The Julian Trust was founded in 1986 as an emergency night shelter to provide a “first rung on the ladder out of homelessness”. Since then, the Trust has relied on donations of space, food, clothes and money from many different sectors of the community, including various church organisations and local companies. Wessex Archaeology is proud to join this community of aid and has been running a collection service in its Bristol office for food items to donate to the Julian Trust for the last couple of years.
On the 20th December we dropped off our latest donation of tinned and dried foods, and as a Christmas bonus, were given a tour of the premises by John, the Secretary for the Trust. He explained to us the paramount importance that donations have in the running of the shelter and kitchen - so much so that harvest-time donations (around Christmas) keep the kitchen running for several months. Their food store, at this time, is pretty near to full, shelves bursting with tinned veg and ketchup bottles. Volunteers are organising products into use-by date order and keeping an inventory of their newly donated items.
Clothing and bedding are also happily received by the trust, who are then able to provide people with clean, dry clothes and bedding as often as they need it. They are stored in a large hall, inside which many beds were being set out. John explains to us that the room was being let out to a different charity over the festive period, who would be using it to provide a longer-term shelter for people over Christmas. This collaboration allowed the building to be used in an efficient manner, still helping to put a roof over peoples’ heads, while allowing the volunteers at JT to have some well-deserved holiday.
John takes us through to the kitchen and into the night shelter itself; reminiscent of a school gym hall, it is spacious and has a comforting friendliness about it while remaining austere and easy to clean. There are 18 beds placed around the edge of the room, not so private, but with enough space between them to be comfortable and have some personal space.
Throughout each evening, upwards of 60 members of the homeless community come to eat a free meal and have a hot drink provided by the Trust’s kitchen, some queueing outside for nearly the whole day in order to get one of the beds. As it is on a first come, first serve basis, lots of people are turned away due to the limited number of beds available, but the lovely volunteers make sure that nobody leaves with an empty belly.
One may think that the running of a night shelter would be a tumultuous affair but flicking through the evening logbooks reveals that the running theme is “pleasant and quiet night, everybody happy”. This is due in no small part to the legacy of the Trust’s founder, Meg Grimes. Meg’s caring spirit and incredible aptitude for creating open and respectful nurturing environments has lived on in the building, and in the volunteers since her tragic death in 2011. As John speaks of her life and her ways, the warmth which she brought with her was palpable in his words. This warmth, with its concomitant kindness and interest in helping people is, from an outside perspective, the central mobilising force which glues the Julian Trust together. Being there allowed us to take some of that essence back to Wessex, where it motivates us to keep the Julian Trust, its message, and the community it aids in mind.
With the alarming rise of homelessness in Bristol in recent years, it is clear that institutions such as the Julian Trust are key to protecting and caring for our most vulnerable communities, and it is the duty of local businesses and companies to support these institutions in any way possible to them. Wessex West is looking at ways to improve our engagement with the Trust; we in Bristol are making a name for ourselves across the company as the “work boot graveyard”, where abandoned but still useable boots from across the company can be cleaned, re-waterproofed and donated to the JT.
In the coming months, we also intend to start running a Friday soup kitchen for our staff, with the double bonus of providing affordable healthy meals for field staff returning from site, as well as a good consistent way to collect donations for the trust. We look forwards to helping out more in 2020.