Thirty years of helping those in need at the Seaview Project

Seaview Project feature, St Leonards. SUS-151116-163644001
Seaview Project feature, St Leonards. SUS-151116-163644001
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Tucked away in a corner of St Leonards is an essential service which has provided vital support to the homeless community for thirty years.

The Seaview Project started from humble beginnings in 1985, sharing a hall with the Congregation Church in London Road.

Seaview Project feature, St Leonards. SUS-151116-163718001

Seaview Project feature, St Leonards. SUS-151116-163718001

Dr Brian Hick, trustee, said: “It was just a drop in centre, supporting people as they came.

“At the beginning, homelessness did not really crop up.

“It was more mental health. And there was a real problem with loneliness.”

In the early days, the Seaview Project was open to whoever needed it and welcomed families with children.

Seaview Project feature, St Leonards.'Sue Burgess, operations manager'Annie Whelan, incoming chief officer'Dr Brian Hick, trustee SUS-151116-163706001

Seaview Project feature, St Leonards.'Sue Burgess, operations manager'Annie Whelan, incoming chief officer'Dr Brian Hick, trustee SUS-151116-163706001

But with some visitors experiencing serious mental health issues, it became “less appropriate” for young children to attend Seaview and the decision was made to stop accepting families.

The service expanded rapidly and in October 1989 Seaview moved into the Southwater Centre - a place it still calls home today.

By this time, the Seaview Project was focused firmly on the homeless.

Sue Burgess, operations manager, said: “It was and still is for the people who feel disengaged from the community.

“And Seaview is the one place they can feel part of a community.”

In 1989, the centre saw 40 visitors per day. Today that figure stands at one hundred.

Two thirds of Seaview clients are sleeping rough, sofa surfing or in insecure housing.

As well as the Southwater Centre, which offers visitors hot meals, somewhere to shower, wash clothes and socialise, Seaview also has a dedicated housing team, helping those in need of housing get a home, and offers a range of personal development activities to help encourage people to realise their full potential.

Seaview works closely with St John Ambulance to provide regular access to a nurse and podiatrist, and there will soon be a GP based at the centre for a couple of hours a week.

Seaview also acts as a point of contact between agencies, such as substance misuse teams and mental health services, and the homeless community.

There is an argument whether such a facility is the best way of helping rough sleepers move forward.

Annie Whelan, incoming chief officer, said: “There’s a drive against day centres and a lack of understanding about what it means to people, and we are fighting that battle.”

She added: “Seaview may be the only place people can come and have a shower, wash their clothes.

“When people are rough sleeping, having somewhere to come inside is essential to feeling like a human being.”

One of the main problems faced by Seaview is a lack of supported accommodation in Hastings, which can prevent clients moving forward.

Funding is also an ongoing issue. In the 1990s, £62,000 of Seaview’s funding came from the county council. Although that has risen to £117,000, as a proportion of our total spending it has shown a significant decrease across the years. Meanwhile East Sussex County Council is currently consulting on proposed cuts to its adult social care budget and any cut in funding could result in reduced opening hours of the Southwater Centre.

However the future is not bleak for Seaview, thanks to the invaluable support of the Awareness for Action group, a team of volunteers who work tirelessly to help raise awareness and funds for the charity.

The group was the driving force behind the inaugural Big Sleep, which saw 150 people bed down in cardboard boxes on The Stade raising £27,000 for Seaview - with the money still coming in, two months on.

The event attracted supporters of all ages from all walks of life, from two former Seaview clients, keen to show their support for the cause, to Hastings Borough Council leader Peter Chowney.

Others who slept out included people with disabilities and the over 70s were well represented.

Meanwhile the four-year-old nephew of one of Seaview’s trustees, unable to take part because of his age, decided to do his own version of the Big Sleep by spending the night in a guitar box on his living room floor.

“He wanted to raise money for a bunk bed,” Annie smiled.

Deciding a bunk bed may not be the most practical of items for a rough sleeper, the funds raised from the Big Sleep instead went towards 50 rough sleeper packs, which include sleeping bags and toothbrushes

The fundraiser also allowed Seaview to extend its outreach hours, where workers make contact with those sleeping on the streets about the services the project offers.

It is hoped the Big Sleep will return in 2016.

Sue said: “We aim to make it an annual event.

“For me, it was wonderful to see the people of Hastings and St Leonards come together and get behind the event.

“People do want to make a difference and support the work we are doing.”

n To find out more about the work of the Seaview Project, visit www.seaviewproject.co.uk