Homelessness charity reopens

Cambridgeshire homelessness charity Wintercomfort has relaunced almost three years after its former director and manager, who became known as the "Cambridge Two", were jailed for allowing drug dealing on the premises.

No drink or drug taking is allowed at the new centre, which launched with a ?xA3;95,000 face-lift last week. All the homeless clients at the centre are issued with membership cards and their progress monitored. Rather than simply offering basic support like the previous centre, Wintercomfort now targets a range of services at its clients, such as counselling, legal advice, literacy skills and computer training.

"The ethos is 'the next step', giving people opportunities to regain their self-respect and take responsibility for themselves,

said Mieke Hinchcliffe-Wood, a director at Wintercomfort.

Fewer clients per day will be served by the new Wintercomfort project now it has abandoned its "open door

policy, but the service will be more targeted.

Three new staff have been recruited to help run the services, which are provided as part of a partnership with voluntary, statutory and commercial agencies. Funding has been secured for the next few years despite the fact that the "statutory sector can't get to grips with the fact that we're a different organisation, differently managed,

said Hinchcliffe-Wood.

Cambridgeshire companies, including the local branch of John Lewis, helped with equipment and refurbishment. In addition, the Tudor, Lankelly and Ashden Trusts have all committed to three-year funding for the centre.

"We liked the fact that Wintercomfort is positive in trying to get people into society rather than just giving them a meal,

said Katie Carrington, branch charity committee secretary for John Lewis.

As part of the new emphasis on taking responsibility, homeless clients will now be expected to make a contribution for their meals and washing, and will be encouraged to volunteer in return for credits.

Senior police representatives were present at the relaunch and the reopened centre has the support of all local stakeholders.

"Seventy people from the local community came to our open day recently,

said Sarah-Jo Jefford, Wintercomfort fundraiser. "Some of these were neighbours who had been quite critical of us in the past but who have now been working with us over the past year."

Many homelessness centres have tightened up their door policies in the wake of the Cambridge Two case which saw Ruth Vyner, Wintercomfort's former director, and John Brock, centre manager, jailed for knowingly permitting the supply of heroin.

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