One year ago, we would never have been able to predict the events that would unfold throughout the year. It has been a year of great loss, uncertainty and unprecedented change but through the darkness, we have also witnessed strength, love, community and determination. I’d like to take this moment to reflect on the past year…

At the start of March 2020, I spoke about the 26 people that we accommodated. I am happy to say that a year later, everyone who went into accommodation are either still in accommodation or have been given accommodation offers. We know that there are still a small handful of people who are on the streets in Plymouth and both Shekinah and the Alliance staff are working hard to continue to provide ongoing support to those people.

We are aware that we still have new people coming onto the streets. To put a stop to this, prevention work needs to be a priority, and this is something that we will be focusing a lot more on moving forward. If someone is sleeping rough, I can guarantee that we have all missed opportunities to prevent that from happening.

In a funny sort of way, the pandemic has accelerated some of our plans. We had been having a lot of conversations about doing things differently and this year has given us the opportunity to trial some of the ideas that we had. What we have learnt is that there are much better ways of doing things and we plan to build upon this over the coming years.  

At the start of the pandemic, my biggest concern was ensuring the safety of the staff, volunteers and the people who use our services and these concerns have not changed. So far, we have been lucky enough to get through this relatively unscathed, but we know that as the lockdown restrictions start to ease, we must not become complacent. We know that 264 people who use our services in Plymouth have had their first Covid vaccine which is positive and is a testament to how great the city has been in tackling this and Plymouth should be proud of that.

The pandemic has highlighted how important meaningful activities are such as education, training and employment. Face-to-face support is imperative to connecting with people so moving forward there will be more community-based projects at Shekinah. Over the coming years, we will be able to offer more of this in a variety of settings and locations. Whilst we will continue to meet the basic needs of people; we know that as a standalone intervention, it changes little, people need and deserve more.   

Volunteering opportunities have been very limited for us due to the restriction of the number of people allowed into buildings. With that said, we have had a large amount of interest from people wanting to help and we certainly want to build on this. I guess for many people, Covid has made us all think about what's important in life, and for some people, this may be about helping others. Over the coming months, we will be looking at developing and offering more opportunities for supporters to become involved in our work.  

During the last month, I have been involved in lots of meetings with people from all around the country, sharing our experiences of the pandemic. What always strikes me in these meetings is how well Plymouth and Torbay have coped during this time, compared to other Cities. Seeing local agencies and organisations coming together has been both refreshing and at times humbling to watch.  

It has been a tremendously difficult year. For myself and I’m sure for a lot of others, coming out of lockdown I’m looking forward to spending time with family, friends and being able to give and receive a hug.

John Hamblin 

Chief Executive Shekinah

A special thank you to Sophie Fisher for co-producing this month's blog.