How The Wellspring Started
During 1990 the Catholic Saint Chad’s deanery, which comprised of the 11 Catholic parishes in the central and adjacent areas of Stockport, put out a questionnaire to the parishioners asking them the question that if they were missionaries arriving in Stockport, at that time, what would they like to initiate in the town.
The answers were that the people would like to initiate, amongst other issues:
- A spirituality and prayer centre,
- A bereavement service,
- A crèche to support single parents,
- A community café,
- A resource to care for unemployed people and those in need.
Aside from the last point the other desires were, to a greater or lesser extent, dealt with by other groups. It showed that there was a strong realisation of the need for resources of some kind to help those people in society who were vulnerable but which service could not be met by one parish alone.
The last desire was taken up by the then Parish Priest of Saint Joseph’s Church located on Tatton Street just off St. Petersgate in the centre of the town. The priest, a Dutchman Father Con Botter, discussed the idea with some of the parishioners of St. Joseph’s and asked if we wanted to be involved. He asked me to chair a group to look into the feasibility of such a scheme. This group subsequently became the Steering Group for The Wellspring Kitchen.
After an open meeting where all the proposals were outlined and willing people were divided into their fields of interest, a meeting was set up for those people wishing to help those less fortunate than themselves, and that was on 19 June 1991.
After that meeting, the feeling was that those interested would like to take forward the idea of setting up some sort of resource for those in need of help.
To the rear of St Joseph’s church and school there was a former sea-scout hut (2nd Stockport Sea Scouts) that was built on land owned by Shrewsbury Diocese. The hut had been a former drawing office of the Simon-Carves Engineering and was donated to the scouts, and was transfer to the site in the centre of the town. The sea-scouts had no further use for the property and as it, and the site, were the ownership of the catholic diocese it was decided that the use of the hut could for the project for the people in need free of charge.
After the initial meeting groups were set up, and volunteers were sought form steering groups to oversee:
- to obtain fittings and equipment to be able to provide catering for visitors, and appeals were made for utensils/crockery and volunteers, with posters prepared to advertise,
- to clear the hut of all the surplus equipment other rubbish,
- to furnish the hut with curtains and paint the interior to make it a more welcoming environment,
- to outline a timescale, decide on an ethos and get volunteers to run the project.
The ethos was eventually settled as:
- giving service to homeless people and those in need, with no means test,
- no charge for services or the nourishment,
- we are non-judgemental with no limitation on who is served,
- aim to improve people’s self-image and life style for them to become independent and not to need to use our services.
The name “The Wellspring” adopted.
Planning permission was applied for and granted, grants were applied, and advice was sought from other “soup kitchens” and homelessness agencies
It was decided that the project would be opened in the first week in 1992, and that it would provide nourishment, shelter and companionship for those in need in Stockport. The project would be open for one day a week at midday on Sundays.
Before the opening of the hut it was decided that Christmas lunch would be offered for people in need, in the St Joseph’s parish hall with food, in form of a hot pot meal which was to be bought in and was to be paid for by the parish priest of the Catholic Church in Cheadle Hulme, Farther Pat Rice.
On the day of the lunch the hall was prepared, tables laid, flowers put on each table and catering provided for 35 visitors. At the end of the day one person attended. The volunteers were very disappointed and questions were asked if we should proceed with the scheme. Fortunately were did persevere.
It was a lesion in the need for widespread advertising of what we were doing and that project of the kind we were proposing needed time to be accepted by the people that we wanted to attract. The only person to attend the lunch was Neville ………. who was a former serviceman sleeping rough on the streets and who tragically froze to death one night in a doorway some years later. If it were not for Neville we may have been so despondent at the beginning we may never have proceeded with the project.
On 12 January 1992 the first session was held in the hut with catering for 40, and three people attended. After these initial sessions the numbers of attendees increases. Progress continued with:
- meeting held on 20 January with other churches regarding volunteers and the running of the project,
- From 16 February confirmed the project would open one afternoon a week from 2.00 am to 4.00am on Sundays,
- From 23 March the shower was in operation and the project was open on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays,
- From 19 May the project was open for 7 days a week (from 28 April 1994 evening opening started on Thursdays from 6.30 pm to 8.30 pm)
- Subsequently the Steering Group decided on the set up of the catering teams, that there needed to be team leaders to take control of each session and the use by the visitors of the telephone.
In the early days of the project everyone was an amateur and did not know much about running a “soup kitchen”. Over the years we have learned many lessons, some the hard way.
We decided that we needed a full time paid project worker to coordinate the work and to ensure that the project was opened daily, and we needed a new premises.
Now 24 years after the first meeting we are much more than a “soup kitchen”, we are a valuable resource for the homeless and those in need in a new premises serving over 70,000 meals annually and giving thousands of consultations and action for housing issues, benefits advice and many problems which arise with our visitors.
We look forward to giving service and help to our visitors into the future with the aid of the community and volunteers to take us forward.
Mr Brendan Cojeen BEM Wellspring Vice Chairman 2014.