Church where Big Issue launched gives away £150k in grants to tackle crisis

St Martin-in-the-Fields, a key part of The Big Issue story, listened to frontline workers across the country to help them figure out the best way to support homeless people through the Covid-19 emergency

The charity arm of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the legendary Trafalgar Square church where The Big Issue was launched nearly 29 years ago, has smashed targets for its emergency appeal fund after giving away 450 grants worth nearly £150,000 to help homeless and vulnerable people across the UK.

In just three weeks the money has made its way from the church across the country to help people into housing where they can safely self-isolate, to get basic essentials to those in need and to buy isolation-busting phones and tablets for people who need that lifeline to stay in touch with their families and services they rely on.

When setting up the emergency appeal fund in early April, questionnaires went out to St Martin-in-the-Fields’ network of more than 950 workers who support those living on the streets across the UK. The “sometimes surprising” answers went on to inform the fund and influence how the grants were given out, after the charity said in a statement it was “vital to listen first then respond” when figuring out how to tackle the Covid-19 crisis.

The charity then accepted grant applications from frontline workers across several sectors including supported housing officers, mental health workers, probation officers, GPs, social workers, drug and alcohol support workers and prison in-reach staff.

It means cash has reached vulnerable people in need of food, hygiene packs and funds to cover their utility bills, plus making sure they can access support with mobile phones, laptops and wifi or data access.

The church has played a crucial role in the fight against homelessness for more than a hundred years – “a beacon of support for the stranded urbanite”, according to Big Issue founder John Bird. And it’s a key part of The Big Issue’s story.

The magazine was launched in the church crypt in September 1991.

And when The Big Issue marked its 20th anniversary in 2011, a landmark exhibition – Hard Times by award-winning photographer, Paul Wenham-Clarke – ran for three months downstairs in the foyer at St Martin’s, giving an insight into the challenges facing Big Issue vendors every day.

The charity has also helped people secure accommodation by covering depots and taking care of rent arrears where there’s an imminent risk of eviction.

St Martin-in-the-Fields also rapidly expanded its phoneline service set up to support homeless people as well as those in danger of being evicted across the UK. Meanwhile the organisation’s homelessness charity The Connection is working with partners in London to deliver hundreds of meals every day to the hostels and hotels where homeless people are being housed during lockdown.

Reverend Richard Carter and the rest of the church has been offering a takeaway lunch every Sunday, helping those on the frontline stay in touch with local rough sleepers as well as making sure they can access food.

“This is a particularly tough time for those who are disheartened, anxious, sick or homeless across the county,” a charity spokesperson added. “St Martin-in-the-Fields are working in ways old and new to try and help.”

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