Provek celebrates charity dedication

Erica Gassor has been with Provek for almost 20 years and, in recognition of her charity work as a trustee and fundraiser for a local children’s charity, advocate support for a local family with difficulties over 25 years, her work with the homeless in the area over many years and volunteering for SERV OBN, was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2016 by the Queen. The team at Provek are extremely proud of her dedication to the community so we decided to sit down (virtually) with Erica to learn about the work with West Berkshire Homeless and SERV OBN and how they have been affected by Covid-19.

West Berkshire Homeless

“I have worked since I was 15 and have spent almost 20 happy years at Provek and am very aware how privileged I am to have an income and a comfortable home. I have in my spare time been cooking for the homeless charity ‘Loose Ends’ in Newbury for over 20 years and, three years ago, myself and two friends got together and decided enough was enough, we had to do something about the high number of individuals sleeping rough on the streets of our town so we set up the charity West Berkshire Homeless – no premises, no paid staff, just volunteers – all our concentration of funds and effort was to find accommodation and work for the rough sleeping community in our area.

Over the last three years, we have run two winter Night Shelters providing support for 13 individuals the first year and 28 the second year and have found accommodation and work, or avoided eviction from their existing homes, for over 100 individuals.

West Berkshire Homeless also run 3 ‘move on’ houses offering 10 people the opportunity to have supported living whilst they progress towards independent living.  So far 4 have made that transition and another 2 are well on the way.The telephone is manned 24/7 and we work closely with others in the voluntary sector in Newbury, together with the West Berkshire Council’s Housing First and Rough Sleepers Initiative.

West Berkshire Homeless is an independent charity depending totally on donations from the community and local trusts.  Any donations given are spent directly on the work with the rough sleeping community to make lifestyle changes – details of our charity are below”

The effect of Covid-19

“The work of our Charity has been greatly affected by COVID19, with rough sleeping numbers doubling. The Charity has gone from receiving 2/3 calls per week to between 5/7 from those who are facing homelessness.   Also those for whom we have found work are mostly working in the hospitality industry and, in most part, have therefore lost their jobs and have needed immediate support for essentials such as gas and electric and food whilst they apply for Universal Credit.  During the pandemic, the Council have housed those who were rough sleeping in local hotels and our Charity has assisted in providing food and other essential items.

Our success is our agility – we can provide immediate support without having to go through the rigors of forms and red tape.We are fortunate to have been commended by many organisations and last year came second in the West Berkshire ‘Best in Business’ Charity Awards.

Support can come in many ways, via donations of money, food to the Food Bank, following our Facebook page to look for opportunities to offer unwanted items that would prove useful to people who are being moved into unfurnished rooms or flats and by being aware that homelessness can hit not only the most vulnerable who may have physical or mental disabilities but any who are in low paid work or on zero hour contracts.”

     West Berkshire Homeless (Newbury area) Reg Charity No 11752217

SERV OBN

“For the last 15 years my husband has not enjoyed good health and we have been superbly supported by the NHS and our local hospital the Royal Berkshire. Through my obsession with motorbikes and biking, I became aware of the Blood Runners and our local SERV OBN covering Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Northampton and wanted to be able to give something back to the NHS in thanks for their care for my husband.

The Blood Runners offer emergency delivery of essential items for the NHS overnight and at weekends and bank holidays free of charge.  All riders have advanced riding qualifications.With a fleet of motorbikes and many wonderful volunteers SERV OBN cover 10 hospitals in the three counties and have recently been awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – a high honour which is much appreciated and is recognition for every one of the volunteers who turn out in the middle of the night in any weather to provide this essential service.

Another important service provided by SERV OBN is providing transportation for Baby Milk, collecting from individual mums and delivering to the main Milk Bank in John Radcliffe at Oxford so that it can be used for those babies and mums who require this vital provision.

Due to my husbands health, I do not do the overnight riding, I am a Controller and usually do around 20 duties a month manning the phone to answer the calls from the hospitals, arranging the bike and rider and then monitoring them as they complete their task”

The effect of Covid-19

“During the Coronavirus SERV OBN have been providing 24/7 coverage to assist with the additional needs during this time and has seen a corresponding increase in the calls we receive.

Relying totally on voluntary contributions, the Coronavirus has also affected the charities finances, with no collections at Supermarkets or events to attend to raise funds and awareness. The Charity does however continue to operate fully and support the NHS in their needs.”

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