Food parcel provision, Christmas toy deliveries, a craft club and an old peoples' lunch club are just some of the many functions carried out by Reading Central Salvation Army. Reading East MP Matt Rodda visited them recently to find out more about what they do and how they meet the needs of Reading's communities.
The Salvation Army's food parcel provision for 2017 will feed over 4,000 needy people in Reading on Christmas Day; each hamper providing the supplies to make a hearty Christmas Dinner for either a family, a couple or a single person. A Toy Appeal attracted over 400 donations of new toys which will go to those on lower-incomes; a welcome sight for those who may not be paid in time for Christmas such as new claimants to Universal Credit and the working poor, and the Willow House Hostel across the road will also be using the church premises extensively in the New Year as more groups are formed to help promote computer literacy and life skills for hostel residents.
The Reading Central Salvation Army has proven to be a vital community hub for the town for many years. Major Richard Welch and Willow House Hostel Manager Chris Scott gave Matt a tour of the expansive facilities at their Anstey Road church. Previously, the Salvation Army was part of the cluster of churches providing winter accommodation under the 'Bed For The Night' initiative which has been run for several years in Reading. This year, the Salvation Army is opting to run a Severe Weather Emergency Plan shelter this winter. This is run in conjunction with Reading Borough Council, St. Mungo's, Launchpad Reading and the Riverside Group housing association - and it has already provided a much-needed place of refuge and sustenance for rough sleepers in Reading on cold winter nights.
“Overnight temperatures this winter so far have seen the thermometer plunge to be -5C and below; the Emergency Shelter has proven to be an invaluable provision to some of the town's rough sleepers - a hot meal, a shower, a comfy bed for the night and a hearty breakfast have been readily provided by the Salvation Army, as well as a listening ear and someone to talk to.”
“At this time of year many people doing their Christmas shopping will no doubt be familiar with the sight and sound of the Salvation Army brass band in town. I think it is admirable that every penny donated is ploughed back into the community. However, what is becoming apparent is the increase in demand on other services, such as the assistance given to residents at the Salvation Army's Willow House Hostel. Changes to the welfare benefit system are causing significant problems for those who have complex needs; and I shall continue to challenge the Government on flawed systems such as Universal Credit and the lack of support available for people in disadvantaged situations. I am grateful that organisations such as the Salvation Army exist, but it is wrong to increase the burden of their workload due to failing policies of our Government.”