Plymouth cafe supporting city's homeless to become charity

  • Watch Claire Manning's report.

A cafe in Plymouth that supports people who are homeless is set to become a charity.

The Garage Cafe opened around two years ago and provides free meals and support for people in need seven days a week.

The cafe - which relies entirely on donations - hopes by getting charitable status, it will make fundraising easier.

'Without this place I would be starving'

Heidi and her partner currently live in a tent.

She says: "Without this place I would be starving. I am staying in a tent at the moment and they gave given me trainers, they've given me jumpers.

"Once I woke up in the tent that was completely puddled out with rain, it was soaking. The tent didn't work so I came here soaking wet. I had to wait and they gave me everything I needed and it was amazing, amazing - without them I don't know what I would do."

The cafe, which is run by volunteers, opens each night at 7pm.

It not only offers hot, home cooked meals, clothes, sleeping bags and toiletries but it also offers a free hairdressing service.

Hairdresser & barber Tracey Rowe cuts Ben's hair for free Credit: ITV

Volunteer hairdresser and barber Tracy Rowe said she believes giving someone a haircut can sometimes help transform their life.

She says "If you give people a haircut, it gives them a purpose, it makes them feel better about themselves, it lifts their mood, it helps their depression, it sometimes will start them onto a journey of trying to look for work and seek help."

"We've seen people come down here and they've been so downtrodden we've given them a haircut, they've gone away and we've seen them the next time, and they've said 'thanks I really needed that and they've gone on to bigger and better things."

Ben had his haircut at the cafe.

He said: "A lot of people think that they can't go out and get a job because they are looking like they don't look great themselves but that's why it's amazing isn't it?

"They've got this lady here who is willing to take her time and her energy to make people look beautiful again so I respect her massively for that."

The rent alone for the building on Union Street is just shy of £2,000 a month.

Donations to keep it running are raised by Hope for the Homeless South West, a non-profit community organisation.

The Garage Cafe on Plymouth's Union Street provides up to 60 meals a night Credit: ITV

One of the fundraisers, Maggi Williamson, said she wants to help others because she herself was once homeless.

She said: "I've struggled throughout my life, I've been homeless on the streets of Plymouth, it was a long time ago but it was still hard then and there are still people who need our help now and I am better off now so I can help whoever needs the help."

The cafe, which has managed to stay open during the coronavirus lockdowns, sometimes serves up to 60 meals a night.

No-one is turned away.

One woman, who attends the cafe regularly, said it is a place where she never feels judged.

"This place makes people feel as though they are a valued member of society," one woman told ITV News. Credit: ITV

She explained: "The Garage makes people feel as though they are valued members of a community, you have people come here that are lonely and they'll sit and have a chat with Gary or Wenda the volunteers and they also provide that additional support. It is just nice to know there is someone there."

Volunteer Gary Parsons chats with and helps someone at The Garage Cafe Credit: ITV

Local businessman Gary Parsons volunteers at the cafe every night.

As well as cooking much of the food, he spends time chatting and listening to people.

He said it is rewarding knowing he is helping some of the city's most vulnerable people.

'It is a good feeling'

"It just keeps me busy," he said.

"I finish work I come down here, all the food is done fresh every day and then I'll go out, I'll have a chat with people, I've got regulars now.

"You know two years ago I never would have thought this time now I will be doing this but it is a good feeling just to feel that you are giving people something, doing something you are helping in a way."

During the day, the building is also used as a meeting place for The Warrior Within Project - a support group for military veterans.

Many of the men and women who use The Warrior Within turn to the service because they say they are struggling with life after leaving the military.

Stefan Daniel who founded The Warrior Within says The Garage Cafe gives veterans a safe place to share how they are feeling Credit: ITV

Its founder Stefan Daniels says being able to use The Garage Cafe as a free meeting place gives veterans a safe space to talk.

He said: "Most of the people I deal with are people that are living in shared accommodation, or have a history of abuse of solvents, drugs, alcohol abuse, people who need someone to put an arm around them and give them a brotherly hug and say 'listen it's ok mate', you know we're here to help."

The Garage Cafe now hopes that by getting charitable status it will make fundraising to keep it going in the future easier.