GALLERY: The Bishop of Ely tours Wisbech to learn about town’s charities
13:16 31 March 2014
The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Rev Stephen Conway, witnessed the amazing work of a handful of Wisbech’s charities when he took part in a tour of the town. Reporter JAMES PODESTA joined the bishop on his visit.
The bishop’s first stop on his walkabout was Wisbech Foodbank, in Wisbech Baptist Church.
Since it opened last June, Margaret Poole and her team of volunteers have handed out more than 1,300 parcels.
The demand is continually growing – when it first opened it handed out 20 parcels a week but now it hands out 70 to 80 parcels a week to people in need.
Mrs Poole said: “People are having to choose between turning on the heating or feeding themselves.
“If you have no money and family to help, where do you go?
“We are here to help somebody in a crisis and show them that somebody cares about them.”
Fellow volunteer Gwladys Monteil said: “It is a shame that we are needed but, as long as people are going hungry, we will be here for them.”
The second stop on the Bishop’s visit was the Norfolk Hospice charity shop.
Here, the Bishop opened the shop’s new vintage section.
The section, which was the idea of manager Jane Brown, sells men’s and women’s clothing from the 1920s to the 1970s.
There are dresses, hats, gloves, bags and other accessories in stock.
The Bishop did not leave empty handed – he spent £10 on a yellow teapot.
From there the Bishop headed to the Salvation Army Charity Shop, where he talked with volunteers.
As well as running the shop, the charity puts on a range of other activities including lunch and youth clubs.
On May 17, volunteers will take part in a fashion show where they will be decked out in clothes from the shop.
Canon Matthew Bradbury, who accompanied the Bishop on the tour, paid tribute to the town’s charity shops.
He said: “Charity shops in many regards have kept this town vibrant and alive.”
While in the shop the tall Bishop, aware of the height difference between him and the diminutive shop manager, got down on one knee so he could speak to her without looking down, prompting cackles of laughter.
The fourth stop on the Bishop’s Wisbech walkabout was the Ferry Project’s emergency night shelter.
At the shelter, homeless people are provided with supper and breakfast, a shower, toiletries, hot drinks, a clean bed and bedding.
They are offered advice on accommodation, employment, training, drug and alcohol issues, and reconnection to home countries.
Upon arrival, the Bishop met with founder Keith Smith and heard the testimony of two men who have been helped by the project.
When Martin Horsepole had nowhere to go after his mother was taken into care, the shelter provided him with somewhere to stay.
He has since been transferred to Octavia View and the team is hopeful he will soon get his own accommodation.
Mr Horsepole said: “They have been fantastic. I have a lot of health problems and there has always been someone here to support me. Nothing is ever too much for them.”
John Heathorn first came through the shelter’s doors in 2009. He had been sleeping rough and forced to rummage through bins for food.
The Ferry Project helped him get his life back on track and now he is one of the centre’s maintenance staff.
He said: “I had made some bad choices and ended up in prison. When I left, I moved up here but couldn’t find work.
“Before long I was sleeping rough and going through bins for food.
“Thankfully, I ended up here. You are surrounded by so many generous people, who have become my family.”
The night shelter needs £65,000 to stay open for the rest of the year. They are taking things week by week and have set up a printing business to try and raise funds.
Mr Smith said: “If we don’t get support, we will see a return to people living on the streets and all the associated problems that will bring.
“When people are homeless, they become more than invisible, because people go out of their way to avoid them.
“We don’t help people; we empower them to help themselves.”
The Bishop said: “People like Keith Smith and his volunteers at the Ferry Project have, through their devotion, transformed the lives of people who are very vulnerable and given them another chance, helping them to restore their dignity and feel like human beings again.”
The Bishop was en route to the shelter when his attention was captured by the reptiles in Fenland Exotics.
He popped inside and spoke with the manager Andy Shortland for a few moments about the colourful creatures then, after politely being informed by the Canon there was a tight schedule to be stuck to, made his way out of the shop.
The penultimate stop on the Bishop’s tour was the Oasis Christian Bookshop, which holds drop-in sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays.
He was greeted by owners Richard and Maggie Welford, who have run the shop for 26 years.
While he was there he spoke to Fenland district councillor Simon King, who was representing credit union Wisbech Rainbow Savers.
It offers safe savings accounts, small loans at low interest rates and free life assurance - providing an alternative to banks, building societies, doorstep lenders and payday loan companies.
The Bishop has already set up an account with the scheme.
After enjoying the spread of sandwiches and cakes laid out at the shop, the Bishop headed to St Augustine’s Parish Church to lead a songs of praise service.
Reflecting on his tour of Wisbech, the Bishop said he was encouraged by the community spirit of the town.
He said: “Wisbech may face a lot of challenges but this is a place that is helping itself. There is resilience, passion and enterprise here.
“I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen today - and I got to see a lizard as well!”