This month we’re taking a closer look at The Bridge – Homelessness to Hope, a local charity which has a strong Christian-ethos and began in 2009 with a mission to help people who are homeless in Leicester by providing them with hot food, drinks and most importantly, companionship. Today, The Bridge’s team and volunteers derive from many backgrounds and religions, all with one common goal: to help those who are on the street move from despair to hope.

We spoke to Keith Neville, Case Manager who told us about his role within the charity.

Tell us about your role and how long you’ve been working with people experiencing homelessness.

I’m the newest member of the team, having joined the charity in March 2021. I’m responsible for line managing the team and supporting our fantastic staff and volunteers in the great work that they do, as well as handling my own caseload. I am also responsible for overseeing our trauma-based Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) approach, which underpins every aspect of our provision.

Before working with the homeless community, I worked in education for 15 years, with a particular interest in the power of relationships and communities to improve people’s life chances. I am also studying part-time in the evenings to gain a qualification in counselling and psychotherapy, which complements my role at The Bridge where I am a daily point of contact for many of our guests.

What does The Bridge offer to people experiencing homelessness in Leicester?

The Hope Centre gives our guests a safe space to access the help they need. This can be with basic needs such as having a shower, washing clothes or having a free hot meal at our Community Cafe, provided our brilliant Kitchen Coordinator Lesley and our incredible team of volunteers, all ably coordinated by our fantastic Volunteer Coordinator Jojo.

Because we passionately believe in long-lasting and sustained change, we also have dedicated caseworkers in myself and Karen, who are on hand to assist with applications for housing, benefits and EU Settlement Scheme applications. We can also assist with helping guests to access medical treatment and support for their mental health.

We also have a range of fantastic activities organised by our superb Hub Coordinator Gemma, such as our art and music sessions. On top of that, we also run a superb mentoring programme – The Lighthouse Project – developed by Lea, our Mentoring Coordinator. This gives individuals a dedicated mentor for a period of three to six months, helping to increase their confidence and reduce feelings of isolation.

In short, we do loads!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’ve already sung their praises, but our team of staff and volunteers are absolutely superb. Day in, day out, I am endlessly impressed by their warmth, dedication and generosity of spirit. I also love working with out guests, supporting them practically with accessing medical care, housing and benefits, but also getting to know them as individuals and seeing them use The Bridge as a foundation for becoming safer, happier and healthier members of the community.

What do you find most challenging?

Many of our guests have many obstacles that get in the way of them becoming the people they want to be. Some of these obstacles can be solved quicker than others, but some need continued support, and overcoming them does not happen as quickly as you often wish. I have already learned that patience coupled with persistence is the key to helping our guests move forward, always from a place of acceptance and non-judgement.

Can you tell us about how you work in partnership with other Leicester agencies and how this has resulted in improved outcomes for the people that you work with?

We have fantastic links with other Leicester agencies. We are represented on the Homeless Charter and also attend the weekly Multi-Agency Care Collaborative (MACC) meeting, which draws together a number of Leicester agencies to share our knowledge and expertise and decide how best to support some of our most vulnerable guests. We enjoy a close working relationship with the Revolving Door and Outreach teams at the council, as well as the staff at the Dawn Centre. We also encourage charities such as One Roof and Amicus to use The Bridge as a meeting point for guest with whom we are jointly involved. We have also recently partnered with St Mungo’s Recovery College in Leicester to set up some ESOL classes for guests, and are also working with St Mungo’s, as well as Work Pays and Links2Work, to help provide guests with support in gaining the skills needed to find work.

Are there any ways that the local community can get involved?

Lots! There are simple ways, such as donating money or clothes. This can be done by visiting our website www.bridgeleicester.org and checking out our clothing wish list. We also accept food donations. Details of what we can accept can be found on the website. But if people want to get more actively involved, we have a superb volunteering programme and mentoring programme, and the details of current opportunities and how to get involved can again be found on our website. We welcome people of all backgrounds and life experiences – the richness of our community is part of what makes supporting The Bridge such a rewarding thing to do and part of why I love working here.

For more information about The Bridge Homelessness to Hope please at www.bridgeleicester.org.