Meet The GSA Team
Neil Charlick - C.E.O
Matt Butler, Trustee, Vice Chair
Foodbank & Hub Manager
Website & Accounts Manager
Rochester Charity Shop Manager
P.A to CEO
Admin & Volunteer Coordinator
Charity Shop Team
Foodbank & Hub Team
Gillingham Cafe Team
This is not a bullet point statement about us, this is a condensed story of our journey of how we started to where we are today, it is quite long but, we hope that you will enjoy reading our journey as much as we have enjoyed creating it with pure passion, enthusiasm, and determination to help others in need of support.
The Street Angels first started in the early part of 2018, a group of friends Neil & Tracy Charlick, Matt Butler & Max Emmens who could see an issue with homelessness becoming more and more apparent that they felt the need to figure out a way of trying to help and support those in their community that was in a very unfortunate situation.
So, The Street Angels were born, we were very grateful for members of the community that had heard what we were doing and put themselves forward, to help volunteer in any way they can to support us in supporting those in desperate need of help. From the get-go we knew that we would not be able to ever eradicate homelessness, but we were certain we could make an impact on supporting those that were already in a desperate situation and we had absolutely no foreseeable idea of the trials and tribulations that were waiting for us around the corner.
Teams of streetwalkers would go out nightly to make ourselves known to our street homeless community and that we would be about each night to not only carry out a welfare check but to also provide something to eat and a hot beverage clean and dry clothing. Soon we had a list of names, encampment locations, and an inventory of items we urgently needed to get supplied to our street homeless community. We each put out on our social media and created a Street Angels Facebook group requesting donations of sleeping bags, tents, men & woman’s clothing, footwear, hats, gloves, thermals, torches, and food donations, we were not expecting things to happen as fast as it did, the generosity of our community went through the roof and within a few weeks over 1,000 members of our community had joined our Facebook group. We suddenly had people donating food, clothing, and essential items, Neil was receiving hundreds of calls a day from people wishing to know where they can bring donations, Tracy, and her team of ladies and gents were inundated with sorting through clothing & footwear into categories washing and drying useable items ready to be handed out, Matty had already made contact with FairShare for food supplies who invited us to be one of the first charities to enroll on a new platform they had just devised and Max was running around doing collections from local businesses and members of our amazing community who started to donate items for us to sell to help with funding.
With all this generosity coming to the door and plenty of supplies we set up soup kitchens in 2 locations, we made our street homeless community aware of the locations, times, and days that we would be there, Neil would prepare and cook meals to take to the soup kitchens which was transported in thermal containers so it remained piping hot up to the point is was then transferred into heated serving containers, meals on offer ranged from spaghetti Bolognese, fish pie, curry & rice, lasagna, stew & mash, sausage, mash & beans, every soup kitchen would have a different meal available each evening and plenty of hot beverages to go round and there was now an abundance of snack items they could take with them. All meals were cooked daily and with fresh ingredients, we could also take along essential items of clothing, tents, sleeping bags, etc. to hand out when needed, not only did our street homeless have the security that they had a guaranteed hot meal and beverage of an evening and they could get a fresh set of clothes but most importantly it brought many of our street homeless together where they made good friendships and their little community groups for safety in numbers and it helped reduce social isolation within the street homeless community.
As the weeks went on the numbers of our service users grew from 10 to 20 to 30 a night, we then started to realise that it was not just our street homeless service users coming to our soup kitchens but members of our community that was struggling and living on the bread line of poverty, thankfully the sales of items were going well and cash donations were flooding in so we upgraded our contract with FairShare so not only could we still get lots of food for free but we could also purchase at a reduced rate other items like fridge produce and micro meals to add to the amazing food donations we gratefully received from members of the community & local business’s which enabled us to start supplying food parcels to members of our community in desperate need of a little help as well.
In 2019 we rebranded and became Gillingham Street Angels and due to the size that our organisation had become we had a discussion among ourselves and agreed that we should make ourselves more official and register as a non-profit charity, so we went through the process of registration and became a registered charity on the 2nd of July 2019, we realised that due to the growing numbers in service users, we needed a central point that people could come to during the day for food parcels and essential items, one of our volunteers Terry King came across a premise that was up for rent in Skinner Street, Gillingham, we felt this was an ideal location and big enough to stock up with sellable items and free food. After some working out, we calculated that we could afford to get it going as a charity shop, food, and essential items bank for our service users to come and select items for their food parcels some even came to us to exchange unwanted food items for other food items.
