SPECIAL REPORT: Future of Corby homeless shelter hangs in the balance

Volunteers Jay Walden, Nicola Pell and Diane Boyd who are all backing the new Nightlight shelter at Cannock Road NNL-180405-170206005
Volunteers Jay Walden, Nicola Pell and Diane Boyd who are all backing the new Nightlight shelter at Cannock Road NNL-180405-170206005

Volunteers proposing to open a homeless shelter in Corby say they are determined to plough ahead with their bold plans despite fierce local opposition.

Nightlight workers, who helped provide a 2963 beds for 101 different homeless people in Corby during the six months of this winter, want to open a 24-hour, year-round shelter at the former Den’s Gym in Cannock Road, Corby.

Inside the empty building in Cannock Road that may be transformed into a homeless shelter NNL-180405-170217005

Inside the empty building in Cannock Road that may be transformed into a homeless shelter NNL-180405-170217005

They say it will help prevent dozens of people from having to live in tents in woodland around Corby.

Their plans include up to 36 beds as well as tv rooms, a gym, laundry, kitchen, faith room, a library and workshops. Guests will be able to access a doctor, dentist and drug and alcohol solution service S2S.

There will be separate male and female dormitories as well as a six to eight-bed detox unit.

The shelter was previously located at St Peter’s and St Andrew’s Church in Beanfield Avenue during the most recent winter.

But now it needs a permanent home.

Nightlight chairwoman Nicola Pell believes that the building in Cannock Road is the only available, suitable and affordable place in Corby for a shelter. It will also create six, full-time local jobs funded by the Big Lottery.

She said: “There were no complaints when we were at St Peter and St Andrews. Some people believe we should be closer to the town centre.

“We will have a strict no-loitering rule.

“The area immediately around the centre will be swept every day and any litter picked up.

“We intend to be excellent neighbours and keep all noises and disruption to a minimum. However, we are aware that there is some opposition in the local area.

“We aim to build a community where people feel valued and can regain some self-worth and a feeling of purpose.

“We hope that most of our guests will progress on to independent living.

“It is hoped that the opening of the centre will lead to a reduction in anti-social behaviour, street drinking and other associated crime such as shoplifting.

“We hope to make this a real centre of excellence - somewhere that people travel to from all over the country to see what we’re doing and how they can replicate that in their own town.

“We want Corby Nightlight to be one of the reasons that people all over the country talk about Corby and what a wonderful place it is.”

The volunteers will have to raise £15,000 per year to pay the rent on the Corby Council-owned premises as well as cash to cover its running expenses. They hope to do this through a mixture of grants and fundraising.

Plans include CCTV to cover the outside of the building and a secure entry system.

The site neighbours a sheltered accommodation complex and two care homes. A parade of shops and two schools are nearby.

There are dozens of objections to the scheme. Local people are worried about security and crime as well as the safety of local elderly people and children.

Tata Steel, which is the freeholder of the S&L FC site adjacent to the shelter, has objected to the application, saying: “Although we recognise the need and requirement for such a facility and the intention of this charity are admirable, we feel the location of this proposed homeless shelter is unacceptable and priority must be given to safeguarding the children, elderly, families, residents and everyone that uses the sport facilities.”

One supporter of the scheme who has submitted their own comments to Corby Council said: “I am in favour of this proposal. Providing the homeless with a safe place to sleep is the most basic act of humanity we can provide. Complaints citing the safety risk to elderly neighbours and school children speak more about the prejudices of the complainant than the reality of the behaviour of the homeless. Having spent a year living in a hostel when I was younger, I can attest to the benefits of having a stable base from which to restart your life.”

The planning application is due to be heard by Corby Council in June. You can read further details and comment on it here

Does Corby have a homeless problem?

Homeless people in Corby are said to be more invisible than those in other towns because the town centre is privately owned so a no-begging or loitering rules are strictly enforced. This means that people do not see lots of obviously homeless people sleeping on the streets. Nevertheless, in the past year, Nightlight helped give 101 different people in the town a bed for the night. There were 2963 Nightlight beds used in total during the winter of 2017/18. The charity says there are several sites in woodland where Corby’s homeless people live in tents - the biggest is of 13 tents with substantially more than that number crammed into those tents. They also say that these tents have been targeted by thieves and vandals, leaving their occupants vulnerable. Many other people spend their lives sofa-surfing and without a stable place to call home. Nightlight also say that homeless people in Corby are not all young men with alcohol problems. In fact, the town’s homeless people come from across a broad spectrum of the community. Diane Boyd, who helps run the shelter, said: “You’re only ever two paychecks and a bad decision away from homelessness. It can happen to anyone. There’s also a difference between rough sleeping and homelessness. There are many people in Corby sleeping on friend’s sofas but eventually it gets too much for their friends and they find themselves suddenly with nowhere to go.”

My life in a tent

Josh, 24, has grown up in Corby and has lived a normal life until a breakdown in the relationship with his family. Seven weeks ago he had to leave his home with nowhere to go. He said: “The day I left, I just didn’t know what to do.

“I had a few bags with my clothes in but that was it.

“It was raining quite hard and I just walked around for a bit.”

Josh found some shelter behind the former Co-op in the town but got drenched.

Nightlight volunteers found him and gave him a tent. They also offered him the opportunity to volunteer on their burger van where he put his skills as a chef to good use.

He said: “The shelter is not open during the warmer weather so you’re limited as to what you can do because you have no address. I’m still in the tent but all the homeless people look after one another.

“The conditions are pretty disgusting and there are tents with three men sleeping together in them because they want to stay safe.

“People think it’s all Eastern Europeans living there but it’s not. Most are people born and brought up in Corby.

“It’s pretty difficult to not fall into the trap of sitting and drinking all day but I’m determined not to do that. The shelter is vital.”

Volunteer Jay Walden said that the people living in tents have no chance of getting any help from the council because they are men and have no dependents so there is always someone who has a higher priority on the council housing list. He said that some of the Eastern Europeans living here have had all their documents stolen so they can’t work and that the homeless people are regularly victims of crime and abuse.