Big Change Luton was launched at the end of 2019 with the aim of providing alternative methods of giving. The initiative asks Lutonians to donate spare time, items or money to help people experiencing homelessness build a life away from the street.
The initiative includes a dedicated JustGiving page and the introduction of two contactless donation points at the service desk in the Mall and at the Travel Centre opposite the Luton station. So far, eight awards, totalling £2,413, have been made with financial support having been distributed to local organisations such as NOAH Enterprise, Penrose, Signposts and Keystage Housing, some of the many partners that are working together to end homelessness. This has been especially important throughout the Covid-19 pandemic as the lack of stable accommodation can significantly increase the impact of the virus. Concerned members of the community who have donated have commented that the initiative is “a breath of fresh air”.
One individual with a long history of domestic violence, exploitation, and significant health issues, successfully bid for permanent council accommodation in November. In order to turn the shell of a flat into a home, she needed a bed, fridge-freezer and cooker. Money from Big Change channelled via her support worker at Keystage Housing has enabled her to purchase these key items to help her settle and progress towards the next stage of her full recovery.
Another individual who has used the services provided by Noah Enterprise was given money to purchase a mobile phone. Not only did this allow him to open an online bank account but it was vital in enabling him to conveniently access and apply for job opportunities.
Declan, who had been living in a tent for eight years, had been offered a flat by Signposts. Both Signposts and Big Change were able to refurbish Declan’s new flat which helped him to make it feel like home. Declan said: “I found completing this application quick and easy. I did it within 10 minutes with my key worker and was happy about how easy it was to understand and follow. I want to thank Big Change Luton and Signposts for applying for this fund with me. When I found out it got accepted, I did a little dance with my key worker Elizabeth. This will change my life as I previously lived in a tent for eight years. I can now focus on getting back to work and settling down. Thank you.”
Councillor Tom Shaw, portfolio holder for Housing said: “Big Change has made a difference to a number of people already, and as we emerge from the shadow of coronavirus, it is right that we re-energise the campaign to encourage people to spare a small amount of money. We often say a little goes a long way, and this has been shown to be true for those whose lives have been turned around by the kindness of others.
Inspector Fiona Dawson, from Luton community policing team, said: “Criminal exploitation of homeless and other vulnerable people is something we are committed to working alongside our partners to tackle. We work with lots of different agencies to do this, as no one single organisation has all the answers working on their own. By working together with the Luton Homeless Partnership on projects like Big Change and Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation, can achieve so much more and make a massive difference to people who are experiencing homelessness.”
Kimberley Lamb, head of the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit, said: “We work really closely with members of the Luton Homeless Partnership, which does fantastic work to combat exploitation of vulnerable people. This is a brilliant initiative which supports our overarching aims of preventing violence and exploitation by working collectively to help people from becoming involved in the first place.”
Big Change Luton also serves as a reminder that if you are worried about someone you’ve seen sleeping rough in Luton, you can alert Streetlink by downloading the Streetlink app or by calling 0300 500 0914. The information will be sent to an outreach team who will respond the same or the next day. So why not go online, search Big Change Luton and find out how you can donate – A small amount of money can make a huge difference to someone building a life away from the streets.