Winter Watch provides homeless, transient, vulnerable and lonely adults with hot food, clothing, showers and advice and support over the winter months. Many of our guests have mental health needs, drink and drug related problems.
The purpose of our free and open-access café is to provide a place of safety and warmth which minimises the risk of harm to some of the most vulnerable adults in our town. It is a place for friendship and a practical expression of care and compassion in action. It is also a place to get alongside people and provide information, advice and signposting to other services.
A number of our guests are known to us through their accessing other Urban Outreach services and so our café provides an opportunity for continuity of support.
“Coming here keeps me out of trouble. It’s decent food. Normally I would be drinking on the streets. It’s good to know there is somewhere to go.”
How it Works
Winter Watch has been operating since 1997. The café is based at our Urban Restore Centre which is situated on the corner of Pool Street and Bark Street, Bolton. We open our doors on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings between January and March. Each evening is staffed by volunteers.
The café provides every guest with a three course meal which they choose from the evening’s menu. It provides a safe place of warmth and friendship. It is a place for our guests to socialise and chat and for volunteers to provide a sympathetic listening ear. Emergency items are provided to rough-sleepers as needed. A hairdresser and chiropodist attend periodically. We have also held quiz and music spots which have been greatly appreciated by our guests – bringing joy and much valued socialisation.
Schools, churches and many other organisations provide most of the food we need to run Winter Watch. This is done through harvests and other events, and through regular food collections. We have a storage facility to help us sort and store food donations with a long shelf-life. This is supplemented by fresh food donated during the period of our café’s opening.
150 volunteers are recruited and trained each year to run the café on a rota basis. We also engage a team of volunteer cooks help prepare the delicious meals fresh each week the café is open.
In May and June of each year we run School Open Days. These allow year 5 and 6 primary school children to learn more about poverty and homelessness, and see what happens to their food donations. Then in Autumn we visit a large number of schools and churches to speak, share our work and collect food donations.
Last winter marked the first one when we ran Winter Watch alongside our emergency night shelter project (In off the Street). Although run from different buildings, two services worked well together and we were able to ensure that none of our guests needed to resort to sleeping on the streets.
We welcome food donations at any time of year, from which we set aside suitable items for our ‘Winter Watch’ and ‘In off the Street’ projects. Other food that is donated is utilised in our food parcels which are distributed all year round. For more information on food donations, please click here.
Due to the pandemic, we had to close the service down earlier than planned this year – only operating for 24 nights out of the expected 36. However, many of our most vulnerable clients continued to be supported in a Covid-19 secure manner through some of our other services.
Outcomes for Winter Watch were reduced accordingly with meals service totalling 1,321 (down from 2,259 in the previous year). In total, 308 individuals came through our doors (down from 375). 26% of our guests this year also attended in the previous year (down from 39% previously). 248 were male and 60 were female. Our oldest guest was 76 and our youngest was 18. On average 10 of our guests were rough sleeping on the evening (up from 8 in the previous year). Others were sofa surfing without a permanent place to call home. This year we completed feedback forms and held reflective discussions with guests during some evening shifts. The feedback was very positive and demonstrated the positive impact that the project has had on many lives over many years.
Before the 2019 summer break, 12 schools enjoyed attending 18 Open Day sessions which we held at our Centre. We held one further session in a school. A total of 570 children and 63 adults participated in these. In addition, we gave talks in 32 schools, community groups and 6 churches over the autumn season – providing children and adults with an insight into our work, the facts about homelessness, what happens to all the food which is donated to us, and the part we can all play to eradicate homelessness and poverty. In a recent survey of participating schools, 100% of teaching staff said our Open Day sessions were useful and informative.
In the Autumn of 2019, 94 schools, businesses and churches contributed tons of food and made valuable and greatly appreciated contributions in support of our work.
As a result of the pandemic, running Winter Watch next year presents us with a number of challenges which we will need to work through. Come what may, we are determined to ensure that the ‘safety net’ services we provide to our most vulnerable clients including rough sleepers, continue to be delivered in some form or other.