Crawley Open House has continued its vital work during the pandemic

‘Crawley Open House has been fantastic to me…I don’t know what I would have done without them during lockdown.”

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 4:10 pm

Words such as these from one of their clients will no doubt mean the world to Open House director Charlie Arratoon and her team.

It’s been a year since the Everyone In initiative was launched, giving rough sleepers an emergency roof over their heads during the pandemic – and a year since Open House had to find new ways of working.

Based in Riverside House, Three Bridges, the charity runs a 24-bed hostel and a day centre – though the latter had to be closed temporarily due to Covid – while giving help and advice on everything from housing to health.

Charlie said: “As soon as the pandemic hit, we rapidly created a host of planned support for some of the most vulnerable in our community.

“We worked with local government partners to ensure those suffering the effects of homelessness were placed into temporary accommodation.

“We worked closely with charity partners like Giving Back Crawley to make sure those in this type of accommodation had regular meals and support.

“At our hostel, we formed a whole new way of working to help protect all our residents and staff and had to make the incredibly difficult decision to temporary close our Day Centre which supports many who suffer the effects of social exclusion.

“All this was on top of the ongoing vital work at our hostel, move-on houses and outreach work in Crawley.”

That work has certainly been appreciated by the clients who rely on the team.

One man – Anthony – said: “Crawley Open House has been fantastic to me.

“During lockdown they looked after me, [I’ve] been given fantastic accommodation, the staff are loving, caring and I have never known support like it in my entire life.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them during lockdown.”

Another – Zak – added: “I can’t thank Open House enough.

“They help with everything to improve your life. It’s lots more than a place to live – the staff are like a family and look after us like their own family.”

Staff at Open House are classed as key workers and, even before the pandemic hit, had dedicated themselves to helping and protecting the people who came to them for support.

The charity’s vision statement is simple – to provide support and services for those suffering the effects of homelessness, unemployment, loneliness, discrimination, or other forms of social exclusion. 

That’s a heavy load to bear and it’s been made no easier by the uncertainties of the past year.

Charlie acknowledged that those uncertainties had been the toughest thing to cope with, adding: “We had to plan for a whole range of outcomes – anything from a Covid-19 outbreak to staff self isolating.

“It was incredibly hard to plan with so much uncertainty.”

Despite that, the team has looked after dozens of residents and worked with partner charities and agencies to support hundreds of others in temporary accommodation.

They got through the whole of 2020 without a single Covid case and kept on top of a small outbreak earlier this year.

All Open House services have continued but with reduced staff teams – and they have had to make last minute rota changes to cover for those who have had to self-isolate.

Despite everything, the past year has brought a couple of positives.

In October, eight flatlets – known as the Laing Rooms – were opened, offering clients a stable place to stay, with light support, while they prepared themselves for independent living.

And then there’s the Open House team itself, of which Charlie is clearly hugely proud.

She said: “One of the biggest positives was seeing my amazing staff team once again pull together, working different shifts than normal, covering different jobs from their own, working days, nights and weekends to ensure those that needed our support got the care they deserved.”

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