Coventry Winter Night Shelter (CWNS), a city-wide initiative that has quickly caught the public imagination, is up and running. And St. Mary Magdalen in Chapelfields, “the church with the blue roof”, is pitching in to help.
It was late October when a night-time tour of the city centre with the rough sleepers team showed councillors that the extent of homelessness in Coventry was significantly greater than they had previously thought. With the city itself currently unable to meet demand, councillors issued a plea to local churches to set up a volunteer-run winter night shelter until the end of March. The faith community rose to the challenge, and a few short weeks later, the shelter is up and running. Operating on a rotating basis in a different church building each evening of the week, the shelter offers a meal and a bed for the night. As the space at each venue is limited, beds are made available on a strictly pre-registered basis – this also makes it easier to link the guests up with agencies able to help address the underlying problems that lead to homelessness in the first place.
The Revd. Stella Bailey, priest at St. Mary Magdalen, described the church’s involvement in the project (it has the Wednesday evening slot) as the latest stage in a journey that started with a conversation over coffee at the church’s Christmas fair two years ago. Fired by a desire to use the church’s large (but frequently under-occupied) interior to help the local community, opening its doors to the night shelter once a week is a vivid indication of how far Stella and the community at St. Mary Magdalen have travelled in exploring the way forward. It is, she told ECHO, an embodiment of the biblical injunction to “learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17). “Being part of the CWNS is just an opportunity to make a small difference to someone’s life, giving them dignity as we live out our faith in a practical way”. Jan Green, co-ordinator for St. Mary Magdalen’s involvement, reported that chicken casserole and bread pudding on the church’s first night of operation amply fulfilled CWNS’s expectation that guests be offered “exaggerated hospitality”.
Although many people from across the city have volunteered to help at the seven venues, more are needed (a Christian faith commitment is not a requirement). Prospective volunteers should be able to offer one or more of the following: an evening (7 – 10.15pm); overnight (10pm – 7am); or early morning (6.45 – 9am) shift. Volunteers are particularly needed for overnight and morning sessions. If you can help, even occasionally, please contact Nobby Clarke by email.