This is an odd title for an introduction. But yes, serving at Sanctuary in this season 20/21 does not feel like it did in previous years. The obvious reason for that is Covid-19. May we first say though, that what we have experienced pales into insignificance when compared to the loss and suffering of so many loved ones. The distressing statistics speak for themselves.
You will remember that COVID-19 shut us down on 23rd March 2020, however we worked with the council so that most of our guests were placed into temporary accommodation.
For this year 2020/21, Gravesham Council leased a ten-room building where our guests could sleep at night – this was because no communal sleeping is allowed under COVID-19 Guidelines from Central Government. We had never run this type of venue before, and with managing evening meals at Longferry Court, this presented many challenges to us especially during a worldwide pandemic.
A lot of work went into prepping both venues for COVID-19 safety and we are grateful to Carol Webster, one of our trustees, for putting all the appropriate policies together. This has been a great success in that we have had no COVID-19 cases within the shelter itself.
As you will know, the upsurge in the infection rate at the end of 2020, really focussed our minds on our guests who were outside all day. We quickly realised that to keep our guests safe we needed to turn the sleeping venue into a 24/7 style hostel. We had five days to make this change and it took a week or so to bed down, but it has allowed us to care and support our guests on a continuous basis which benefits their health and mental well-being.
So, yes it is not the same. The lack of space at the sleeping venue has meant that we had to reduce our volunteer numbers in the evening and overnight to maintain social distancing. It also meant that we could no longer eat our meals alongside our guests, or do puzzles, jigsaws, games and chat over a tea or coffee. The interaction with our guests is now limited when compared to previous years, which has been very frustrating and at times can make us feel deflated.
However, there is much to be thankful for. You will have seen in our recent Facebook post that we have prevented over 500 sleeps on the streets of Gravesham. We have 25 registered guests, and although that does not sound a lot, do remember that we only have ten rooms available.
We have successfully been able to help several guests move onto more permanent accommodation and access other support services.
Sadly, some of our long-standing volunteers have had to withdraw this season due to being clinically vulnerable to COVID-19, which is perfectly understandable. However, we have been able to recover from this by reducing numbers on the evening shift – although we have added daytime shifts that we have not run before.
We are grateful for those of you who have been able to support us through this awful pandemic, and despite the frustration of it all, all of you have made a difference to the lives of those we care for.