Corby homeless charity boss says despite tough year Nightlight will be back next winter
A police investigation into missing finds, a video-nasty circulating on social media and a very public resignation.
Nobody could argue with the claim that this has been an annus horibilis for Corby Nightlight.
First there was a public planning row that saw charity representatives pitted against angry local people who didn’t want a shelter on their doorstep.
Fiery chief executive Nicola Pell left the charity after a video of her slapping a man outside the Corby Candle surfaced. Police were called in after £10,000 went missing from charity coffers.
Nicola’s right hand man Ray Loakes has also now left the charity.
But resolute chair of the Corby homeless charity Diane Boyd is insistent that this dark tunnel is navigable, and the light at the end of it will mean that the charity’s vital work must go on.
The shelter run by Nightlight closed last week for the summer and, although many of the rough sleepers have now moved into more stable accommodation, some have had to move back to their camp in the woods.
In a frank interview with the Northants Telegraph, barrister Diane admitted this year had been tough.
Although final figures had not been added up, she said that she believed between 60 and 70 different people had been through the doors of Nightlight over the winter months. More than 100 volunteers had been involved in the charity during the same period.
Corby Nightlight was originally based in St Peter & St Andrew’s church on the Beanfield estate but the shelter there wasn’t permanent and had to be packed up every night.
The empty Corby police station building in Elizabeth Street was offered to Nightlight last year by PCC Stephen Mold. They snapped his hand off.
”I don’t think we appreciated how good having a permanent shelter would be until we had it,” said Diane.
”Our guests have had somewhere to store their stuff and they have been able to make the space around their beds nice.
”Previously they could only have a limited amount of possessions because they had to pack up every morning and carry it all with them.
”But now they can keep that bit more because they have that extra security and they know their stuff is going to be safe and secure.”
Diane said that many of the former rough sleepers who left the shelter last Monday have now moved into their own accommodation.
The charity has been publicly criticised because it has taken the approach that people should be allowed to stay there for as long as they need to get their lives back on track. There was a falling-out with Corby council that got so bad that when the NT visited the shelter at Christmas, former CEO Nicola Pell defiantly told reporters that she would no longer deal with the authority.
“It’s something that us and the council have clashed on but I think the past few weeks there’s been some movement on both sides,” said Diane.
”Two or three weeks ago there was a meeting organised for us by Corby Council with a rough sleeping initiative.
“And since then things have really improved. The council agreed to start coming to us for meetings which makes things easier.
”We’ve had a specific person from the council assigned to us which makes it much easier for our guests to access help because instead of seeing four different people, they see one named person.
”My view was that the council had been seeing people as just numbers, but now their attitude has completely changed. I wanted them to engage with these people as people.
”Things are looking more positive.”
The former police station space has been a godsend for the charity, but it was only ever a temporary solution. Although the charity did ask the police if they could stay on a rolling contract, they were turned down because the building is on the market and being prepared for sale.
So Nightlight are looking for a new base. Cannock Road gym, which was granted planning permission as a shelter last year, was said to be too expensive for the group who have struggled to raise the eye-watering amounts needed to bring it up to scratch.
But recently Corby Council announced it had been handed a £115,000 grant from central government to help its work with homeless people. That grant is expected to be used to fund a permanent 16-bed shelter in the town.
Nightlight say that it’s early days but they they could tentatively be interested in running that shelter.
“They’ve got some money for a shelter now and have been looking for people to make bids,” said Diane.
”We’ve had that conversation.
In the meantime, Nightlight hope that if the police station is vacant next winter they may be allowed to take up residence once again, but in the meantime they are keeping their options open.
”We will be looking to start a bit earlier this year,” said Diane.
”We don’t have a specific building in mind but we are in the process of approaching various landlords.
”We’re a bit more clued-up and prepared this time. We know what donations we need and how to run a building.”
This difficult period for the charity has left Diane wounded but optimistic.
She says they have a solid group of trustees and one who has recently returned following a family illness.
”We had a management board that was set up before Nicola left,” said Diane.
”And we have a person in charge who has been working to refer people on to other services including S2S and she’s had some success.
”One of our volunteers is to be given a Humane Society award after she gave CPR to a visitor whose heart stopped.
”The biggest lesson that we’ve learned is that Nightlight is not about one single person. When people are shouting about what they are doing then people think that it’s just about them.
”It’s not. There are 70 other volunteers here. We have a strong managing team.
”This charity was never about one person despite what people might have thought.“
Diane said that a new independent charity, Corby Rise, has her full support. Corby Rise provides lunch and showers from West Glebe pavilion two days per week.
”We are in touch with Corby Rise and I know Ashlee (Duncan, one of the founders) is as frustrated as I am with people talking about friction between the groups on social media.
”It doesn’t help anyone. If you want to donate to the homeless in Corby then do it.
”We have two different services.”
Two charity events are being planned for the summer to raise cash for Nightlight - Talifest at the Talisman pub and another event at All Nations in a June.
Although some of the Nightlight team will stay together over the summer, much of their attention will be turned to fundraising so that the shelter can reopen next winter.
- A police investigation into the missing money is still ongoing and no arrests have yet been made.