverpool City Council’s Housing Options Service by calling 0151 233 3800 (Freephone 0800 731 6844) or online via: https://liverpool.gov.uk/housing/homeless-or-at-risk/housing-options-referral/ Click here to download an update from Liverpool City Council
Our outreach and other services for rough sleepers remain operating as normal. If you are concerned about someone who is sleeping rough please contact us on 0300 123 2041 (24 hours, low cost from a mobile).
All of our supported accommodation-based services remain open as normal for clients but non-essential visits are not allowed.
If you are concerned about your housing situation or are at risk of homelessness you can contact us for advice, Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm by calling 0151 207 7617 or online chat here on our website homepage.
Sadly, we have had to cancel many fundraising events, including the Liverpool Cathedral Sleepout in May. Our charity shops are also closed and unable to receive donations. As demand for our services increases, our fundraising and donations are decreasing.
If you can, please support us - your money will help provide essential items for clients, ensuring they can stay indoors and keep safe.
More than 60 rough sleepers and homeless people have been moved out of Liverpool City Council’s Labre House night hub to alternative accommodation due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Whitechapel Centre staff from across the project worked throughout the weekend to ensure that the majority of people currently using the Camden Street shelter were helped to relocate into more appropriate accommodation.
The team also prepared food parcels for everyone leaving Labre House over the weekend to ensure they had something to eat when they entered their new accommodation.
Labre House can accommodate up to 90 rough sleepers per night but its communal meeting and sleeping areas now make it unsuitable for use during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The council and its partners have been offered the use of more than 100 single occupancy aparthotels and 50 more for family groups across the city during the crisis. Those who remain at Labre House are service-users who require more complex support packages, which means aparthotel accommodation would be unsuitable. Meanwhile, the number of people continuing to sleep rough has fallen drastically, with just three people seen sleeping on the streets on Sunday night.
Outreach workers from The Whitechapel Centre are continuing their regular city centre rounds, speaking to those who remain outside and encouraging them to accept help. The drive to relocate all the service-users from Labre House will continue at a pace this week. But workers say that some service-users, even those who have been found accommodation, may still be coming out onto the streets of Liverpool to beg.
Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Lynnie Hinnigan, said: “Liverpool has moved quickly to support its vulnerable, homeless and rough sleeping community during this difficult time.
“We have been overwhelmed by the offers of support we have received from the city’s hotel sector and we still have offers coming in. It illustrates how the people of this city are more than willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those in most need of help.”
“The challenge for us now is to accommodate those people with complex needs, which we are hoping to do through our existing network of temporary accommodation.”
Cllr Hinnigan added: “Whilst we have seen a decrease in the number of people sleeping rough as more accept the support that is being offered, there are still some who are refusing our help and those who come onto the streets to beg.
“However, we will continue to work with them to ensure that everyone has the support they need.”
Whitechapel Centre Chief Executive David Carter said: “Our staff and volunteers have been amazing. They worked tirelessly over the weekend to settle people into their new accommodation and make sure they have everything they need, including toiletries, food and essentials. But this is just the start, our team will be on site 24 hours a day to provide intensive support to enable to people to stay indoors and stay safe. We will also be supporting clients throughout the city who are self-isolating with regular welfare calls and distributing regular food parcels.”
• If people have concerns about someone sleeping rough on the streets of Liverpool, they can call the Always Room Inside helpline: 0300 123 2041.
Following the further increases in measures to minimise possible infection of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) we are reducing the amount of face to face contact we have with our clients. This will ensure clients and our staff do not come into contact with more people than necessary. To facilitate continued support for many of our vulnerable clients we have increased the availability of our "LiveChat" facility and will ensure increased numbers of staff are available to take phone calls from new and existing clients.
Whenever contact is made with clients we will assess any needs they have that require support other than via the phone and direct them as appropriate.
