Making Winter Warmer: Inside the North East homeless project's mission

Meet the woman behind the Making Winter Warmer organisation caring for some of the most deprived people in the North East

Kerry Lister-Pattinson, Founder of Making Winter Warmer charity which provides food and clothing for homeless people

Gloves, hat, scarf, toothbrush, sleeping bag. Repeat.

Welcome to the world of the volunteers at Making Winter Warmer, an organisation on a mission to look after the North East’s homeless community.

Packing endless amounts of rucksacks made up of generous donations, these are the women working to provide basic essentials for those who need them most.

Operating out of a base in Gateshead, Kerry Lister-Pattinson and friend Jo-Anne Burns meet every Thursday to work through hundreds of donated items and make up ‘goodie bags’ ready for distribution.

“They’re not necessarily for homeless people, although the majority of people we help do fall in to that category,” says Kerry. “If people need help they need help. We’ll not turn somebody away just because they’re not homeless.”

Although the project was founded by Kerry and Jo-Anne, there is a 14-strong core organising team working around the clock.

With more than 20 drop-off zones across Newcastle and Gateshead, kind-hearted members of the public willingly passing on their unwanted things that may be of use to others.

After picking up the goods and packing the rucksacks on a Thursday, the team joins forces with members of Destiny Church in Newcastle.

Kerry Lister-Pattinson (left) and Maria Wright
Kerry Lister-Pattinson (left) and Maria Wright
 

Every Saturday from 6pm, droves of needy customers pass through the doors of the Pilgrim Street church looking for support.

From there, Kerry and the team takes to the streets to chat to the city’s homeless community, providing items, support and friendship. That is an ethos strongly embedded in the project, which is coming up to its first birthday and second winter in operation.

Kerry, 29, said: “We make up around 15 to 20 rucksacks on a Thursday, plus dozens of orders we receive when we are out the Saturday before. But the main thing for us is to be there for them and just be people.

“I don’t want to say: ‘There you go, there’s your rucksack. Bye’. A lot of the people we help just want somebody to talk to them and acknowledge them. They feel embarrassed taking things, but value it more if you actually speak to them like human beings.”

In the bags is everything from hats to toothpaste, underwear and other items. To many it might not be much, but in Kerry’s opinion these little things contribute to the bigger picture as she looks to address homelessness.

She is keen to dispel the myth that every homeless person is a criminal and has questioned proposals but forward by Newcastle City Council to tackle the problem.

As reported in August, council bosses announced they are to tackle the ‘top 10’ most aggressive and persistent beggars in the city centre using new anti-social behaviour powers.

Kerry Lister-Pattinson, Founder of Making Winter Warmer charity
Kerry Lister-Pattinson, Founder of Making Winter Warmer charity

Newcastle City Council’s Safe Newcastle Board is setting up a project team to assess and plan the use of injunctions to tackle offenders in the city centre.

The new tools are contained within the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 which comes into force in October. The injunctions would compel those identified by the board to accept accommodation and drug or alcohol treatment.

But Kerry feels it is impossible to rank some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“A good friend of mine ended up homeless and that’s when it hit hard,” she said, explaining her motivation behind starting the project. “We are all just a few steps away from becoming homeless, sometimes not in our control. Everybody has a journey. They are not all drug dealers and alcoholics.

“Yes, sometimes they get into those problems but you have to ask what led them to that. Fortunately I’ve got a good family behind me, a husband and a daughter, but not everybody is as fortunate.

“That’s why I want to give something back. Never again will I sit in the house and complain it’s cold, or complain that I don’t like what I’m having to eat.”

So far, the group has made more than 600 rucksacks and it has also attracted a strong following on social media, with almost 8,000 members.

Every day, people message offering their support and asking where they can drop off clothes, food and other essentials that could make a difference to somebody else’s life.

But Kerry hopes this is only the start of things to come for Making Winter Warmer.

Kerry Lister-Pattinson (left) and Maria Wright, of Making Winter Warmer charity which provides food and clothing for homeless people
Kerry Lister-Pattinson (left) and Maria Wright, of Making Winter Warmer charity which provides food and clothing for homeless people

She said: “It started from a basic idea but thanks to the power of social media and the kind hearts of our people, we have became a community of caring souls who want to help others. We aren’t a registered charity, just a team of people who want to make a difference. I believe that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.

“These people are human beings just like me and you, just when they were down and out of luck, they didn’t have anyone to help them back up. These rucksacks have helped the people who received them so much. Not only to stay alive in the cold, but also to stay positive in the knowledge that lots of people care about them.”

Such is the rapid growth, the project has got to a point where there is enough stuff to help other deprived communities.

Boxes of clothes and children’s toys have been donated to a women’s refuge and other like-minded groups.

“We are continuously blown away by the groups kindness but it needs to keep going in order to keep this campaign running,” said Kerry.

One way the group plans to spread the word is by holding a ‘sponsored sleep-out’ on October 10, World Homeless Day. People are being sought to take part in a street sleep to raise money and awareness of the work they do.

It will give willing volunteers the chance to sleep ‘rough’ on the street for a night to experience what homeless people can go through,” Kerry said. “It will let people appreciate just how much it means to the people on the streets, when we come along and offer them some support and some food.

“We are raising money by getting sponsors and hopefully raising awareness about what we do and the people we help.”

To get involved or for more information about how you can help the project, email Kerry at makingwinterwarmer@gmail.com.

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