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22 April 2021

Since 9 November 2020, Glass Door has partnered with local churches and community centres to run a dinner service for people experiencing and at risk of homelessness. To mark the planned closure of the service on 11 April, we review the successes, challenges and learnings from the new food programme launched during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 22 weeks, the dinner programme provided 10,309 meals (either to take away or eat inside) in venues across four London boroughs to at least 343 individuals. As well as providing a regular source of hot food to those in need, guests were provided with essential toiletries and clothing and were offered an opportunity to connect with a caseworker, who would work with them to find routes out of homelessness. Eighty guests engaged with our casework service and one in four were supported into housing accommodation.

A slow start

Despite these successes, the start of the dinner service was slow.

With safety at the forefront of planning, guests were initially required to pre-register for the dinner service to comply with Covid guidance around Test and Trace, and guests only found out the locations once they registered. In the first few weeks, only about 24 people attended per night, when we had made plans for at least double that amount.

“On some nights, there were only a handful of people who turned up for food in some locations,” recalls Glass Door operations manager Geoff Ball, “We needed to understand what was preventing people from attending.”

Staff spoke with guests and decided to simplify the process people needed to follow to access the service. In January, pre-registration became optional, and the locations where dinner was served was published on flyers and online.

Numbers rose to around 60 per night across four locations by the end of the dinner service, and for those who did attend, it “made a world of difference,” says Geoff. He adds:

Some guests walked for miles just to find a hot meal. And for some of those who came, we provided the only meal they had that day. 

A place to connect with caseworkers

The dinner service also provided an opportunity for people to engage with Glass Door caseworkers, who were on hand to give advice and support. Many guests would arrive in need of a hot meal and later leave with a connection to an experienced professional who would be dedicated to finding them a route out of homelessness.

Glass Door caseworker Peter said:

The dinner service has become a crucial touch point for me to meet people who are in need of support. I have helped people move beyond homelessness who otherwise wouldn’t have known about any of the support that was available to them, had they not turned up for that one meal.

Glass Door caseworker with guest at dinner service

Photo: Peter talking to a guest at the dinner service

Eighty guests engaged with a caseworker at the dinner service, resulting in the following outcomes:

  • nine received help to access benefits
  • 20 were supported into housing accommodation
  • seven were helped into employment
  • 21 were helped to access healthcare.

Thanks to our volunteers

Volunteers at Glass Door dinner service

Photo: volunteers preparing food at the Chelsea dinner service 

370 volunteers stepped in to help cook and serve meals, as well as provide a warm welcome, at the dinner service.

Isabelle Swann, who is the volunteer coordinator for the St John the Divine/St Matthias team at the Richmond dinner service, stressed the importance of the service:

Everything is closed.... For many, the dinner service is the one place in a day that a warm meal, a dry space and human connection can be found.

Feedback and reflections

Many guests provided thoughts on what the dinner service meant to them on anonymous feedback forms.

One said:

The food is excellent, and the staff are very polite and efficient.

Another said:

Thanks for keeping us out of the cold during these tough times.

Assessing the programme and looking ahead to the future, Glass Door CEO Lucy Abraham, shared some reflections:

“Even though we couldn’t open shelters due to the risk of COVID-19, we had many wonderful volunteers and partners asking what they could do. We wouldn’t have been able to get the planning over the line without the stringent registration process we put in place, but we were ready to adapt quickly, and the changes we made half-way through the winter had a huge impact on attendance." Lucy added:

Next year, we’ll be looking to reopen shelters – which will include a hot dinner for all the shelter guests – if we can do so safely. If not, we will be working with our newly formed guest advisory group to focus on how we can ensure the dinner service meets the needs of the people who use it.

For those who were able to find a hot meal inside served by a volunteer in a face mask, these limited but warm interactions made a difference.

Said one guest on their anonymous feedback form:

I am nothing but grateful for the volunteers that make Glass Door Winter Shelter meals possible. God bless you all.

Find out more:

  • Read about how Peter met Adam (name changed), who had been homeless for over a decade, at our dinner service and helped him get the support he needed.
  • Watch our video that shows the community dinner service in action: