How we’ve grown
The Gatehouse was started by the Oxford city churches as a winter daytime shelter in November 1988 and quickly developed into something more: newspapers, second-hand clothes and board games are provided, as well as an outstanding library of books. Lap-top computers give wireless access to the internet. Just as important is the social contact provided: it helps the marginal “guests” to connect with their own community and the wider world. The doors are open six days a week and no charge is made for any of the services provided.
An independent registered charity (No. 1002741), the Gatehouse’s official title is Homeless People and the Oxford Churches, 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 five part-time workers. There are eight trustees, a management committee of twelve and a group of volunteer co-ordinators which meets monthly. The aims are stated to be:
“To welcome the homeless and lonely, and to provide a place where companionship, dignity and refreshment can be found in a warm and safe environment”.
In recent years, these aims have been interpreted to include a variety of creative activities such as having an artist in residence and publishing a book of writings and reminiscences. As a result, the Gatehouse was invited to participate in the Oxford Literary Festival in March 2004 and the book OXFORD: ONE CITY, MANY VOICES presented the perspective of homeless people alongside those of award-winning authors such as Philip Pullman, Colin Dexter and Mark Haddon.
This sort of activity makes the Gatehouse much more than a soup kitchen. It gives dignity and self-esteem back to those for whom every day is a bruising reminder that they are considered outsiders in their own city.
Oxford: One City, Many Voices
OXFORD: ONE CITY, MANY VOICES brings together an eclectic group of writers who have one thing in common: they share the experience of living in Oxford. In this community-based, locally-sponsored project, both professional authors and amateur writers from Oxford’s homeless community have contributed their stories and memories. Each is different, some are shocking, but all give a personal perspective on life in a city which never fails to create a lasting impression on those who live here.
With an introduction by John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, contributions from Sister Gabriel Benedict, Melvyn Bragg, Humphrey Carpenter, Colin Dexter, A. C. Grayling, Janie Hampton, Mark Haddon, Godfrey Howard, Ann McPherson, Bernard O’Donoghue, Tim Pears, Philip Pullman, Francine Stock, Chris Sykes, D. J. Taylor, Priscilla Tolkien and Barbara Trapido, and the unique writings from those considered to be on the fringes of society this is a truly diverse collection.
The photographs from the book have formed a fascinating record of this special Oxford community, and are available for display in public spaces such as pubs, cafes and churches
All proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Gatehouse.
Copies are available from the Fairtrade shop at St Michael’s Church (http://www.fairtradeatstmichaels.co.uk/) as well as our own office, price £5.00.
It was time to move on. The Northgate Hall served us well for the past 20 years, but our landlord had other plans for it. In 2011 St Giles Church welcomed us back to the room where we first started, alongside well-established community groups and casual hirers of the hall. We have negotiated an agreement which will provide us with a secure future for the next 15 years and a say in the renovations and adaptations that are needed.
We actually moved in by 14th February 2012. This means …
For the first time we have disabled access AND a decent office AND a modern kitchen
We thought we were going to be homeless but it feels like we’ve come home – with your help!
The move involved us in extra costs: much of the equipment we were using was in need of replacement, and the building we have moved into has needed adaptation and refurbishment. The AGM in 2011 saw the launch of a charitable appeal to see us into the new era – the target for the Appeal was £175,000.
But thanks to the efforts of so many individuals and the generosity of people, organisations and trusts we have raised that money and the Appeal is now closed. It’s been hard work but also great fun and we’ve enjoyed so many splendid occasions together.
For news, photos and updates on the Moving Home appeal, go to http://www.gatehousemovinghome.blogspot.com/
Moving Home Background
Once Upon a Time
It was back in the winter of 1988 when a group of concerned citizens got together to run a Christmas drop-in in the St Giles Parish Rooms. At that time none of the projects in Oxford working with homeless people were open from 4.00pm to 7.00pm. There was nowhere to escape from the rain, the cold or the blazing sun.
They said: “Someone ought to do something!” and then agreed they would have to do the job themselves. Without previous experience, but fired by a naive optimism, they created a social space for those on the edge and proceeded to make lots of sandwiches and cups of tea.
Having moved to the Northgate Hall in St Michael’s Street in 1991 (and acquired the name The Gatehouse) the project still had many of the same features: an open door to anyone in need, a non-judgemental and supportive attitude, and a volunter-led team. A community was created in which people of all ages and backgrounds learned to trust each other and work for the common good.
In January 2011, Oxford City Council issued a Press Release confirming that they would be issuing notice for the return of Northgate Hall, so we set about looking for new premises. And then came the good news – and a wonderful invitation to move back to the St Giles Parish Rooms, where it all started. We launched the “Moving Home” Appeal in April 2011, setting ourselves the target of £175,000 to cover everything needed to secure a long-term future for the project: renovations and adaptations for the building, a big down-payment on the rent, plus all the moving and rental expenses. With the help of many individuals and groups across the community, the target was met in less than a year. Apart from work on the garden, which will be done during the summer, the work is complete and the project completely re-equipped.
In February 2012 the great move took place and we are settling in well at St Giles. We now open every Sunday – Friday (but not Saturday), offering the same friendly service and open door.