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by Rev Brian Leathard, Glass Door Chair of Trustees

posted 29 January 2019

Glass Door’s offices are on the Kings Road in Chelsea, and like the Kings Road itself, the charity’s work has changed enormously in the last twenty years while remaining true to its roots.

In the charity’s early years, it was a local, responsive initiative. Chelsea churches had come together to ask themselves the question: how do we best serve the most needy people of our community?’ Several local churches came together to make a very practical response to alleviate the obvious presence of homelessness in the community.

For the first decade after 1999, the work was focused on providing a local winter night shelter in churches around Chelsea (one each night of the week), with hearty food and a genuine, warm welcome. As an important signal of the openness and warmth we intended, the men and women who used the services were called “guests”, rather than clients. 

Slowly but surely, as needs were identified, the work grew. Our service was always firmly entwined with the Chelsea Methodist Church – the site of an existing community drop-in and the headquarters for our offices on the Kings Road. We collaborated to open showers and build a clothing bank where guests could turn to during the day and find nourishment and rest. 

As the services grew, so did both the reputation of the charity and the wider recognition of need. And so we grew geographically to try and meet the growth in demand. What was happening on the King’s Road was considered fashionable for elsewhere – not only in terms of culture, but also in terms of response to homelessness.

Open doors and a warm welcome

We believed it important that those in need shouldn’t have to jump through hoops laid down by statutory agencies. Glass Door’s ethos has always been to be responsive to the needs of all those who attempt to push on that door, irrespective of what has caused our guests’ homelessness. Other churches and community groups recognised the appropriateness of this response and joined in partnership.

Twenty years on, we are running 28 shelters each week in winter and year-round casework services in five locations. The climate has changed: massive alterations in social mobility, mental health provision and benefit changes means our work is more relevant than ever.

 20th anniversary logo

Glass Door unveils new logo marking its 20th anniversary

Team effort

We employ a small, highly professional staff and our services are bolstered by a great army of volunteers who care about the impact homelessness is making upon people who are already vulnerable.

It amazes me, as Chair of Trustees, that we are able to rely on this amazing volunteer base of committed local people, who I honestly believe, look into the faces of our guests and recognize a common humanity and the gossamer thin line separating us.

For what we have learnt profoundly, is that it is all too easy to slip, quietly and quickly into homelessness in 2019.

In response to this increasing need and thanks to a growing will to redress the scandal of homelessness, Glass Door has become the UK’s largest open-access homelessness service. In order to maintain our open-access policies, we deliberately do not go after government funding. However, we are increasingly receiving financial support from local and national trusts and corporates as well as from generous and concerned community members.

Twenty years ago, no one on the Kings Road could have foreseen its development, its move from hip to establishment. Likewise, no one would have foreseen the need for the range and depth of the service Glass Door now, tragically, must still offer.

Twenty years ago our predecessors believed homelessness could be solved. And so do we. But what we have discovered in the meantime is that homelessness is not a self-inflicted wound, but a consequence of circumstances, most often beyond an individual’s control. None of our guests wishes to be homeless. However, we cannot solve the problem of homelessness without a more supportive governmental policy, a change in societal attitude, new housing initiatives, AND the continuation of the vital work which Glass Door does on the front line.

Twenty years on from when we welcomed the first guests into the shelters, so much has changed, and so much remains the same.


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