The St John Ambulance Hastings Homeless Service (SJAHHS) celebrated 15 years of providing valuable care in the town last week.
The service has been improving access to healthcare and support for homeless and vulnerably-housed people in Hastings and St Leonards since 2004.
It marked the milestone with a party at Seaview’s open access wellbeing centre, on Wednesday, March 12.
Cutting a grand celebratory cake at the event, Hastings mayor Cllr Nigel Sinden said: “I’m very happy to be here, giving out birthday cake to celebrate 15 years of the St John Ambulance Hastings Homeless Service. I’ve supported them – and Seaview and Hope Kitchen – since I’ve been a councillor.
“The service is fantastic. It shows our town to be a good place, full of good people.”
The SJAHHS has grown from strength to strength over the past 15 years. At the end of its first year, in 2004, it had five volunteers, including two nurses, who gave a total of 304 volunteer hours over the previous 12 months. At the end of 2018, it boasted 17 volunteers, including seven nurses, who gave a total of 1,830 volunteer hours – six times as many as in 2004.
Over that time, the service it provides has expanded too. In 2006, it introduced nurse prescribing and from 2007 to 2016, it ran a hospital discharge service, to reduce the number of people released from hospital back to the streets. Unfortunately, that service was stopped due to a lack of funding.
In 2010, it started its out-of-hours clinic at Hope Kitchen on Saturday evenings and in 2017, it started trialling outreach sessions, where it went out with Seaview’s outreach team to try and help those who don’t attend the wellbeing centre. On these sessions, SJAHHS volunteers also offered flu vaccines.
The Hastings Homeless Service works very successfully with other agencies and charities in the area. Laura Torrance, a women’s worker at Fulfilling Lives, echoed this.
She said: “Some of my women won’t go to a GP – they will only come to Roger [Nuttall, nurse co-ordinator at SJAHHS]. The homeless service is really flexible in the support it offers. Some of my clients lead quite chaotic lives and if they’re five minutes late for a GP appointment, they’ve missed it. But that’s not the case here – they’re really flexible and will give a client as much time as they need. Sometimes my client is in there for up to an hour. It’s a really fantastic service.”
Nancy Jones, podiatrist for the SJAHHS, added: “We aim to provide a holistic service – we aim to understand a bit about the person, not just their medical need.
“It’s a real privilege to get to know people who find themselves at a difficult point in their lives.
“The problem may start with their foot but may end up somewhere different, often around issues with mental health. That’s why we provide that all-round, holistic service.”
Guests at the birthday event were treated to two performances from the Seaview Choir, and a reading of a poem written by a service user.
Sandy Collver, volunteer nurse, also spoke on the day, paying tribute to Roger Nuttall, who has run the service from day one.
She said: “Imagine what it is like being a full-time nurse and running a charity on your own for 15 years with almost all volunteer help. I think you would agree it takes a lot of skill to keep a large number of volunteers on board a service going for over a decade and a half – doing it on your own as the only paid employee. It is all down to one person having the skills to do just that.
“And to do the job with patience and grace and to never give up on any one of us or our clients take a special person, to carry on with all of the challenges the service has faced over the years.
“Not an easy job, even though it is made to look easy by an incredibly hard-working, diligent person – and that person is our manager Roger Nuttall.
“Roger is known as a trusted, safe pair of hands for anyone in trouble and has worked hard to develop incredible connections in our community. No doubt some of you have been touched by his kindness, his patience, and his ability to focus on how to practically solve a problem and thereby make real changes in people’s lives.”