Our café doors open at 9.00am sharp, every Tuesday and Friday, without fail. For the next 4 hours our Client Support Workers will be rushed off their feet attending to any problem that comes through the door; whether that be providing a food parcel for a struggling family, doing a simple benefits check or, like today, dealing with the case of a mother and 10 weeks old baby who are about to be evicted from their property just a few weeks before Christmas.
If that last bit didn't catch your attention, maybe I can tell you about a couple of our most recent cases from just one of our centres that will.
I saw a lady a few weeks ago who was in desperate need for a food parcel, yet was too ashamed to ask. It had taken all of her might to come into our café; I got the feeling that she wasn't comfortable asking for help. She was nervous, alone, unsettled and cautious. We got chatting, and she told me that she didn't have much. And by much, I don't mean she hadn't been able to buy the latest gadget this year; I mean she didn't have a bed, cooker or electricity in her house, so she was planning on cooking a Christmas dinner for her daughter and herself on a gas camping stove outside her back door.
Every week I'll get a visit from one of our homeless clients. Normally I'll find him either hunched over a hot cup of tea or stood by the radiator in the front hall (we call that 'having a warm'). He'll stay for a few hours, maybe ask for help with his alcohol intake if he's having a 'good' day. Then he'll come up to the office to ask for some gloves, socks, food and find out if he's lucky enough to get his hands on a spare tent before we run out. He sleeps behind the local pub, and if you were to drive past late at night, you'd see him huddled by a fire he's made as he tries desperately to stay warm.
It's funny, the statistics show that we have no homeless people in our community. Yet if I stood up and looked out of my office window right now, I'd see a tent pitched up on the ground below full of damp duvets, empty food packets and lady who's been living there for two weeks with nowhere else to go.
As we begin the run up to Christmas, we are instantly joyful and excited for what the season brings. However, we often forget, or quite frankly ignore, the fact that poverty doesn't just simply disappear over Christmas. Many of the 300 people we've supported this year won't have the joy of buying Christmas presents for their family, of having a hot chocolate in front of the fire, or of waking up on Christmas morning to the smell of the turkey. Those on the poverty line will remain hungry, cold and anxious.
It is for that reason that we do our jobs. It is for that reason that our client support workers spend their days (and quite often their nights) writing appeals for benefit sanctions to be overturned, visiting clients in rehabilitation centres and picking people back up, again and again, and reminding them that they're worthy.
Christmas is the season of giving, but what if we were to shift the focus from giving presents to giving time, support or even just a listening ear? What may seem like a small gesture to you could mean the world to somebody that's struggling, and surely that's what Christmas is actually all about.
For more information about the Freedom Community Project please visit fcgroup.org.uk
HuffPost UK is running a fortnight-long focus around helping others this Christmas. Giving Back will shine a light on the organisations and individuals making a difference in their community, tackling issues such as loneliness, homelessness, food waste and financial struggle. We'd also love to hear your stories.
To blog for Giving Back, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up to date with our features and find tips on how you can make a difference this Christmas, follow the hashtag #GivingBack.