“We don’t want someone to freeze to death on the streets of Corby”.
These were the unvarnished words of Nightlight boss Nicola Pell who saw her dream for a homeless shelter for Corby take a huge leap forward last night after the contentious scheme was given planning permission.
A fractious night at the Corby Cube saw impassioned orators on both sides of the debate present their views on the proposed shelter at the former Den’s Gym in Cannock Road to the borough’s planning committee.
One formerly homeless man told how Nightlight volunteers had saved his life as he struggled with addiction while living in his tent in Corby.
And a group of more than a dozen the town’s elated homeless people gathered peacefully outside the Cube after the meeting to celebrate the fact that by winter 2019, they may have a permanent roof over their heads.
Five members of the committee - Cllrs Julie Riley, David Sims, Colleen Cassidy, Willie Latta and Jean Addison voted in favour of the proposal while Cllr Anthony Dady voted against.
Local people living around Occupation Road spoke about how the shelter would have an adverse affect on their lives.
Neil McIlwain, whose home will back on to the smoking shelter at the front of the building, said that the old people’s complex, Wollongong House which neighbours the shelter, was the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Corby.
Describing the application as a ‘powder keg’, he asked councillors: “Are you willing to become the owners and instigators of such a damning legacy?”
He said his wooden fence was the only thing separating his home and family from the smoking area.
The chamber was told how, since the application first came before planners in June when a decision was unexpectedly delayed, several changes had been made including a 2.4m fence at the boundary and a reduction in bed numbers.
Janet Nimmo, whose mum Nancy has a bungalow next to the Cannock Road site, asked committee members how many of them had visited the site. She said: “(If you give it the go ahead) You would expose these elderly and vulnerable people to an increased risk of harm.
“They’re defenceless and they’re fearful.”
She said residents were worried about loiterers and about people turning up at the shelter and being turned away, only to end up in the gardens and outbuildings of local people.
Adey Mitchell, representing the cricket, football, rugby and bowls teams that play at the S&L sports ground, said that he was worried that parents would not want their young people to play at the ground because of fears over safety.
Robin Burgess, who runs the Hope Centre in Northampton which looks after 150 homeless people six nights per week said that they had had minimal incidents in the eight years in which they’d been operating.
Mr Burgess was previously a Home Office advisor on drugs-related homelessness and ran drug services in Corby for nine years.
He said: “The rise in homelessness is not being addressed by government policy.”
He said that the risk of homeless people causing issues and coming to harm outside of a shelter was greater than the short-term gains of not opening the shelter at Cannock Road.
He added: “The feelings held by these people are over-stated and, with good management, they can be overcome and controlled.”
Robert Campbell spoke of how he had been homeless in the winter of 2016-17 and living in a tent in Corby.
He said: “I went to the shelter.
“I felt safe there and met people who cared about me and wanted to help me improve my life.
“I kept in touch with Nicola and eventually felt able to stop using drugs.
“It was going well until I was attacked in the town centre last year which left me needing surgery.
“Without the help of the Nightlight volunteers I would have died or gone back to drugs.
“I’ve now been clean for 13 months and I have my own flat and a life I couldn’t have dreamed of.”
Chief Executive of Nightlight Nicola Pell has been at the heart of the campaign for several years and has endured public abuse and name-calling during the past few months since the planning application was submitted. At last night’s meeting she said that people were being forced to live in tents and in doorways around Corby. She said: “I’m incredibly proud of the work we do and the people who support our mission to provide shelter , warmth and a safe haven for some of Corby’s most vulnerable people.
“We believe nobody should be living like this, especially in a town like Corby which is known for it’s generosity, in 2018.”
Nicola spoke of how, in 2016, one member of the homeless community in Corby had his tent set on fire and spend four months in a burns unit. Last year, three homeless people were attacked by a gang of youths in the town.
Nicola said that there had been minimal incidents during the past winter at the shelter’s former home at St Peter and St Andrew’s Church, adding that many people did not even know the shelter was there.
She said: “Last year in five months we provided 2,963 beds on 147 nights to 101 different individuals.
“There’s a dire need for a shelter in Corby. We appreciate the building isn’t perfect but it’s the only useable, affordable, accessible building in the town.
“We’re a service that wants to become a part of the community. We don’t want to cause anyone any worry.
“We don’t want someone to freeze to death in Corby this winter, like they did in Milton Keynes and Northampton last winter.”
Nightlight are currently in talks to find a temporary shelter for this winter.
After the meeting, the group released a statement which said: “It was lovely to see positive faces and hear positive comments but this really is the beginning of the project.
“There is much to do to ensure we have a shelter for this winter as well as looking to the future of the Homeless Hub for next year.”
“While we are optimistic and excited to move forward, we maintain a sense of realism. We are ambitious; embarking on a project which, if successful, will have positive impacts on all aspects of our community.
“We look to the future, knowing the path is long but the destination bright.”