The Robes story began in 2004 at the South London Mission (SLM). In response to a research report from UNLEASH (Church Action for Homelessness in London) the then Director of SLM, the Reverend Sheryl Anderson had the vision to establish a temporary church run night shelter. This would cover a gap in shelter provision south of the Thames between London Bridge and Croydon.
A plan was developed with guidance from the Manna Centre (www.mannasociety.org.uk) and the Camden shelter – C4WS (www.c4wshomelessproject.org). At SLM, Deacon Mark Attwood dedicated many hours to inviting, encouraging and persuading other local churches to participate. At the same time, a group of Lambeth churches also began to think along similar lines. Having struggled separately, the two groups united in 2006. A planning group met in May 2006 and together they formed the Robes Project
The mission of the Robes Project was ‘to give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothe those who shiver, welcome the stranger and shelter the homeless’ (based on Matthew 25)
In January 2007 the Robes night shelter opened for 2 months with 7 host churches. Referrals were made by the Manna Centre and a Project Coordinator was employed. The volunteers and venues made the project truly ecumenical including Baptists, Methodists and Anglicans.
The shelter opened for 3 months. In addition to the Project Coordinator, Robes employed an Advice Worker to help the guests to move into more permanent accommodation. More churches asked to become involved.
The shelter opened for 4 months in 14 churches. The Manna Centre provided significant financial backing for the Robes Project in the first 3 years of the project, giving funding of £12,000 each year.
The shelter opened for 5 months. In November 2009 the Robes Project became a registered charity.
17 churches provided shelter for 5 months accommodating up to 12 guests each night. Reverend Dr Janet Corlett became the Chair of the Robes Project. The Advice Worker and Project Coordinator were employed for 8 months of the year.
The shelter accommodated up to 15 people each night for 5 months. The first ever Robes sponsored Sleep Out at Southwark Cathedral on 2nd December raised over £60,000 for the charity. This enabled the extension of employment for the Advice Worker and Project Coordinator over the summer months to develop and expand the project.
From November to December the shelter accommodated 15 people each night. From January until the end of March the shelter hosted 20-25 guests each night. We started a weekly club where guests, volunteers and Robes staff shared lunch together. A foot specialist visited the shelter once a week to treat foot-related health issues. We held a second Sleep Out at Southwark Cathedral which was vital for the continuation of our work and which raised over £60,000.
The shelter opened for the longest period yet, from the beginning of November until mid-April (due to the particularly harsh weather conditions in March 2013). The shelter accommodated between 15 and 20 people each night of the week across 22 churches and community centres in Southwark and Lambeth. We continued the work of the weekly club and also began a singing workshop at the night shelter. The third Robes Project Sleep Out proved to be the most successful, raising a staggering £82,000 for the charity.
During this winter, Robes was able to offer a total of 42 bed spaces. We had 83 referrals needing varying degrees of support. Our fourth Sleep Out in November 2014 matched and exceeded the incredible performance of the previous year, raising £83,000 for the continued work of Robes.
We had another successful year, working with a network of churches and community centres to house homeless people over the winter. The 2015 Sleep Out raised a staggering £120,000 for the charity! This is much needed funds for our plans to expand to two venues a night in the 2016-17 winter.