In 2008, food was regularly handed out to the homeless by volunteers from the back of a Salvation Army van. The Salvation Army eventually moved its operation to South Wigston. However, there was still a need to support the homeless in Leicester.
It was agreed that we would provide a regular food service every Thursday evening to a group of about 20 regular guests at Bishop Street Methodist Church. As well as serving food and hot drinks, most importantly we provided them with companionship. And so was born The Bridge Homelessness to Hope.
The Bridge, which has a strong Christian ethos, registered as a charity in this year.
That Christmas, we ran our first Night Shelter at the Dawn Centre. There were around 10 to 12 guests and over 30 volunteers.
Another one of the original trustees, Ian Bremner, who was the chef at The Case Restaurant in Leicester, also ran a food service in Leicester Market every Wednesday evening. By the end of 2009, The Bridge had extended its food service to Sunday afternoons.
In 2010, The Bridge moved to Kildare Street in Leicester where we offered a regular food service every Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon.
Ian and his team continued to provide food at Leicester market on Wednesdays. The meals on Thursday evening were cooked by students at Leicester College, and on Sundays, they were provided by members of the Sai Centre. We also handed out clothing to those in need. That winter we ran our second Night Shelter.
Our food services continued throughout the year. On average around 70-80 guests were being fed at each of the Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday sessions.
In November, Leicester Cathedral sponsored “Buy a Lunch, Give a Lunch”, a fundraising event at St Martin’s House, Leicester with the proceeds going to The Bridge.
The Bridge continued to operate out of Kildare Street providing food every Wednesday and Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon.
We also took the opportunity to take food out to rough sleepers on the streets. At the end of year, we ran our third Night Shelter.
Geoff Parling, a British Lions, England, and Leicester Tigers player, came down as a volunteer for the Night Shelter and subsequently agreed to become an ambassador for The Bridge, and to help with fund raising.
Patrick Harris, who had been working with The Bridge since its inception, became the charity's first formal employee by becoming an outreach worker in April 2014.
As well as this work, he continued to run each and every food session on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, which continued throughout the year.
In January, The Bridge held its first fundraising dinner at Leicester College. We also held our first Health Awareness Day at Kildare Street and in the summer took several of our guests on a day out to Foxton Locks.
In October we opened our first advice centre in conjunction with the Zinthyia Trust. We also ran another Health Awareness Day. In November, we launched Mothers Apart, a group which aimed to help women who were not in regular touch with their children, and Day One, a group for men.
In early January we held our second fundraising dinner at Leicester College and in April we held a residential activity weekend at the Peak Centre in Derbyshire for several of our guests.
March saw our first links with Leicester University Criminology Department and in May we opened our first breakfast service at Kildare Street – seven days a week. May also saw the first Bridge Newsletter and in December we agreed on The Bridge's Vision Statement: "For everyone in Leicester to have a place to call home and hope for the future."
In the summer we moved from Kildare Street to our current home at Melton Street, which meant that we could now offer our guests shower facilities.
In the same month, we ran first our Health Awareness Day in conjunction with medical students from the Leicester University Project Light programme.
On 31st October we also launched a CIC selling coffee from a converted milk float 'Ernie', and just before Christmas, we welcomed the Leicester Tigers Development Squad to Melton Street to cook a meal for our guests.
March saw the launch of our Five-Year Mental Health Strategy and the start of a close working relationship with Leicester Recovery College as well as a big fundraising event 'The Big Sleep Out' at Leicester University.
April saw our annual Health Awareness Day and the start of quarterly Discovery Days, which included art therapy classes, and late in the year we held our first Social Evening for Bridge Volunteers at Melton Street and took part in a fire-walk fundraiser in Oadby.
The second Big Sleep Out fundraising event took place at both Leicester and De Montfort University in March and in the summer various guests who had been attending art therapy classes at Melton Street held an Art Exhibition in Leicester.
Towards the end of the year, we installed computers for our guests’ use and held a 'Bridge Has Got Talent' Evening at Melton Street.
The year closed with the Tigers Development Squad cooking a Christmas meal for our guests at Melton Street and with our annual Christmas Dinner for our guests at The Case Restaurant in Leicester, which had been taking place every year since the inception of The Bridge H2H.
2019 also saw the departure of two of the founding Trustees, Keith and Kath Lawson West. To celebrate their contributions and achievements, the Bridge H2H held a Farewell Dinner for them, appropriately at The Case Restaurant.
The year started with the continued provision of breakfast every weekday morning and food on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The mentoring programme was going from strength to strength as was the provision of mental health support.
We were an active member of the Leicester Homelessness Charter and looking forward to achieving great things for our guests. Melton Street was looking more and more like the hub we had always wanted it to be with a variety of services and organisations now offering help to our guests. And then the pandemic hit.
Overnight we had to close our doors but not before we’d obtained Leicester City Council’s promise to house all the rough sleepers who’d come to rely on our services.
Some staff members volunteered at Chroma Food Bank during the lockdown, continuing their work with the homeless and rough sleepers. In May, face-to-face casework was restarted as well telephone mentoring.
As the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic wained, we were able to go full steam ahead with the developments of our Hub at The Bridge.
Our recreational sessions were restarted with the support of our new Creative Lead, Luke Broughton and we were able to offer new activities including Arts and Crafts, Music and Cooking.
The Bridge was awarded the nationally recognised 'Investing in Volunteers' quality standard for good practice in volunteer management, and we held our first Volunteer Social to celebrate all of the fantastic work done by volunteers.
The charity was particularly busy towards the end of the year, with an Access All Areas 2 fundraiser in aid of our creative sessions, a Christmas Art Exhibition to showcase the brilliant work of our guests and The Bridge Band, and our first Women's Open Space.
We ended an amazing year with a Christmas meal cooked at The Bridge by Ian Bremner and his team of wonderful volunteers (pictured).
With restrictions completely over, we were able to host our third Big Sleep event in collaboration with The University of Leicester and De Montfort University, raising over £13,000 for The Bridge.
In the spring, Midland Langar Seva Society held their first free Dental Clinic at The Bridge where guests could get access to free dental care.
Hub developments continued into the new year, with our Hub space being given a new lease of life with a fresh coat of paint, new furniture and plants, and we launched a variety of recreational activities including Football, Creative Writing and Music: Recording and Performing.
In the summer of 2022, The Bridge Football Team participated in the Sound Cafe football tournament and our Bridge Band played at Riverside Festival for the first time. Access All Areas 3 was held at Duffy's Bar to raise funds for the Music Sessions and we held our second volunteer social.
The year ended with a Christmas exhibition at The Bridge and Christmas dinner for our guests.
And so, to 2023. We approach the future with hope and a genuine expectation that things will only get better. We have great plans for the future and a dedicated, passionate, talented and committed team of staff and volunteers to carry them out.
The Board is equally committed to driving forward our plans for a better future for our guests and together we will achieve our vision “For everyone in Leicester to have a place to call home and hope for the future.”