Popular TV presenter George Clarke has revealed one of his favourite amazing spaces is a former scaffolders warehouse in North Shields.
It is now the home of the North East Homeless (NEH) charity originally started by Brian Burridge around six years ago for which Sunderland-born George, as well as Viz founder Simon Donald, are patrons.
The vital facility which helps around a thousand people a year houses a ‘social supermarket’ which distributes food to the needy as well as a cafe with all the cash generated going straight back into the charity.
It also provides a safe space for people while the charity conducts outreach nights across the North East three nights a week giving out warm food and drinks as well as advice on finding accommodation.
However for a place supposed to provide a bit of respite for people living on the streets, as well as a starting point for volunteers before they made their way out to offer help, it had one problem. George explained: “It was bloody freezing – the irony of that.”
Brian added: “It was colder inside here than it was outside.”
That has now changed. To make it more comfortable NEH contacted companies across the UK to help provide heating.
George is also the public face of Mitsubishi Electric’s Ecodan renewable heating and after a little persuasion it gifted the charity two brand-new air source heat pumps and a number of radiators worth £15,000.
The installation of the heating system would also have cost another £15,000, however Newcastle-based Engenera Renewables Group, an approved Ecodan installer, stepped in and did it for free.
George said: “I’m chuffed to bits. Brian is chuffed to bits – we couldn’t be more grateful. There is no point doing the work we do on streets if we haven’t got a hub like this.”
It was in 2014 that Brian decided to set up a Facebook group called North East Homeless after coming across a homeless man on the street.
“I didn’t understand how in this day and age we could have people living on the streets,” he said. The group sought donations of sleeping bags, food and clothing which supported homeless people in Newcastle city centre.
There was ever increasing demand and in 2016 NEH became a charity, now supporting people who had experienced homelessness and/or poverty, and they established the North Shields base.
George said he got involved around two years after he met Simon Donald at a Teenage Cancer Trust event in London and he mentioned the work of NEH.
“I was ambassador for Shelter already and it seemed a perfect fit,” said George. “I had a chat with Brian and it took me about half a millisecond to say yes.”
Brian said: “We just started off giving out blankets – I never thought we’d get this far. At the start we had families coming for help who were just a little short as they weren’t paid until tomorrow. Now it’s a little short until next week – the gap is getting bigger.”
“We all know about foodbanks and the stigma of using them. We wanted to get rid of that stigma which is why we call it a ‘social supermarket’,” he said.
The motto on the wall says: ‘Take what you want, leave what you can’. Brian said: “If you’ve got nothing, there is no need to leave money. If you can spare some money, stick it in the pot.”
However he said it wasn’t just about feeding people. “It’s about trying to engage with them too, finding out why they are struggling.”
Brian reckons they were helping around a thousand people a year before the Covid-19 crisis, the demand is such now he said that maybe in the future they’ll extend NEH’s work into another town.
George speaks of his admiration for Brian and the volunteers who took on the warehouse in North Shields without a single penny and have transformed it to the hub it is today.
He said: “The best thing about the model is it’s not a food bank, it’s a social supermarket, a cafe, anyone can come in and use it.
“I think in a time of so much doom and gloom and so many miserable stories this is probably one of the most feel good things I’ve ever been involved in. It’s an inspiration.”
To find out more about North East Homeless and make a donation visit its website.