A charity shop that supports Chester’s homeless community has temporarily closed following police concerns about increasing reports of anti-social behaviour and violence outside in the street.
The ShareShop in Northgate Street will reopen next Thursday (October 27) but on police advice those in charge are shutting the cafe, which attracted homeless people because of the donated hot drinks and food on offer.
It is hoped the cafe will reopen in the new year once festive activities, including the Christmas market, are out of the way but there are concerns at the timing of the shut-down given the onset of winter.
There have been issues around anti-social behaviour among a small minority but what appears to have triggered the temporary shop closure was a fight outside the shop on Tuesday involving a male who had been caught up in an incident just a few days previously at the same location.
A message posted on the ShareShop Facebook page said: “Following two recent incidents by the same person, outside of the ShareShop, Cheshire Police have formally requested that we close the cafe side of the ShareShop, until the new year to reduce the chance of any further anti-social behaviour.
“The board and trustees of SHARE have taken legal advice on this request from our solicitors and the response has come back that if we fail to adhere and a member of the public or one of our volunteers was injured thereafter, our insurance would be invalid.”
The statement continued: “The board has voted therefore to close the ShareShop until Wednesday of next week, at which point the shop will reopen as a clothes shop only. It is our intention to reopen the cafe side of the ShareShop in the new year and we will put in place a plan that will be discussed with Cheshire Police and the board.”
Volunteers are concerned at withdrawing the food and hot drink service at the coldest time of year but the charity intends to 'work hard' with the Richmond Court homeless hostel and Chester Aid To The Homeless to ensure donated supermarket food can still be provided.
“We are also launching a collection of Christmas presents for the 73 children who are homeless in Chester and North Wales,” said the message.
“We know that the cafe side being closed is not what any of us wanted to happen, but ultimately the safety of our volunteers and customers is paramount, we therefore have no choice but to continue raising money for our house fund, which will begin to remove people off the streets once and for all, and to be able to send aid to those who are homeless in general, by way of donations and selling our clothing etc only from now on.
“We need your valued support as volunteers and customers to be able to do this, more than ever now.”
Talking about the bigger picture, one of the charity’s founders, Adam Dandy, said the ShareShop served a vital function, explaining: “There is a lack of facilities for homeless people in the daytime. You cannot keep moving homeless people on from place to place to place.”
Bob Bisset, chief executive of charity Chester Aid to the Homeless, whose day centre can only stay open until 11am for funding reasons, agrees. He said: “The ShareShop has filled some of the gap and that can’t be criticised.”
Mr Bisset, who is also a Cheshire West and Chester Labour councillor, says the number of homeless in Chester is reaching ‘worrying levels’ in the city but admits current services are ‘fragmented’.
Kellie Randall, 29, says she has been on the streets for six years after being a victim of domestic violence. She turned up at the shop this morning to find it closed and already feels lost.
She said: “They got me off legal highs. I was found collapsed in Grosvenor Park at 4am. I was dead, I was flat-lining and had to be resusciated. The people in the ShareShop gave me a shoulder to cry on.”
Tom Hughes, landlord of the next door Shropshire Arms, supports the aims of the ShareShop but says it is in the wrong place, especially with the opening of the Storyhouse cultural centre next May.
He said: “The problem is you get people coming who are not homeless, or are drug takers, who abuse their services and congregate outside and cause trouble between each other.”
One eyewitness to Tuesday’s fight said: “Saw a very nasty fight outside the shop about 4pm on Tuesday afternoon. Didn’t look good in the middle of town surrounded by shoppers and tourists.”
Insp Paul Loughlin, of Cheshire Police, said: “Following an increasing number of reports to police of anti-social behaviour and violence outside a charity shop/cafe in Northgate Street in Chester, the owners voluntarily closed the premises, with the support of the police. The shop is due to open again next week having reviewed the operation of the premises.
"The owners of the shop, police and other local agencies will be working together to establish a solution which will prevent further incidents of anti-social behaviour. The police support the charity in its aims to help people who are in need.
“As it currently stands the anti-social behaviour is causing alarm and distress to the community. We want to make sure that Chester city centre is a safe place for everybody and that those who are in need get the correct support, and those who cause problems are dealt with appropriately.”
To donate £5 directly to the ShareShop, text ‘KIND23 £5’ to 70070 – change the £5 to any amount you wish.