Our building in Orange Street has two floors. On our second floor we have our office facilities, the nurse’s room and then a vast expanse which is mainly used for our clothing store. When people come and visit us they are always impressed with our store. It is arranged in a very convient way, which is due entirely to the hard work of one of our volunteers, Hilary. When the project is open to clients, it is essential that we can run upstairs and pull out what we need very quickly in an emergency. Sometimes we take clients upstairs and allow them to choose something they need at a more leisurely pace. They sometimes take a long time to find something and we have to see their choices are very restricted in their lives and this is one way they can exercise a choice for themselves and have some control over a part of their lives. How many of us who have children in their teenage years hear “I wouldn’t be seen dead in that”? Often it can feel like that here! We are always being asked if we would like clothing and to be honest, this is often when people decide to clear out their wardrobes! We are quite strict on what we will accept. Our criterion is if you would wear it then it probably will be good enough for our clients. A good number are rough sleepers and need clothing that will keep them warm and dry. We believe too that we are trying to restore and keep their dignity, and clothing is a way to do this. After working with the clients for a while you begin to learn what they like and dislike and often when clothing comes in we see a particular piece and know that will suit a particular client.There is a charity called Besom, linked to a local church in Sheffield, and whenever you need something for a client you may contact them and they pray that they will receive what is being asked for. We have had some amazing answers to their prayers and they are such a lovely group of people who want to serve the community. We see what one piece of clothing carefully chosen can do for a client. They go into the Loo to change and come out looking and feeling so much brighter. Often those who rough sleep have to change all their clothing due to them getting very wet or dirty. We do have washing facilities and we try and encourage clients to bring their clothing to be washed. This is a vital life-skill to learn. We store washed clothing for clients who rough sleep but we are quite firm about clothes not being disposed off just because they are dirty. We encourage individuals to use our washing facilities. It is important not to deskill clients as in the real world clothes are not just worn once and then thrown away for new ones, however much this seems the easier way. One funny incident that happened a while ago regarding the washing was that sometimes clients are not that keen to change their clothes. There was a client who had to be constantly encouraged to do this and it always was a “big” event when he did. One day I had successfully managed to get him to change into clean clothes and went upstairs to put his dirty ones in the washer. It had been quite a while since they had last had a wash so I put them on a very hot wash. When I came to take them out I found one woollen jumper had shrunk drastically! It had gone like felt and was reduced perfectly to fit a child of about a year old! Wendy being ever the resourceful person she is cut off the arms and made a perfect coat for one of our clients dogs as you will see in the photograph. Nothing is ever wasted at Bens.

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