The Gatehouse has been operating as a local drop in café for Oxford City homeless and the vulnerably housed for thirty years.
The Aims of the charity are: “To relieve poverty and hardship among homeless and needy people in or near the City of Oxford and, in particular, by the provision of a drop-in centre.”
On a more personal level this is achieved by welcoming the homeless and vulnerable and providing a place where companionship, dignity, and refreshment can be found in a warm, safe and therapeutic environment. All services offered by The Gatehouse to its Guests are provided free of charge.
The Gatehouse relies on the support of a wide range of organisations and individuals to be able to continue providing its essential services, and you can find out more on our Support Us page. Further details on specific types of support can be found on the Donate Money, Donate Food, Donate Clothes and other items, and Support from Organisations pages. We also operates a team of around 400 volunteers, and you can find out more about this on our Volunteer page.
The project was started by Oxford City churches as a winter daytime shelter in 1988, but soon began providing a wider range of services. In 1991 the organisation was registered as a charitable trust (registered charity number 1002741), under the name “Homeless People and the Oxford Churches (Gatehouse)”, which reflects its client-centred vision and Christian origins.
In practice, support comes from across the whole community and the project is entirely inclusive and non-proselytising. In fact, the most striking feature of the cafe is its accepting and non-judgemental attitude towards those who visit, many of whom have serious issues around mental health and addictions to drink and drugs.
The project is staffed mainly by volunteers of all ages who are supported by a small team of employees including the Project Director, plus part-time project workers and other support staff. There is also a board of trustees, a management committee which links the charity and operational aspects of the organisation, and a group of volunteer co-ordinators who manage the drop In sessions.
- 1988 The Gatehouse opens its doors at St Giles Church for the first time as a winter daytime shelter, although not operating under that name as yet.
- 1991 Registration as a charity under the name “Homeless People and the Oxford Churches (Gatehouse)” and The Gatehouse acquired a license from the City Council to start operating out of the basement of the Northgate Hall in St Michael’s Street which lasted for over 20 years.
- 2003 The Gatehouse was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for Charities.
- 2004 The book ‘Oxford: One City, Many Voices’ is published and The Gatehouse participates in the Oxford Literary Festival. In the book both professional authors (including Colin Dexter, Mark Haddon and Philip Pullman) and amateur writers from Oxford’s homeless community have contributed their stories and memories to provide a very personal perspective on life in this city
- 2011 The launch of a ‘Moving Home appeal, attempting to raise £175,000 to enable the organisation to move back into a fully renovated building at St Giles Parish Rooms in Woodstock Road. This target was achieved in less than a year and The Gatehouse moved and acquired a licence to start operating from St Giles Rooms in 2012, with final works on the garden area following shortly afterwards.
- 2014 The redevelopment of the garden area took place to ensure a high quality, therapeutic environment for Guests and their dogs. Alongside a new approach with how the Gatehouse works and Guest involvement this has led to a 100% decrease in anti-social behaviour complaints
- 2015 The development of the Literacy Forum which includes creative reading and writing groups, one to one work and regular theatre trips.
- 2015/2017 The Gatehouse receives two food hygiene ratings of 5 from the Environmental Health even though it is a volunteer led organisation.
- 2017 The introduction of a One to One Project Worker who offers continuity for Guests who need on-going support with housing, medical services, welfare benefits and lots more.
- 2018 The Gatehouse is celebrating its 30th anniversary (click here for details) and starts an internal and external review of the service to try and better meet Guests need and develop a five-year strategic plan.
Homelessness has been on the increase both locally and nationally for a number of years, with a recorded annual increase of rough sleepers in Oxford of 50% for 2017 vs. the 2016 figures.
Although it operates as a completely independent charity The Gatehouse participates in the Homeless Network in Oxford, and has strong links with many other local organisations dealing with the issue of homelessness across Oxfordshire. In a number of cases this has resulted in more formal partnerships or joint ventures with other local and national organisations, thereby offering additional services and maximising the level of support that can be provided.
The Gatehouse is also currently involved with the development and implementation of the Oxford City Council homelessness strategy through a process named The City Conversation, which includes the production of a Rough Sleeping Charter for Oxford in 2018. This process has brought together representatives from homeless organisations, people with lived experience of rough sleeping and other local stakeholders to share their knowledge, find a common understanding of what causes homelessness in Oxford, and find the means to tackle the issue. The overall aim is to ensure that nobody has to sleep rough on the streets of Oxford.
The core service, which has been offered by The Gatehouse since its early days, lies in providing regular sessions as an open door, drop-in centre. Currently these operate in St Giles Parish Rooms, Woodstock Road, Oxford from 5.00 to 7.00pm on weekdays plus 4.00 to 6.00pm on Sundays, with a partner shower project open from 12.00 to 2.00pm on Saturdays.
Overall a wide range of services are provided by The Gatehouse, which operate on several levels as follows:
- Meeting basic needs on site by providing food and drink, warmth and shelter, washing facilities, toiletries and sanitary products, clothes, sleeping bags and blankets, phone and internet access, newspapers and books, and social contact.
- Offering one to one support and advice on a wide range of personal issues, providing contact details and referrals to other relevant support organisations, and where appropriate helping Guests to find housing.
- Running workshops and other activities to support Guest development by increasing their skill base, confidence, and ability to interact with the community at large. These include both internal programmes (e.g. weekly literacy, art and computer sessions – see our Activities page for details) and referrals to external programmes run by partner organisations (e.g. St Giles Café, Aspire, and Waste2Taste).
- Operating outreach teams providing support directly on the streets of Oxford including a partnership with the national Sikh Welfare Awareness Team (SWAT).
Although many of the services are aimed at providing guests in their current homeless position with immediate necessary support, the long term aim is to help them achieve integration into the local community through a transition back into permanent housing and employment.