2006 A tragedy in our community
Concerned about local rough sleepers, Dr Sheena Dykes of Union Baptist Church, the future chair of the charity, and Rev Paul Willis of All Saints High Wycombe look into how local churches might make a difference in their community for people living on the street.
Their concern is underlined when Josie, a local woman who is sleeping rough, is found dead in Easton Street car park on Christmas morning.
2007 A heartfelt response
An open meeting is held in Wycombe and in faith that the resources needed will be provided, people decide to start a winter night shelter, a safe place for people who otherwise would be sleeping on the street.
Volunteers and churches step forward to run a mobile, dormitory-style night shelter. The churches that offer to host the shelter are Trinity United Reformed Church, All Saints High Wycombe, St John and St Birinus (later Christ the Servant King), Union Baptist Church, Wesley Methodist Church, St Mary and St George, and Holy Trinity Hazlemere.
2008 Our shelter opens
Wycombe Winter Night Shelter opens in January and guests are offered a bed, food, conversation, showers, laundry and hope.
Project coordinator Ali Preston and 200 volunteers make it happen. Our first guest, Mark, is helped to find a home just a few weeks later and 29 of 36 guests do not return to the street.
Daytime activities begin with our first steps helping guests with issues causing or arising from their homelessness. The coffee shop at Oakley Hall is the perfect place to begin our outreach and support work; we help guests look for work and more permanent homes.
Members of All Saints Church sleep out in their churchyard to raise money for our work and awareness of our work, inspiring our own Big Sleepout.
2009 Officially a charity
Wycombe Winter Night Shelter becomes a registered charity and we receive the Community Safety award from Wycombe District Council for our shelter. Big Issue founder, John Bird, visits our night shelter.
A volunteer builds a complex database to streamline organising our volunteers into the 267 shift teams needed to run the shelter – a mammoth task!
Paul Griggs joins our team as support worker and we start year-round drop-ins providing ongoing assistance to people who are sleeping rough.
2010 More than a shelter
The charity changes its name from Wycombe Winter Night Shelter to Wycombe Homeless Connection reflecting our expanding mission to serve all year round, bringing help and hope to people who are homeless.
We add another full-time support worker, run English classes for some of our guests and Polish classes for our volunteers.
2011 The charity grows, but finding homes gets harder
The Localism Act lets councils allocate social housing as they choose, making it harder for people to access homes.
47 people stay in our night shelter. We run a series of art workshops which inspire and nourish our guests.
We begin to build an office team with the appointment of our first employed administrator and we launch our first proper website.
2012 Building for the future
With the problem of homelessness growing, we add an operations manager and a volunteering coordinator to make our activities even more effective.
Volunteers also take on major roles including office administration and a monitoring system is created so we can tell stories and talk about the impact our work is making.
2013 Wycombe town centre Support Centre opens
Our Support Centre on Castle Street is opened by Countess Elizabeth Howe, our patron, offering morning drop-in housing support and advice sessions.
We develop a tenancy support service to help people who have found a home to stay in it – a vital service.
Crisis loans are abolished, so people can no longer fund a deposit or rent in advance without savings which is another obstacle to being secure in their home.
2014 The Big Sleepout is launched
Our Big Sleepout launches and is a huge success as people in our community swap their beds for sleeping bags and raise money for our work.
Di Morrish joins us as volunteering coordinator. Wycombe Community Church becomes one of our night shelter venues alongside Trinity United Reformed Church, All Saints, Union Baptist Church, Wesley Methodist Church, Oakridge Baptist Church and King’s Church.
2015 The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service
We are thrilled to be nominated for and receive The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. The award recognises groups for outstanding work in their communities and is regarded as the MBE for volunteer organisations.
We run weekly ‘Inspire’ sessions to help people get their lives back on track and build skills. 43 guests stay in our winter shelter.
Universal Credit is rolled out in Wycombe and landlords become reluctant to accept tenants on benefits. Staff and volunteers in the Support Centre respond to growing need.
2016 More benefits changes
The Benefits Cap especially hits people on ESA (sickness benefit) and income support hard. We add another support worker and a communications officer to help with fundraising.
We are instrumental in the creation of the Rough Sleeper Core Group, which brings together representatives from local organisations that work together to help people sleeping rough end their homelessness.
Our Move On programme continues to help resettle people into new homes.