Amazingly this adventure rocketed much faster than we imagined, we had also just taken over a café which enabled us to cook fresh meals daily for the elderly ladies and gentlemen within the care home that the café is located and prepare and cook single portion meals for Tracy and the shop team to hand out to those in need. Things were looking good and then the landlord of our building that was the central point for our storage, sales of bulky items too big for the shop, drop off point for donations and our office, gave us notice to move out as he was selling up to go and fulfil some adventures, so it was panic stations at its best but thankfully, it was short lived as Neil came across a building that had a very large space 3x the size of what we currently had just for a few pounds more a month, this was a bingo moment we gradually moved in and Just as things were running like a dream again the pandemic hit us, unfortunately, due to the unchangeable layout of the shop we could not set it up with a safe way to adhere to the guidance set by the government so regrettably we had to pull the plug on the shop, after a lot of planning and discussion we made a plan to keep the supply of food parcels and essential items going but outside the front of the shop in the open air and had gazebo’s to give shelter which became the foodbank as we know it today. At the café, we operated a food to the door operation so that residents could phone through their order and we would deliver it to their apartment within the home, this way we could continue to provide this service but in a safe manner. We had a volunteer dedicated to listing items on eBay which became our new shop and posting purchased items which thankfully kept the funds rolling in, However we had not foreseen that the numbers of service users would rocket in 2018 through to December 2019 we supported approximately 7,800 individual persons ranging from babies to our most elderly from all walks of life, from January 2020 through to January 2021 we supported approximately 26,000 individual persons, then January 2021 through to January 2022 we supported approximately 102,500 individual persons 6,500 of those were extra free school packed lunches over 6 weeks supplied to school children that would normally get a free school meal, over December 2021 our monthly service user figure rose from 8,000 people a month to 9,000 and still it is increasing, with fuel increases the way they are going and the uncertainty of the Covid situation we forecast that we will be supporting over 10,000 service users a month by the end of February, if this is the case by December 2022 we will have provided support to 120,000 individual service users just from our Gillingham based foodbank these numbers do not include other charities that we provide food supplies to or food parcels distributed from our Unit in Chatham plus the extra free school packed lunches over the half term breaks, summer holiday break, Easter break and Christmas break, this is forecasted to be an extra 15,000 individual lunch meals provided for children, not forgetting the other items we also supply as in furniture, clothing, and other essential items.
Over time our services have expanded, we adopted 1x allotment plot for a quiet and safe place for those that are keen to help and volunteer but are not comfortable on the front-line work. Sainsbury's had 150 hours labour to give to a charity, we were overwhelmed and honored that they chose Gillingham Street Angels to support in the regeneration of our plot shared with the Kent Autistic Trust, the 150 hours labour was supplied by Sainsbury's as part of their 150th birthday celebrations in 2019, so that's how the allotments began its amazing transformation managed by Gavin Baker, then about 6 months later Gillingham Street Angels acquired a 2nd plot luckily enough it is adjacent to our 1st plot for further growing of sustainable fresh fruit and veg, with this expansion it opened up more opportunity to enable more people to get involved that were suffering with existing mental health conditions, mental health conditions developed due to social isolation and the knock on effects with the uncertainty's of the Covid pandemic. Both plots together meant double the work and neither plot are in any way small. So, Gavin Baker took further control of this as well as his full-time job with Sainsbury's and with his vast knowledge and expertise Gavin got together his own team and turned 2x rather un-kept and derelict plots into an amazing place to grow our own fruit and veg to use within our charity network, Gavin later became our allotment Manager and a Trustee on the 3rd June 2021.
We were so inundated with household goods in the early part of 2021 that, although we were able to sell lots of items to keep the income rolling in, we were struggling to sell on goods as fast as they were coming in so, we started a free furniture giveaway open to anyone, this has become very popular and will remain an ongoing service.
We also focused more on our existing would be landfill waste and expanded segregation of recyclable waste and non-recyclable waste and created a recycling bank not only for our own waste but for others to be able to drop in to designated sites particular items of plastic waste, electrical waste & clothing waste, which Chatham football club kindly sited one of our clothing recycle bins, this project was taken control of and run by our fantastic Gina Carpenter and Gina also run the Crisp Packet Project St. Mary's Island which turns crisp packets into thermal and waterproof sleeping bag covers, survival bags, woven floor mats and many other useful items for our street homeless community, this is also designed to help reduce landfill, we also created a free school uniform swap shop/bank also run by Gina to further help and support families in desperate need of extra support due to the cost of required uniform with embroidered items even with a grant from the government for those that were eligible to receive it, a lot of families were still really struggling to find the monies to purchase all the required kit, in some cases this was a result of the pandemic, loss of jobs/income to the family household.
We also help support families and our street homeless with care for their pets to the best of our ability as pets are part of a person or family and to us that is just as important to ensure that the animals are supported as well.
We have 3 sites where people can get a free water refill in their vessel and we have opened further premises in January 2022 as a new charity shop run by our amazing Kim West, formally of the Strood Community Project, Kim has many many years of experience in charity retail, charity work, and community support, we will also in time be able to supply free water refills from here as well, but the main thing is, is that we can broaden our ability to sell items to maintain a sustainable income to fund the free services that we provided 365 days of the year, even when we are closed for receiving donations and some services are limited, we are still operational for our street homeless, families in need and for emergencies.
During all of this time we also had some amazing people that selflessly gave up their free time to help support us in collecting food donations and dropping them off at the food bank, not only drop off but on occasion drop food parcels off to those that could not get to us, one of the main persons that generously did this very thing is our fantastic Chucks Uwaechia founder and C.E.O of Kent Housing who was incredibly shocked and felt honored that we had invited him to become one of our trustees, needless to say, Chucks albeit, incredibly overwhelmed accepted this invite and indeed became our newest member of the board.
All of our ability to get where we are now is due to the amazing team we have, our most dedicated and the best teams of volunteers, our donors and supporters from far and wide, we cannot thank them all enough, it has not been easy at any stage of the journey, we have encountered many giant obstacles that many would of more than likely thrown in the towel and given up because of the complexity of the obstacles, but not our team, every single person had that pure desire, enthusiasm and determination to get through whatever got in the way, even our most vulnerable volunteers that we had to initially tell to stay at home and not to come into work for their protection were incredibly eager to get back into the thick of things and continue to give their very valued support. It is a never-ending journey that we will endeavor to continue for many years to come.
Thank you from all of us at Gillingham Street Angels for taking the time to read about our journey so far.