Peter takes a rest after 15 years at homeless charity

jpco-16-10-13  Peter Mansfield-Clark  (Pic by Jon Rigby)
jpco-16-10-13 Peter Mansfield-Clark (Pic by Jon Rigby)

The man who has led Crawley Open House homeless shelter for 15 years is retiring at the end of the month after a successful Christmas period.

Peter Mansfield-Clark took up the post of director of the centre in Stephenson Way in Three Bridges about 10 days before Christmas in 1998. Since then he has seen the problem of homelessness in the town get worse.

He said: “It’s been a wonderful 15 years. Thousands of people have been helped during that time. It’s got a lot busier during that time.

“There have been changes in the types of people. We are getting professional people coming who are affected by the recession, lost jobs, families have broken up. When I started it was 18 to 25-year-olds with alcohol and drug problems. We still get those, but the professionals as well.

“The other thing that’s happened is the numbers of people we have to turn away has increased. In 12 months we’ve turned 2,600 away because the beds are full.

“There were just over 750 15 years ago and it’s going up every year. There’s not enough affordable accommodation here or in any other council. Most councils only give accommodation to those with a local connection.

“We have 220 people a year living in the hostel and we’ve been able to resettle 70 per cent of them, but that’s going down. People stay here for longer and that blocks beds for people coming in.”

At Open House they have medical help, such as counsellors and substance abuse workers as well as somewhere to get advice and support about housing.

The festive season is always a busy time and they had nearly 60 people for Christmas lunch - all cooked by the volunteers.

Peter said: “Everyone who lives here and everyone who comes into the day centre were given a present.

“We try to make is a family Christmas. We do all the things we do at home. For lots of our clients, they haven’t had a Christmas like that since childhood and some of them not at all if they’ve been brought up in care.

“People think it’s a sad time here at Christmas but it’s not. People actually enjoy it.”

Now he is looking forward to switching off. He said: “I think it’s now time for me to move on and let the youngsters come in a take over.

“There’s an opportunity to make it even better. I’m a trustee at the Crawley Community and Voluntary Service and have joined the Round Table, which will give me chance to do fundraising for people. I’m quite sure I will be doing volunteering for Open House. It will be nice to be at home. Open House does take up your life. It becomes a way of life.”

A new director has been offered the post and their name will be announced soon.