I arrive at The Whitechapel Centre half an hour before Haircuts4Homeless are due to arrive, in the hopes that I can grab one of them for this quick interview. But within seconds of coming through the door there is a crowd of people wanting to get their hair cut. The group from Haircuts4Homeless waste no time and get set up straight away. Each chair they set up is instantly filled by one of our clients, and a waiting list is being drawn up.
I’m introduced to Jackie McColl, their Team Leader. As she’s in the middle of cutting a lady’s hair we agree to do the interview once she’s finished, before she starts on her next client. The lady, Jane (name changed), is visibly enjoying herself, and I get to witness first hand the fun and friendly rapport each of our clients have with the Haircuts4Homeless team. Next to Jane there are three more chairs, each of them with a male client sat down. One gentleman is having a trim, the other goes for a short back and sides, and the third is going for a shaved head. It’s no different to the welcoming and attentive atmosphere of a ‘normal’ salon, and why would it be?
Jackie finishes Jane’s hair with a beautiful blowout. Her blonde hair is long, smooth and, without a split end in sight, reminiscent of a L’Oréal advert. You can hear the emotion in Jane’s voice as she thanks Jackie; she feels like a different person. I whisk Jackie away for a quick chat before she goes to her next client. She radiates warmth, hospitality, and when I speak to her I feel as if I’ve known her for years. Jackie tells me about how Haircuts4Homeless was set up, and speaks highly of their founder, Stuart Roberts.
It started around five years ago in Romford. Stuart, a hairdresser of over 30 years, was attending and mentoring some people at an AA Centre. Inspired by someone in America he’d seen do street cuts, he decided to bring his scissors to the next meeting. He then proceeded to set up links with The Salvation Army and The Whitechapel Mission in London, two homeless charities. As word spread about what Stuart was doing, people began to offer their help. In five years it’s gone from it’s beginnings in Romford to having 64 projects on board (including us!), with over 600 volunteers, across the UK.
When I ask Jackie how she became involved with the charity she talks openly. She had her own salon for 12 years and felt motivated to use her skills to help rough sleepers in Manchester, so she began doing street cuts. Unfortunately, an onslaught of difficult circumstances including her health, her mother’s health, her sister’s disability, as well as the everyday stresses that we all face, meant that, “Something had to give. But I still wanted to help and volunteer and do something with the homeless.” Jackie gave up her salon, and word travelled through the grapevine. Stuart, hearing the news, asked Jackie if she would set up Haircuts4Homeless in Stockport.
“You don’t fancy doing Stockport for me, do you? Launching the Centre in Stockport?” He said, “Only once a month! Two hours, once a month.” Of course, she agreed.
What started with her giving up her time for two hours, once a month, has evolved into Jackie volunteering every Monday at different Centres, including The Whitechapel Centre.
“It comes from my heart, it’s what I want to do… I always say when I advertise for volunteers, that I guarantee that it’ll be the best haircut you’ll ever do. You get more satisfaction from doing these haircuts than I ever did when I was in the salon. There’s something special, and different, about doing it for the homeless, the rough sleepers… You can feel the lift in them.”
It’s not only that, Jackie explains. “I still go out cutting on the streets, I go out with an Outreach group on a Tuesday night, once a month, in the City Centre in Manchester. And that’s quite tough, because it’s raw. It’s there, it’s there on the streets. And they’re just, they’re just … they won’t make eye contact with you, they just feel invisible. So when you try and build that relationship and they can sense that… you’re not judging them, they sort of lift a bit.” Her passion is palpable.
“We say to our volunteers, you know, they are just another client. Sat in front of you. Wanting their hair cut. Wanting your service. And that’s how you treat it.”
“And you can feel, once you’ve done it and you show them that mirror, some have burst out crying and you think, ‘Oh God! What are you crying for? It’s not that bad is it?!’” She jokes, “I’ve not done that bad a job, have I?!”
Fortunately, the organisation is mostly met with positivity, although at the beginning people were querying how a haircut would help people who are homeless.