2017 Ten years of Wycombe Homeless Connection
We mark ten years of rebuilding lives. We have over 400 active volunteers, and are more needed than ever as rough sleeping nationally is up 132% from 2010. The number of people trying to avoid eviction locally grows too, and we build our homelessness prevention and advocacy services.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill receives Royal Assent, with the aim of turning the tide of homelessness, and we hope to see a change. Senior support worker Bryony appears on Channel 4 News as part of the channel’s week-long focus on homelessness – contributing the view from the front line.
2018 Beyond Wycombe and a focus on health and homelessness prevention
Rough sleeping locally reaches a record high and we work with the council to help them provide double the normal amount of winter accommodation.
Our homelessness prevention team prevent 41 evictions and run training on the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act with Support Centre volunteers. We launch homelessness prevention drop-in sessions for people who need advice and support to avoid losing their homes.
The local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group approves one of our staff members to be an NHS Care Navigator and our health project becomes a core part of our services. She helps people who are homeless to navigate the health system to make sure they get the care they need.
Over 200 people take part in our latest Big Sleepout, which takes place at Adams Park, home of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club for the first time.
2019 Strengthening the team and more help for south Bucks
We take our housing legal advice drop-in sessions to Chesham, and soon people are queuing along the street to get help! We team up with the Wycombe Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme and Hillingdon Law Centre to provide this cutting-edge holistic support to people needing legal advice in Buckinghamshire which is known as a ‘legal aid desert’.
James Boultbee becomes our first CEO and we add fundraising and services managers to our leadership team as we continue to build a professional organisation that will be sustainable and effective.
2020 The COVID-19 pandemic begins
Thanks to a ground-breaking partnership between us, Wycombe District Council, Wycombe Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme and Connection Support, for the first time every single person sleeping rough in the winter is offered a bed. This achievement is well timed, as within weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic reaches the UK, putting people who are homeless at extreme risk and our work truly becomes a humanitarian response.
Weeks before the first official lockdown, we close our dormitory-style night shelter to protect our guests and move them into hotels and B&BS so they can stay safe and self-isolate if needed. It takes another month for the government to call for ‘Everyone In’ and to start paying for this accommodation.
We open our homelessness helpline to make sure everyone who needs help can still get it. An eviction ban gives comfort to people who are losing their jobs and/or being put on furlough, but illegal and unfair evictions continue so our homelessness prevention team continue their vital work from home.
We are devastated to ask almost all our volunteers to stay at home, but staff run the Support Centre for people who need face-to-face who are invited in one at a time. A small group of volunteers deliver food and clothing to the people we serve.
Buckinghamshire becomes a single unitary authority which presents us with opportunities to ensure homelessness help is offered consistently across the county while maintaining our independence which is necessary to be able to advocate with and on behalf of our clients.
Our annual service of thanksgiving takes place online and the Big Sleepout takes place at home. Our first online Big Quiz raises over £5000.
2021 Progress in the pandemic
The pandemic continues to devastate lives, but as the vaccination program begins, we partner with the NHS and run clinics to make sure our clients are able to have the vaccine.
In early summer, the COVID-19 related eviction ban ends, and later in the year the ‘Everyone In’ emergency accommodation does as well. While some people move straight into winter accommodation, which we support financially and run in partnership with the council, many return to the street.
We begin to bring volunteers back into a variety of roles and add staff to our homelessness prevention team to tackle the crisis.
We build on our close partnership with homelessness charity Aylesbury Homeless Action Group: our CEO James Boultbee becomes acting CEO for them two days a week. Together we provide collaborative services to anyone who might be homeless anywhere in Buckinghamshire.
2022 Building back
Restrictions continue to ease and we bring back more volunteers to answer our homelessness helpline and rebuild our services. We see great successes from our ‘NRPF’ project, which focuses on helping people whose immigration status denies them any official help and traps them in homelessness. Krzystof, one of our much-loved longer-term clients is granted settled status after a decade of homelessness and can finally find a home for good.
The cost of living crisis causes poverty and distress. We help people apply for a record £60,000 of personal grants helping them pay off rental debt and stay in their homes.
In the hottest summer on record, we lead an effort to make sure no one on the street suffers unnecessarily, helping people into shelter and supplying water.
We and our supporters contribute to Buckinghamshire Council’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy.
2023 Reaching further
We open a homelessness advice drop-in at Chesham library, as one in six of our clients already come from the area.
We step out in faith to hire more frontline staff as the cost of living crisis increases homelessness.