Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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The Connection at St Martins goes under the knife

May 22 2009
Baker: Baker:
As phase one of the renovation starts, services for the homeless are being revamped, with younger and older people sharing the same space The church of St Martin-in-the-Fields has embarked on a ¬¨¬£34m building project to improve its facilities for the community, visitors and those in need, and as the first phase of the project starts, services for the homeless are being revamped. All homeless services have moved to the 12 Adelaide Street side of the building and, for the first time, younger and older people will be using the same space. "This is a big change, but we already do that at weekends," said Mick Baker, director of services. "Conventional wisdom has that you shouldn't mix them [the age groups] together, but that's not the case, certainly from our experience on the weekends anyway." The whole of the basement will be used for homeless, with food on the cafe floor and, according to Baker, the same services will continue to be provided, such as specialist mental-health team, housing advice, benefits advice, as well as an employment and training service which also runs vocational training courses. The night centre has also moved into the new building along with everything else. "The different geography of this building means that some clients will sleep in arm chairs but most will sleep in camp beds or on sleeping mats, we haven't decided which yet," explained Baker. The new buildings planned will be fully modernised and it will have more room for staff and clients. "It will be a bespoke service and we have been fully involved in the design of the place," added Baker. Asked whether the refurbishment would affect the drop-in centre, where people can stop by for a cuppa, Baker said he expects people to prioritise their needs. "This is not a coffee bar and we want people to come here to address other needs, rather than just for a cup of coffee." With the building work running to schedule, the services have moved to the Adelaide Street side, but when the building works start at Adelaide Street they will have to decamp to Portacabins which will be placed near the church for about nine months. "It‚Äö?Ñ??s not ideal, but it's a small price to pay to have a much better building," said Baker. Most of the refurbishment focuses on the church, and about 700,000 people pass through St Martin-in-the-Fields' doors every day. Those who use St Martin's have been struggling with failing buildings, unable to cope with their contemporary uses, for too long. For example, the innovative Social Care Unit was based in a nineteenth century burial vaults that were condemned as unfit for the dead in the 1850s. As part of the new design, many areas of the new site will become physically accessible to all, with the provision of lifts and level access. The market will not be returning and the area above what was the day centre will have a new entrance pavilion and foyer. This will provide a straightforward passage to all of the extensive underground facilities. We'll watch the progress with interest, and report in full. * When North Lambeth Day Centre closed, and before it was announced it would not reopen, rumours abounded that when it reopened it would no longer be a place to drop-in. It would be somewhere to 'engage with services.' This would amount to little if it was an isolated decision, but perhaps it isn't. There is certainly a policy around at present that frowns on the idea of drop-in services, but these seem to be more to do with contracts for receiving funding from local authorities than ideas generated by homeless organisations themselves. So, with a gulf growing between smaller open-door services offering tea and companionship, and the larger services that want you to talk about your needs, The Pavement will look at what will happen in future. We will be looking into this shift in policy in another issue, asking who advocates it and who implements it. Is this the death of drop-in?