For more than 30 years, Stonepillow has been supporting and empowering homeless and vulnerable people in and around Chichester. Post- pandemic, the charity is offering a diverse range of activities to support the health, fitness and wellbeing of their clients to help them reach independence.
Stonepillow aim to help clients sustain their own wellbeing and independent living, which means far more than providing them with a home. As an organisation, Stonepillow are committed to being client-focussed, which means working collaboratively with each client to find each individual’s best pathway to independence.
Homelessness does not end by giving someone accommodation, it ends when an individual feels included in their community and when they have the independence, skills and health to live self-sufficiently. Consequently, Stonepillow aims to support clients’ long-term needs, allowing them to develop the building blocks of independent life.
This, you say, is no easy feat – one charity can’t do all that for a person. On the contrary, Stonepillow support 150 people a day, 365 days a year in Chichester, Bognor Regis and the surrounding areas. As already said, this does not just mean giving 150 people a house – it means helping them to build a strong foundation for their own, personal living.
So, how do they do it? Stonepillow provide wraparound care for clients, helping bridge the gap between homes and the homeless. Hubs in Chichester and Bognor Regis offer food, showers, clothing, and laundry facilities to clients alongside advice on housing, benefits claims, mental wellbeing and substance misuse. Hostels in both Chichester and Bognor Regis also offer clients 24- hour accommodation in individual en-suite rooms. This gives each resident a safe space to work alongside their support worker in areas such as substance misuse, mental health and work readiness. Clients who need a space in the hostels are offered a place on a 1-month rolling basis as Stonepillow seek to support them to move into longer term accommodation.
Have you heard the urban myth that Stonepillow only help people sleeping on the streets? While Stonepillow do help people in such hardship, they also work with the hidden homeless – people who sofa surf or engage in harmful relationships in return for a bed for the night. Stonepillow staff find that the majority of their female clients are hidden homeless women,
many of whom have suffered from abuse or trauma. Just earlier this year, Stonepillow set up a Lottery Funded supported accommodation service solely for women. The Therapeutic Women’s Service offers group therapy for female clients, with an emphasis on building positive friendships and relationships.
The 2020 lockdowns hit Stonepillow clients particularly hard as they were self-isolating in their hostel rooms, cut off from their support networks. Support groups on substance misuse and mental health were inaccessible, and the Stonepillow staff saw a real deterioration in clients’ mental health.
But from the dark cloud of Covid shone a bright silver lining, as Stonepillow collaborated with Cobnor Activities Centre in Chidham. This innovative project was launched in response to the pandemic’s strain on clients’ mental health. The project was designed to give clients something to look forward to, as well as the opportunity to discover new interests which, otherwise, would have been out of their reach. All the while clients strengthened their communication, organisational, teamwork and socialising skills which, in the long term, are real assets to clients on their pathway to independence.
A typical day at Cobnor taught clients three activities including kayaking, first aid, bushcraft, and orienteering. The fifth and final week of the project was designed for those further along their independence pathway, with emphasis on effective communication, team leading and ownership of self-achievement. The lead instructor from Cobnor said “we had a laugh along the way with lots of friendly banter,” also stating that the clients “enjoyed helping others achieve their goal.”
The Cobnor project was a roaring success; one participant said “I have taken a lot away from the week. It taught me to have patience and perseverance especially with new tasks, and how to lead by example and bounce ideas from different team members.” Another client said how much they had learnt about themselves and their peers during the project.
Stonepillow staff reported a significant increase in clients’ confidence levels, feelings of usefulness, optimistic thoughts about the future and efficient decision making. Two clients even approached Cobnor offering their time to volunteer in future.
Sussex Health and Care Partnership generously funded the Cobnor project, building on their relationship with Stonepillow. Since the initial project, Cobnor has won Sport England funding via the Royal Yachting Association to engage vulnerable adults in sailing and more Stonepillow clients returned to Cobnor and learned to sail this summer.
But it was not just the clients who benefitted; staff also reported that their own motivation increased having learnt new skills that they now use in their day-to-day work. As such, Stonepillow as an organisation now has the confidence and skillset to take clients to off-site opportunities.
Since Cobnor, ideas for off-site activities have flooded in from the minds of Stonepillow’s staff. Take the Stonepillow mixed football team who have been winning matches left right and centre in their league. Football matches are giving clients a wonderful opportunity to exercise whilst also feeling like part of a team and developing teamwork skills. Exercise opportunities are also available to those who prefer solo workouts, as the Everyone Active gym at the Westgate Leisure Centre is offering gym memberships to Stonepillow clients.
Another off-site venture is the art sessions provided by Pallant House Art Gallery, generously funded by the Friarsgate Trust. This offers clients a safe space to express themselves, an inevitable boost for their wellbeing. Stonepillow sees the importance of providing clients with enjoyable activities which can lift their health and wellbeing.
And the opportunities don’t stop there. Social and Horticultural Therapy at Tuppenny Barn has enabled Stonepillow clients to learn about organic gardening and benefit from the boost to physical and mental health that working outdoors with nature brings. Thus far, one Stonepillow client regularly volunteers at Tuppenny Barn and is enrolled in the City and Guild Level 1 Horticulture Course.
Stonepillow also have a partnership with the University of Chichester, who have designed an innovative new bridging course for clients. This brilliant course enables clients to bridge the gap between their past education and university education. Clients who are interested in higher education can enrol on the bridging course and, if they enjoy the process, can study for a degree.Stonepillow clients have gone on to study subjects from outdoor education, to art, to philosophy at the University of Chichester.
But this is not to dismiss the importance of volunteering opportunities. Time spent volunteering at Cobnor, Tuppenny Barn or Stonepillow’s own charity shops is time very well spent. It gives clients a productive and structured routine, engaging clients in the Chichester community. What’s more, volunteering provides a reference when looking for other jobs and opportunities. Volunteering is a valuable step for clients on their pathway to independence, acting as one of the first building blocks for an independent lifestyle.
Clients can also volunteer at Crimsham Farm in Bognor Regis, gaining experience in husbandry and carpentry. Crimsham is a community farm run by army veterans who, Stonepillow staff say, have a wonderful way of communicating and relating with vulnerable individuals. It is truly remarkable that Stonepillow offer such a range of opportunities to clients. A diverse range of opportunities reflects the charity’s aim to provide clients with tailored pathways to independence. One size most certainly does not fit all.
Even more remarkable is the camaraderie between charities and organisations in West Sussex who have joined forces to help homeless individuals. You can show your support in a vast number of ways, such as by donating your time, money, furniture or bric-a-brac to the Stonepillow charity shop Restore on Terminus Road, or to the Bognor Regis branch.
Stonepillow are always involved in community fundraisers – their dedicated volunteers host events such as The Big Sleepout, and their
fighting-fit fundraisers even run marathons! Community fundraiser Rob Cooper (above) ran a marathon in aid of Stonepillow earlier this year, raising an impressive £2,000!
Alternatively, the hostels are always appreciative of food and household items. Stonepillow are always looking for donations, funding, and volunteers, so please do reach out if you’d like to support their work. Visit their website www.stonepillow.org. uk to find out more, or give them a call on 01243 537934.