Charity, Community, Diversity | 17 December 2021
We wanted to support our community as we start the new year.
Selecting a charity to support was not easy as there are so many organisations doing exceptional work and in need. We decided to support New Beginnings, a charity dedicated to promoting and supporting social inclusion, as well as providing basic nutrition and clothing to support the diverse needs of the local homeless population and anyone else in need in the Reading area. Because as a team we spend our days thinking about home and housing supporting a homelessness charity felt right.
The group has transformed The Queens Arms pub in Great Knollys Street, Reading into a multi-use service facility for anyone in the Reading or Greater Berkshire area who is in need — regardless of their religion, beliefs, race, or circumstances. New Beginnings actively seeks to challenge the stigma attached to the homeless and people who are “Just About Managing (JAM),” and end the discrimination experienced by these communities. Their work goes above and beyond, as founder Grace Gomez explains, “We want to do more than just hand out food and drink, we want to support people at what can be a very difficult time in their lives.”
Inspired by their work, we went to visit them and speak to the centre manager, Louis Howard-Krelle, a great spokesman and advocate for community inclusion, and some of our team signed up to volunteer.
Here is our brilliant conversation with Louis:
Please can you give us an overview of what you do?
At New Beginnings, we provide “Food Share” services, our “Community Fridge” three times a week, and a “Hot Meal” service that runs on a Tuesday night, where we invite anyone to come down to the Centre and have a proper sitdown meal. We have also restarted our “All Night Cafe” this month, which provides a hot meal and a bed for the night for those who would otherwise be sleeping rough.
How did you become involved and end up running the centre?
I was lucky enough to join the team here at New Beginnings as the Centre Manager in August this year. I had over a decade of experience working in this sector, so it has been an honour to be able to utilise my experience working in alcohol rehabilitation, drug misuse, young adult and adult homelessness as well as a myriad of other fields to serve this amazing charity.
“We have been running services at the Queens Arms Pub since 2018 and hope to be here for many more years to come.”
Do you think homelessness is increasing locally?
People say the number of individuals seen to be homeless or “Just About Managing (JAM),” is increasing, this may be the case, but perhaps it’s our awareness of those in these situations increasing?
Although it’s obviously tragic that people are finding themselves in these positions, increased awareness is positive. At least if we are made increasingly aware of others’ needs, there’s perhaps more hope of people helping those less fortunate than themselves.
It’s unusual for an organisation like this to be in a pub. Can you tell us a little bit about you ended up based here, if it makes a difference to visitors?
We do get a few raised eyebrows as to why we chose a pub as our centre. But quite simply, it’s a no brainer! For hundreds of years pubs have been the focal point of most villages and towns. A place where communities congregate and enjoy the company of others. For many it exudes a welcoming and warm atmosphere, so is a vital tool in us reaching individuals who would otherwise rather go without, than attend purpose-built establishments. We have been running services at the Queens Arms Pub since 2018 and hope to be here for many more years to come.
Can you tell us a bit about the funding for New Beginnings and how it operates?
New Beginnings Reading is not commissioned by the Council and so is able to function purely due to kind donations and grants.
We spend a lot of time working with local businesses and we have international companies come in for team building and volunteering days which helps us get the word out about our services. We recently had Network Rail and Microsoft in for a day and we have the BBC in later this week!
We are so grateful for these chances to promote the work we’re doing, and we’re always incredibly grateful for the donations we receive.
Tell us about the impact Covid has had on New Beginnings.
The Pandemic has been an incredibly trying time for many local charities.
Some either had to, or decided to, close their services but NBR operated throughout all the Lockdowns, ensuring hundreds of people each week were supported.
It was a bit of a double-edged sword because thankfully we received a great number of donations, but because of the lack of visitors allowed in, we ended up with piles and piles of goods that we weren’t able to give out! But we’re not complaining, it is great we’ve had surplus supplies.
Watch how New Beginnings tackled the pandemic here.
What are your biggest challenges? What could help overcome them?
Our main challenge at the moment is, as is the case with most charities, finding more volunteers.
Since August, we’ve not had to close one session of our “Community Fridge” service due to lack of volunteers, but it has been close to the wire on many occasions.
We have to just keep promoting and asking people to donate their time to help and support us.
Tell us how your food bank service operates and what items you find you run short on.
Our food banks have all our supplies out on tables and we encourage those in need to come and help themselves to whatever they need or want. We don’t believe in the ability of choice being taken away from anyone, so never create “packages” of things we expect or want them to take away.
We think it’s incredibly important that our supplies are always fresh and good quality.
We do find ourselves to be one of the few services in Berkshire to offer toiletries, but unfortunately we only receive such donations sporadically and are always very short. We’re always on the hunt for enough supplies of UHT milk too! Milk is always a hard thing to store and keep fresh so UHT is always in high demand.
“NBR operated throughout all the Lockdowns, ensuring hundreds of people each week were supported.”
Do you partner with other community services?
We all have the same end goal at the end of the day — to support those less fortunate than ourselves. So, coming together and believing in the same mission is important.
By working with other fantastic services throughout Reading and Berkshire, we believe we can serve those who would otherwise go without to a far greater standard. We endeavour to work even closer in the future, so no family or individual, regardless of living situation or nationality feels that they do not have support locally.
How would you sum up your vision for the future of New Beginnings Reading?
In the future we hope to operate a 24-hour centre. To make it an even more welcoming and empowering place for our guests and most importantly to ensure people feel valued, whether they are service users or our incredibly amazing volunteers.
No-one should be living without shelter, support, or safety at any time, but during this cold time of year when many of us are looking forward to time in warm cosy houses, celebrating with loved ones, the contrast could not be more stark for those who do not have this luxury.
Charities like New Beginnings offer vital support, shelter and safety without judgement to those who need it.
We have made a donation to the charity on behalf of our team and all those who have supported us this year and we will update you on how the volunteering goes.
We’d like to thank Louis for both taking the time to welcome us and answer our questions, and as part of the wider community for all of the fantastic work that he and the team do for our community.
How to donate:
Items: If you want to donate items but feel unsure about what is suitable, NBR provides a comprehensive list of items they are always in need of, as well as what they are unable to accept.
Money: If you want donate money you can visit the New Beginnings Reading website here.
Time: If you would like to donate your time and volunteer, you can complete this application.
You can contact the charity through any of the communication channels below: