The ‘crooked spire’ topping the Church of St Mary and all Saints is without a doubt Chesterfield’s most famous landmark. But just a few hundred meters away another unusual but lesser known church meets regularly, notable not for its architectural oddity but for the fact that it is a church on wheels.
The Church on the Bus exists to serve the homeless in Chesterfield and Matlock areas, to be ‘a place of hope for the homeless’. This can take many forms, whether it is providing food, drink and clothing, giving counselling, prayer, or just being a safe and dependable place to chat and feel accepted for those most vulnerable in society.
Supported by several churches and groups in Chesterfield, the project was founded by Alan Park in 2004, who saw the need for a year round presence for the homeless, not just in the winter months when they are more typically accommodated. The bus travels around and stops in various nightly or lunch time locations, receiving around 15 to 30 people each time. Volunteers give out hot drinks, sandwiches, and biscuits, as well as distributing essentials such as toiletries, clothes, shoes and sleeping bags that have been donated. Amazingly, tens of thousand s of sandwich meals have been provided over the 13 years that the bus has been running!
Although it is incredibly important to provide help in such practical ways, the bus has an equal focus on meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of each visitor. The goal is to facilitate a warm and welcoming place of shelter; somewhere one will be listened to and respected in the company of others.
“We try to build a foundation of trust and respect, to break down the barriers,” explains a volunteer: “The visitors that come to the bus, come for company and to feel part of something within a society that rejects and ignores them.”
Support is not just limited to time on the bus, as volunteers also offer assistance with essential everyday tasks such as filling in forms or completing housing applications. Help with shopping trips or hospital visits can make a big difference to a vulnerable person. A weekly art group, The Gate, as previously featured in S40 Local and where the artist Craig Burr discovered his talents, is run by the bus and meets in Saint Augustine’s Church, allowing members to make new friends and grow in confidence in a safe social setting.
Church on the Bus could not exist without a team of volunteers. Driving, hosting and coordinating the sessions, preparing food and managing donations are all essential jobs. Simple food preparation becomes a very large task when around 80 sandwiches are given out each evening! Currently, the oldest volunteer is an amazing 94 years of age and regularly attends one of the bus’s lunchtime sessions!
Many local churches, individuals and Chesterfield groups are involved with the work of the bus. Unused food is often donated by Greggs sandwich shop. The women’s singing group Aurora recently held a concert with proceeds going to the bus, while local business Giraffe Graphics has reached their goal of donating 100 sleeping bags. Each year, St. Thomas’ Church donates a large number of wrapped gifts to give out to visitors over the Christmas period.
The church on the bus has a website page for anyone interested in finding out more or volunteering. Any donations are of course greatly appreciated; see the website for information on how to donate or to volunteer. www.churchonthebus.org.uk
Did you know you can leave donations of clothing, footwear or toiletries at St Thomas’ Church Centre, just label them ‘Church on The Bus’.
Words: Esther Rackham
Pictures: Esther Rackham