“It’s a haircut at the end of the day. It’s about making them feel something. Getting a bit of dignity back. Especially when you’ve got ones that are, for example from Barnabus in Manchester, or The Whitechapel Centre in Liverpool, they’ll come and say they have an interview, or they’re going to see a counsellor, and they’ll say that they’re going to look much better after the haircut.”
Lena Headey is their new charity ambassador, and Jackie’s excitement is tangible (as is mine)! An incredible actress and wonderful activist, her far-reaching voice is sure to give this incredible charity the boost and recognition that they so rightly deserve.
Jackie tells me how she was jokingly called the Queen of the North after setting up 10 project in the North so successfully, but she feels like she has to relinquish the title now that Lena’s on board. After seeing the hair cuts, blowouts, and smiling faces throughout The Whitechapel Centre, I daresay that our clients might disagree. Sorry Lena!
Fundraiser for The Whitechapel Centre
Jane and her family stayed at one of our centres for families who are homeless. Jane is carer for her disabled husband and they have 4 children.
Becoming homeless is a difficult time for any family and Sue, our Children & Young Persons Worker, is there to help make things easier. Sue’s project is funded by Children in Need and she has helped hundreds of children and young people through their experience of homelessness.
Jane explains how it benefited her family, “Sue did so much to help us through a tough time. She helped find a local primary school for my girls, and travel passes so my older two could stay at their secondary school in north Liverpool. She also helped my eldest son get a work placement in the hospital as he’s interested in working there in the future.
During the school holidays Sue keeps all the children busy. Most of the families have very little money but Sue arranged days out, gym passes and activities in the centre itself. It’s a great way for the families to get to know each other too.
The staff at the family centre helped us to find a lovely new home in an area we wanted to live. But it was an hour long bus journey from my daughters’ school so we wanted to find somewhere closer. Sue helped us all the way, even coming with me to the appeal, which we won. Sue kept in touch after we left the hostel continuing to help us and to check that the kids were all settled in.
We're home now but had so many obstacles to face when we became homeless and we couldn’t have managed without Sue and all her support.”
Children in Need funding for the Children & Young Persons Project over the last 3 years has seen us support 426 children who were experiencing homelessness. Working directly with the children we have been able to improve access to education and learning, mental & physical wellbeing and better connection into the community.
David has taken part in every one our of 5 sleepout events - here he explains why:
It was always a dream to have a place in town and when I eventually moved into a flat in Liverpool City Centre, it became extremely evident how bad the homeless situation was. I would walk past people every day on the way to and from work and I’d see the same faces day and night. People would be bedding down for the night on the street as I was heading to bed and they’d still be there in the morning when I woke. I knew I wanted to help and at first just used to stop and offer food, drink and conversation. I wanted to do more so Googled how to help; it was then I came across The Whitechapel Centre. I started supporting with bucket collections before and after some matches but when I saw on social media about the Liverpool Sleepout and thought I’d give it a go.
What’s the best part of the event?
I take the whole event quite seriously so just turn up with my Sleeping bag just two pieces of cardboard and plastic sheeting. I like the challenge of trying to build my little shelter trying to make it as waterproof and windproof as I can. After having a little chat to my new neighbours and listening to the entertainment at 10pm, I climb into my shelter and that’s me for the night. Will I make it to the morning? Last year I really wasn’t sure as the tail end of storm Callum was still with us. I was drenched and up pretty early in the morning. Every previous year I had taken part had been dry and it was just a completely different experience. At the end of it I knew could go home have a hot shower and even go back to bed! I felt like I had earnt the money donated by my friends and family and it certainly was a challenge.
Having learnt more about The Whitechapel Centre and the amount of support they can offer, I wanted to support them. Often there are mental health issues underlying someone’s homelessness. I’m not afraid to share I’ve had my own mental health struggles in the past but I am lucky to have a support network around me. Mental health can have a huge impact on those who are or will become homeless, yet they may not have the people and resources to lean on when they need it most. Homelessness can really happen to anyone – Anyone is ANYONE.