“Not long now, dear – we’ll soon be there.”
Our “strapline”, ever since the Ark opened in 2008, has been “Helping homeless and vulnerable people to weather the storms of life” and, with everyone else, the Ark has been weathering its own storm this last year.
When COVID struck last March, Shropshire Council moved very quickly to arrange hotel accommodation, mostly in the Prince Rupert in Shrewsbury Town Centre, for everyone known to be sleeping rough in the County. Staff and volunteers from the Ark contacted everyone on the streets and brought them to the hotels, and then helped to arrange policies, procedures and “comforts” to keep them all safe and entertained in such unfamiliar surroundings. It was a highly successful joint effort which formed the model for other similar schemes around the Country, and it has led to some wonderfully heart- warming stories about lives turned around – although sadly some found they could not accept the constraints of having to stay in their rooms, even in comfortable hotel rooms, for much of every day and returned to the streets.
Meanwhile the Ark also set up arrangements to keep in close touch with clients who were already in their own accommodation, taking food parcels and other necessities to them, and ensuring they had the advice and support they needed. Indeed that enhanced outreach service has become a necessity because the Ark’s own premises in Castle Foregate, which were already very tight for our purposes, were clearly useless in a pandemic with social distancing in force.
10 Castle Foregate was a boon when we first moved in and has served its purpose. But it has proved to be too small to allow expansion of our work, and is poorly-configured for the job. We have been looking out for new premises close to the Town Centre and transport hubs for a good few years now, and that search became even more pressing in the pandemic. Late last summer we put in an offer to buy the “Rock & Fountain” pub, a little further north on Castle Foregate, which has far more space than No 10 and great scope for expansion of our support for our clients. For example, one great leap forward in early 2020 was the equipping of a small medical room in No 10, in which regular visits from a local GP have enabled clients to have proper medical advice for minor ailments and, sometimes, for underlying conditions that are much more serious. But calling it a medical “room” is misleading: it was converted from a store-cupboard! In our new premises there will be space for a properly equipped treatment room which can be used by GPs, nurses and mental health practitioners.
Completing the purchase has been slower than we had hoped. Various legalistic issues arose and, at time of writing, we are still ironing the last few out. We are very nearly there and perhaps by the time this is published we may even have moved to our new home. It has been exciting and slightly scary for a small local charity to be investing such large sums in such a bold venture – but Noah did not flinch when God told him to build his Ark, and the summit of Mount Ararat is now clearly in sight.
But is it really Mount Ararat? Actually, no. Genesis tells us that when Noah’s Ark finally settled on dry land it was the end of his journey, and he “began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard, and he drank of the wine and was drunken.” The Shrewsbury Ark’s journey will continue, because the whole purpose of finding new premises is to be able to support homeless and vulnerable people better, to turn more lives around, and to contribute to a more caring, Christian community. We are determined not to rest on our laurels in self-congratulation and, figuratively, we shall certainly not plant any vineyards and over-indulge in their produce (even in a former pub!). It will be a new and, we hope, an even more successful chapter in the life of this Ark.
Ian Somervaille (Trustee)